The President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, won the presidential election on Sunday with higher than ever votes of 83.5%. The representative of the opposition movement, Tatiana Korotkevich received only 4.4% of the vote and the other two pro-governmental candidates an even smaller percentage.
Opposition politicians and several hundred of their supporters boycotted the election, urging Belarusians not to participate in the vote as the results were already pre-determined. The opposition leaders called the rival candidates of Lukashenko “pro-government spoilers.” After closing the polls, about 200 activists rallied in Minsk with banners condemning Lukashenko’s “dictatorship”. This time the protest went without violence or police crackdown, unlike the aftermath of the last election five years ago when thousands of demonstrators were dispersed by the riot police and security services and Lukashenko’s rivals were arrested
In the recent months, Lukashenko has taken some measures for rapprochement with the West. Just before elections, he released six of his political foes from prison with the hope of easing the EU sanctions. As a result, the European Union decided to temporarily lift sanctions starting from January 2016 as a response to conducting elections in a “transparent and calm way”. However, Lukashenko also stated that easing ties with the EU did not threaten Russia’s status as the country’s main partner. On the other hand, the bloodshed in Ukraine has concerened Lukashenko who recently rejected the idea of deploying Russian military base in Belarus. He has also been supporting the continuation of peace talks in Ukraine as he hosted several rounds of negotiations between European leaders and Russian and Ukrainian representatives in Minsk over the past year.
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- Iran test-fired its first precision-guided long-range ballistic missile. The missile, named the “Emad,” is a step up in design and capabilities from Iran’s previous Shahab-3 missiles as it can be precision-guided until it reaches its target – according to Iran’s Defense Minister. The testing took place just few hours before the Parliament approved generalities of the nuclear agreement reached between Iran and the P5+1 powers in July. Depending on the reading of the agreement, Iran might have already violated the nuclear accord with the missile test, which restricts the country from developing missiles “designed to carry nuclear warheads”.
- The Taliban’s northward advancement has raised concern among Central Asia leaders. After the Taliban’s offensive and their short take over of the city of Kunduz just 70km from Tajikistan border, Kyrgyzstan started fortifying its borders, whilst some regional leaders visited Russia. Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon and Afghanistan’s vice-president Abdul Rashid Dostum traveled to Moscow to discuss the situation. Consequently, the Russian Defense Ministry has sent additional helicopters to its base in Tajikistan which is the largest external military base for the country.
- The Russian fleet in the Caspian Sea fleet might be becoming a considerable naval unit. The forces of Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey were only considered as only a local craft until few days ago when Russia deployed four warships in Caspian Sea that launched missiles to the targets in Syria. The missiles crossed Iran and Iraq airspace as four of them unexpectedly landed in Iran. Although it is not clear how effective the attack has been, using long-range version Kalibr Missiles from a smaller ships has been a deviation from previous Russian naval strategies, which has raised several comments by US Strategists on the improvement of Russian command.
- Russia’s president Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia Mohamed bin Salman held meetings in Sochi and agreed on cooperation in Syria. Russia’s air strikes in Syria have hindered the previously attained détente between the two countries, as Saudi Arabia considered Russia’s military activities as further evidence of an Iran-Russia military alliance. However, according to the Defense Minister the meeting cleared out that only purpose of Russia is the fight against ISIS and terrorism.
- The Eurasian Economic Union is aspiring for observer status at the UN General Assembly, which will be held on 19 October. Meanwhile, Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov reported on free trade zone talks between the EEU and Israel, India, Egypt and Iran. The upcoming member states’ summit, which is planned for 16 October, aims to discuss major economic development targeted by 2030 along with the mentioned talks.
- Iran and Azerbaijan signed a Memorandum of Understanding that promises the construction of a railway between the two countries with the capacity of transferring 5 million tons of goods. The representatives from each country also agreed on construction of rail and other transportation infrastructure at their borders in the framework of the North-South Transport Corridor project. This project will link Northern Europe to South-East Asia and will connect railways of Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia. According to the preliminary estimates, the project’s capacity will stand for 1.4 million passengers and 5-7 metric million tons of cargo annually.
- Kiev has introduced a ban on Russian airlines to fly into Ukraine as a response to Russian ban back in September. The ban will be launched from October 25 and will concern the last two remaining airlines in the country – Siberia’s UTair and Sarativ Airlines. Russian carriers are however still allowed to cross the air space, however without a permission to land.