Russia says Belarus sanctions 'counterproductive'

1st February 2011, Comments 0 comments

The Russian foreign ministry on Tuesday condemned as "counterproductive" sanctions imposed on Belarus by the EU and United States after Minsk's post-election opposition crackdown.

"Russia's consistent position states that there is a need for the broadest possible involvement of Belarus, as a sovereign European state, in the international cooperation process," it said in a statement.

"In this strategic context, the application against Belarus of unilateral sanctions for political reasons, ones that rely on undermining the social-economic stability of the country, will be counterproductive."

The West has reacted with outrage to the crackdown that saw hundreds of opposition supporters arrested in protests following President Alexander Lukashenko's contested election victory on December 19.

Russia however has been far more circumspect, describing the election as an internal affair of Belarus and congratulating Lukashenko on his victory.

The EU restrictions reinstated a travel ban against Lukashenko that had been suspended two years earlier but stopped short of imposing wider economic sanctions for fear that these would hurt people and not the state.

Washington for its part said it planned to "significantly expand" the number of officials banned from travelling to the United States.

It also revoked licences that temporarily authorised US companies to conduct business with two subsidiaries of Belarus largest state-owned petroleum and chemical conglomerate.

The Belarussian foreign ministry issued a terse statement Monday vowing to take "proportional measures" against Brussels.

In a similar message Tuesday, Minsk called Washington's sanctions "an unjustified and wrongful step".

"These methods of pressure and coercion stand absolutely no chance of success," the foreign ministry said in a statement. "We retain the right to take proportionate reciprocal steps."

The Western sanctions were announced two days after Belarus released seven people from prison in a step that appeared aimed at calming international anger over the post-election crackdown.

Lukashenko was awarded nearly 80 percent of the vote in a ballot that saw his nearest rivals all officially receive less than three percent of the vote.

© 2011 AFP

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