Ukraine backs opposition forces against Belarusian president

Ukrainian lawmakers joined western countries in condemning the recent presidential election in Belarus by passing a motion that would enforce future sanctions against individuals involved in fixing elections and using violence against demonstrators.

Protestors have taken to the streets in Minsk for weeks following the allegedly rigged Aug. 9 re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko, who claimed to have won with 80 percent of the vote, while his opponent, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, received only 10 percent of the vote.

The United States and the European Union have rejected the validity of the election, and both have considered placing sanctions on Belarus.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin backed his longtime ally, Lukashenko, who has held the presidency for 26 years, and in a four-hour meeting Monday, granted the Belarusian leader a $1.5 billion loan.

Though Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed that the loan holds no political strings attached.

“Like any loan, it has commercial conditions, but there was no talk about any other conditions,” Peskov told reporters Tuesday.

Belarus’ neighbor Ukraine has also condemned the harsh tactics the government has taken against demonstrators following the allegedly botched election after reports surfaced of disappearances and police brutality against many of the more than 7,000 detained demonstrators.

Putin reportedly congratulated the veteran president and offered Russian police forces to aid in controlling the protests. Though following the Monday talks, Putin said he will pull back the law enforcement units he has on the border for possible deployment.

Lukashenko has relied even more heavily on Russia for support following the international community’s condemnation.

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The Belarus president has condemned the recent deployment of NATO troops to the region and offered to conduct more joint military drills with Russia.

“The recent developments have shown that we need to stand closer to our older brother,” Lukashenko said Monday.

The United States Army has initiated the deployment of 500 U.S. troops to Lithuania, which neighbors Belarus, as a part of a NATO “deterrence factor” in Eastern Europe.

Though the U.S. Army maintains that the deployment is strictly for previously scheduled training as part of operation Atlantic Resolve, the troops have reportedly arrived earlier in Lithuania and will stay longer.

“The United States is Lithuania’s strategic transatlantic defense partner and one of the main allies ensuring the security of the entire Baltic region,” Lithuanian Minister of National Defense, Raimundas Karoblis said earlier this month. “The rotation of the U.S. troops in Lithuania is a deterrence factor of particular significance contributing to NATO efforts in the Baltic region.”

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Putin in turn deployed Russian paratroopers to Belarus for joint drills, though they will reportedly return to Russia following their training, which is set to end on Sept. 25.

The Russian Defense Ministry has said the deployment of military personnel to Belarus is not directed at any country or in reaction to the political tension in the region.

Several other military exercises are expected to held in Belarus over the next month.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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