Russia will maintain contacts with both the government and the opposition in Belarus, the Kremlin said on Monday, as tensions escalate between the two countries ahead of a presidential election.
Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko has enjoyed Russian support as a counterweight to pressure from the West through his 16 years in power; but a series of diplomatic and trade spats has poisoned the relations in recent months.
"Naturally political contacts will continue at all levels," Kremlin spokeswoman Natalia Timakova said. "Russian authorities intend to communicate with all political forces in Belarus representing various segments of public opinion."
The remarks came days after Lukashenko, 55, accused Russia of blackmailing him and sponsoring the opposition in forthcoming elections in which he sees himself as frontrunner. Moscow has not publicly backed any of the 14 candidates running against Lukashenko in the December 19 poll. The opposition has failed to find a single candidate, as they did in 2006.
On Sunday, President Dmitry Medvedev accused Lukashenko in a video statement posted in his blog of waging a "hysterical" anti-Russian campaign to ensure re-election. On Monday a Kremlin source told Itar-Tass news agency that Russian observers will give the "most adequate" evaluation of the elections in Belarus, hinting at criticism of violations in the vote, to which Moscow has turned a blind eye so far.