Russia Pledges to Back Belarus

MINSK -- Russia promised on Wednesday to help Belarus withstand what it called"short-sighted" punitive measures imposed against President Alexander Lukashenko by Western countries that accuse him of human rights breaches.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made the pledge after the latest round of talks defining foreign policy priorities of the two former Soviet states, which have been engaged for more than a decade in discussions on a post-Soviet merger.

"We are concerned at the line adopted by some Western countries in putting pressure on Belarus," Lavrov told a news conference.

"We point out to our European and American partners the short-sighted nature of political sanctions. You must not resolve problems through pressure."

Lavrov did not provide any specifics as to the measures Russia might take.

Belarussian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov rejected Western sanctions as "groundless."

The United States and the European Union have barred entry to Lukashenko and several dozen officials over allegations the president rigged his re-election to a third term in 2006.

Last year, Washington imposed financial sanctions on Belarussian oil processor Belneftekhim.