MOSCOW, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- Sanctions targeting leaders in Belarus in response to political oppression in the aftermath of a presidential election are counterproductive, Moscow said.
The U.S. government joined the European Union in hitting Belarusian leaders with sanctions in response to "fraudulent" presidential elections in December.
Washington said the "disproportionate" use of force by Minsk against opposition candidates was a "major" step in the wrong direction for the former Soviet republic.
The post-election period that brought another term for Alexander Lukashenko, the first and only president of an independent Belarus, was marred by widespread unrest that saw six presidential candidates and at least 600 anti-government protesters behind bars.
Alexander Lukashevich, a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said Moscow stands by its partners in Minsk.
"In this strategic context, the application of politically motivated unilateral sanctions against Belarus, designed to disrupt socio-economic stability in the country, will be counterproductive," he said in a statement published by Russia's state-run news agency RIA Novosti.
Minsk said the pressure by Western allies would only embolden the Belarusian government.