World News

Russia's Medvedev: Belarus vote "internal matter"

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Monday that the presidential election in Belarus was an “internal matter” and did not comment on a violent police crackdown that followed the vote on Sunday. [nLDE6BJ00I]

Medvedev avoided praise or criticism of Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, who the state election commission in Belarus said won nearly 80 percent of the vote.

“Elections in Belarus are Belarus’s internal matter,” Medvedev said when asked about the vote at a news conference with Latvia’s president. “What is happening there is, in the final analysis, the internal matter of a neighbouring state.”

His careful remarks came after mounting tension between the Kremlin and Lukashenko earlier this year prompted speculation that Russia might seek to undermine his bid for a fourth term after 16 years in power.

Tensions eased before the vote and Russia gave Lukashenko a boost, agreeing to drop duties on oil exports to Belarus.

“I hope that as a result of these elections, Belarus will continue on the path of creating a modern state based on democracy and friendship with its neighbours,” Medvedev said.

His remarks gave no explicit signal of Kremlin support for Lukashenko, and suggested that Russia could turn up the pressure if Lukashenko does anything to displease it.

“For us, Belarus, regardless of who heads the country, will always be one of the closest states,” Medvedev said.

Reporting by Denis Dyomkin; writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Kevin Liffey