(Bloomberg) -- Belarus is holding its first nationwide election since the start of a massive political crackdown three and a half years ago, with the tightly-controlled vote taking place on Sunday amid war warnings from the country’s leader.

Authorities in Minsk didn’t invite international observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to monitor the elections, a decision the Vienna-based body called “deeply regrettable.” OSCE monitored Belarusian elections from 1995 until 2020, when its observers were snubbed for the first time. 

The US “condemns the Lukashenko regime’s sham parliamentary and local elections that concluded today in Belarus,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement. “The elections were held in a climate of fear under which no electoral processes could be called democratic.”

Parliament, once a real political force in the nation of about 9.5 million people, has been gradually stripped of authority as President Alexander Lukashenko, 69, tightened his grip on power since being elected in 1994. 

Lukashenko claimed to have won a sixth term in office in 2020 in a vote condemned as fraudulent by the US and European Union, triggering an unprecedented wave of protests. The largely peaceful display of discontent was met with unparalleled clampdown against Belarus’s opposition, civil society and mass media, with thousands of people jailed and more fleeing the country. 

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the Belarusian opposition leader who’s now in exile, urged the nation’s voters to boycott the vote in a post on X.  

The Belarusian leader has built his system of power on trading political loyalty to Russia for a stream of economic benefits and cheap resources. Most notably, in 2022, he allowed Russian President Vladimir Putin to use Belarus as a staging post for the failed attempt to capture Kyiv as part of the Kremliln’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine that’s now entered a third year.  

Separately, on Sunday, Lukashenko said he would run for president again in 2025, the state news agency Belta reported. 

Lukashenko on Feb. 20 convened his security apparatus in Minsk, claiming the West wants to drag Belarus into war “by hook or by crook,” according to an official transcript of his speech. 

“We don’t need war, and we must be prepared for it both mentally and strategically,” he said.

(Updates with US statement from third paragraph.)

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