Abandoning Union State agreement with Russia would cost Belarus 25% of GDP, Lukashenko’s financial advisor warns opposition

A key aide to Belarus’s embattled President Lukashenko has warned opposition members to think again about any idea of withdrawing from the ‘Union State’ treaty with Moscow. Valery Belsky says it would collapse living standards.

The two countries form a unique partnership under a 1999 agreement, enthusiasm for which has fluctuated over the past two decades. The deal has helped Belarus maintain considerably higher living standards than other similar post-Soviet states, such as Western-leaning Ukraine and Georgia. According to the International Monetary Fund, Belarus’s GDP per capita (when measured by purchasing power parity) is $21,224, compared to Ukraine’s $10,130 and Georgia’s $13,200.

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People attend an opposition demonstration to protest against presidential election results in front of the Foreign Ministry headquarters in Minsk, Belarus August 18, 2020. © REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
Key Belarusian opposition leaders say they want friendly ties with Russia and promise not to dump ‘union state’ or defense pacts

During an interview with the state news agency BelTA on Wednesday, Belsky, who advises Lukashenko on finance, said the country would lose 25 percent of GDP if the opposition seized power and canceled the Union State. He particularly took aim at comments made by Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who many claim actually won the disputed presidential election on August 9.

“Imagine if the country started implementing the ideas described by Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, such as a belief that Belarus does not need the Union State,” he said. “The predictable outcome would be a loss of status in the Russian market and the immediate transition to global oil and gas prices. Given that cooperation with Russia forms over 50 percent of GDP, approximately half of this amount should be immediately written off from our balance sheet.”

Not all opposition leaders in Belarus share the sentiments of Tikhanovskaya, who’s now in Lithuania. Maria Kolesnikova, the most prominent leader still active inside the state, has said the movement has no plans to cancel any existing treaty with Russia.

“Russia is an important foreign policy and economic partner for [Belarus],” she told Echo of Moscow radio, pledging that the opposition would respect “all existing agreements, including the Union State treaty and the mutual defense alliance via the Collective Security Treaty Organization.”

Kolesnikova added that Lukashenko’s ongoing tensions with Moscow were proof of his unsuitability to lead Belarus, and promised that the opposition is ready to “build mutually beneficial relations” with Russia.

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