Members of election commission wait for voters at a polling station during parliamentary elections in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012.
MOSCOW - Russia praised a Belarussian parliamentary election that was dismissed in the West as a sham, saying on Tuesday that the vote was free and open and charging that criticism from international observers was politically biased.
Sunday's vote increased the isolation of Lukashenko, in power since 1994, from Europe and the United States, which have punished his lack of tolerance for dissent with sanctions.
"We are certain that Belarussian citizens were able to make their conscious choice," a Russian Foreign Ministry statement said.
Russian observers and monitors from a grouping of former Soviet republics found the election "was conducted freely, openly, in a calm atmosphere and with a high turnout," the statement said.
It said monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), who said the election was not free and fair, had taken a "politicised approach".
Lukashenko's alienation from the West has drawn Belarus deeper into the orbit of Moscow, which sees it as a buffer between Russia and NATO and is seeking to strengthen economic alliances among former Soviet republics.
"Russia will continue to actively develop bilateral relations with the brotherly Republic of Belarus in the interests of the two countries and their people," the Foreign Ministry statement said.
OSCE monitors said many opposition figures had been blocked from taking part in the poll. European Unionofficials said the election "took place against the background of an overall climate of repression and intimidation".