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19 Aug, 2020 10:59

Key Belarusian opposition leaders say they want friendly ties with Russia and promise not to dump ‘union state’ or defense pacts

Key Belarusian opposition leaders say they want friendly ties with Russia and promise not to dump ‘union state’ or defense pacts

Belarus’ opposition wants to build good relations with all countries and has no plans to cancel existing treaties with Russia. That’s according to Maria Kolesnikova, the most prominent leader still active inside the state.

Her comments came after Russian President Vladimir Putin warned his German and French counterparts that interference in Belarus’ internal affairs was “unacceptable.” Kolesnikova confirmed that other countries have been seeking to establish contact with the opposition in Belarus.

Along with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, she has become the 'face' of the movement seeking to replace long-time incumbent Alexander Lukashenko, and told broadcaster Echo of Moscow that she distrusts the current president's apparent willingness to enter serious negotiations on a new government. She also emphasized that she considers Russia to be a vital ally to her country.

“Russia is an important foreign policy and economic partner for [Belarus],” she said, pledging that the opposition would respect “all existing agreements (including the 'Union State' treaty and the mutual defense alliance via the CTSO)." 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.

Kolesnikova first assumed political prominence as the campaign manager for Viktor Babariko, a businessman who, initially, was the main opposition contender to Lukashenko. He was then refused inclusion on the ballot for the election and was jailed. Babariko is considered to "be a prisoner of conscience" by Amnesty International, a Western human rights NGO. In Moscow, it's widely believed that Babariko would be the most likely choice to succeed Lukashenko if the long-term leader eventually falls.

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Kolesnikova has said that she also wants good relations with Ukraine and the European Union.

“Our official position - we will maintain friendly, mutually beneficial relations that are pragmatic, crystal and transparent for everyone. We benefit from talking to all our partners: Russia Ukraine, and the EU,” she said, answering a question about allegations of pro-Western and anti-Russian tendencies among opposition figures.

Kolesnikova called such allegations a manipulation. She noted that, besides, other countries are already seeking ties with the opposition. “We have already received requests for dialogue from foreign partners," Kolesnikova said.

Meanwhile, another member of the country’s Opposition Council, diplomat Pavel Latushko, believes that Russia and the European Union must act as moderators in the dialogue with the country’s social partners, and, to a certain extent, as guarantors of the opposition in the current situation.

“We try to come up with plans on how to smooth out all the sharpest edges, in a bid to avoid a situation of persecution. Let us speak about guarantees of the Coordination Council’s operation... Such guarantees are necessary,” news agency TASS reported Latushko as saying. "And the role of our neighbors, Russia and the EU, is required here. I am certain that... this is both in Russia’s and the EU’s interests... We are interested in advice, dialogue-mediation within society, from these respected partners."

He underlined that the opposition considers it disadvantageous to sever ties with Russia – primarily for economic reasons.

“Any politician suggesting building a wall between Belarus and Russia will be the last one, because Russia comprises 50 percent of our exports; we also receive key resources from Russia.” he explained. “It is pragmatic to have the best relations with Russia.”

According to Latushko, the desire to cooperate with the West is based on the same logic. "We are interested in stellar relations with the EU because it is the second largest market for our exports – 30 percent to 34 percent," he pointed out, adding that Russia and the EU must "respond to the expectations of [Belarusian] society, not those of the authorities, who have lost society’s trust."

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