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Russia slams Belarus crackdown, sanctions

Russia on Wednesday said Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko’s crackdown on the opposition was unacceptable but called a new raft of Western sanctions “politically-motivated.”

“What happened after the closing of polls is unacceptable,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, making a rare criticsm of the country’s handling of the opposition.

“Russia has firmly expressed its position.”

“A wave of arrests cannot but elicit appropriate emotions,” he said speaking after talks with his Lithuanian counterpart Audronius Azubalis, whose country holds the presidency of the OSCE.

The West has reacted with outrage to the crackdown in Belarus that saw hundreds of opposition supporters arrested in protests following 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.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said last month his country did not plan to introduce sanctions against Belarus with which Moscow is building a single economic space.

Lavrov said it was more effective to engage the country rather than isolate it through the sanctions he called “politically-motivated.”

“I don’t think it’s the right way to solve these tasks through unilateral sanctions which are adopted according to political motives, with the aim of worsening the social and economic situation,” Lavrov said.

Earlier this week the European Union and United States slapped a new raft of sanctions on Lukashenko and his inner circle, with EU foreign ministers deciding to reinstate a travel ban against the leader that had been suspended two years ago in a bid to encourage democratic reform in the former Soviet state.