President Obama is the latest world leader used by Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko to promote his plans for his regime to become a North-Korean style dynasty, with his 11-year-old son Nikolai being his chosen heir.
Lukashenko has ruled his country with an iron fist for 21 years, imprisoning and sanctioning the murder of opponents. He began grooming Nikolai in 2008, when the then four-year-old appeared alongside his father in military uniform to review an Independence Day parade in the capital city Minsk.
Since then, the Belarus president-in-waiting has joined his father on diplomatic missions where foreign leaders have been obliged to treat the young boy as an official guest. Last week Nikolai accompanied his father when he met with US President Barack Obama at the United Nations General Assembly. The Belarusian government released a photograph, which was published not only in Belarus but worldwide, of Lukashenko and Nikolai alongside Barack and Michelle Obama.
Experts say the photo is an over the top promotion of dynastic heritage, and has drawn a mixture of utter disgust and pity. Andrei Sannikov, Former Belarus opposition presidential candidate now living in exile says, “When I see this young kid being used to humiliate foreign leaders, I just feel sorry for him. I don’t understand why they put up with it.”
The experts say it is not only President Obama who has been used as a pawn in raising Nikolai's profile. He has met Pope Benedict XVI, Venezuela’s former president, Hugo Chavez, and former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, who gave him a golden pistol as a present. He has been photographed at military exercises with the golden sidearm on the belt of his camouflage uniform. Photographs of Nikolai high-fiving Hugo Chavez in 2012, show his suit jacket slipped back, revealing a holstered pistol.
Lukashenko has not disclosed the identity of Nikolai’s mother, but it is believed she is Irina Abelskaya, Lukashenko's former personal doctor and his second known mistress since he became president. Lukashenko also has two adult sons by his estranged wife.
Experts say not only is Lukashenko showing who will be the next President, but he is sending a clear message to opponents that he intends on sticking around for a long while. They say the Belarus constitution has 35 as the minimum age for a president, meaning Lukashenko will have to "serve" another 25 years to guarantee succession.
Andrew Wilson, of the European Council for Foreign Relations says, “Dynastic succession is a long-term possibility. But Nikolai is very young, and that is deliberate: It sends the message; ‘I may be grooming my son for power, but you won’t be rid of me any time soon’. ”