© REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
People attend an opposition demonstration to protest against presidential election results in front of the Foreign Ministry headquarters in Minsk, Belarus August 18, 2020.
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.

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."

Tikhanovskaya urges EU not to recognize 'fraudulent' Belarus elections

Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has urged the European Union to reject the result of Belarus' contested presidential election, while calling on the bloc to respect the country's sovereignty.

In a video message addressed to the European Council, Tikhanovskaya, who fled to Lithuania last week, said that the EU should not recognize the "fraudulent" August 9 election, adding that President Alexander Lukashenko has "lost all legitimacy in the eyes of our nation."

She announced the formation of the National Coordination Council of Belarus, which will "lead the process of peaceful transition of power via dialogue." The council will call for "new, fair, and democratic presidential elections," the main opposition candidate said.

International observers should participate in order to ensure the legitimacy of the new election, Tikhanovskaya added, while stressing that EU leaders should "respect the sovereignty of Belarus and the choice of the Belarusian people."

Her message comes ahead of the European Council's emergency meeting on the situation in Belarus, which is scheduled to take place later on Wednesday. In a statement announcing the summit, European Council President Charles Michel said that "the people of Belarus have the right to decide on their future and freely elect their leader." He condemned the violence against anti-government protesters.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said last week that the bloc would not recognize the result of the Belarus elections, and Brussels has threatened Minsk with sanctions over the political crisis.

Abandoning Union State agreement with Russia would cost Belarus 25% of GDP

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.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (L) and Maria Kolesnikova (R) Sputnik / Victor Tolochko
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.

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.