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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Belarus Leader Urges End to Reform Policy

The prime minister of Belarus, Vyacheslav Kebich, has urged an end to all talk of shock therapy and a return to Soviet-style economics including fixed food prices, in a speech delivered on the eve of a threatened general strike.

"Those who called for 'shock therapy' and wanted to speed up movement toward a market economy are mistaken," Kebich said in a televised speech on Sunday night, according to Reuters. "We were in too much of a hurry and we need to go back."

The prime minister added that the government would soon ban "speculative trade" and regulate food prices by cabinet decree. His remarks echoed a similar, if less drastic, turning away from rapid reform policies in Moscow.

Kebich's remarks appeared to fulfill prophecies that neo-Communist policies would return to power in Belarus following last month's ousting of Kebich's bitter political rival, Stanislav Shushkevich, from his post as chairman of parliament.

After more than a year battling conservative Belarussian deputies, Shushkevich, who supported rapid reforms and independence, was forced out in a confidence vote on Jan. 26.

Kebich, by contrast, supports economic reunion with Russia along the lines of the former Soviet Union.

"We lived in the former Soviet Union as one family and in friendship and suddenly all this was destroyed," the prime minister said, according to Reuters. "Despite critics in Russia and in our country, we see the only choice as economic union with Russia."

Kebich's comments come in the face of growing pressure from non-official trade unions at home. A national Belarussian strike committee has called for a general strike Tuesday, demanding the resignation of the government and parliament. Acting Interior Minister Vladimir Danko told Interfax on Monday that police had drawn up plans "to maintain peace and order in case there are disturbances on Feb. 15." He said that organizers of the "political strike and certain political forces" were openly provoking riots.

Belarus has privatized only 3 percent of state property, well below levels in Russia. The ruble merger was one reason behind the recent resignations of Russian reformers Yegor Gaidar and Boris Fyodorov, who said the deal would be expensive for Moscow and yield little profit.

Although union with the Belarussian economy, which shrank by 10 percent in 1993, would be a financial drain on Russia's coffers, officials in Moscow have been persuaded that the political gains in a closer union with Belarus would be worth the cost.

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said Monday that Belarussian and Russian government officials were working on blueprints for the monetary union, but that no final agreements had been worked out and no date had been set for an official signing ceremony.Western economists have forecast that the union, proposals for which include the elimination of all trade tariffs, the equalization of prices on commodities and the exchange of Belarussian cash coupons for Russian rubles at a one-to-one rate, will fuel inflation in Russia.

Russia presently buys 70 percent of Belarus' imports and supplies 90 percent of its fuel. The ruble sells for about 4.5 coupons at the Moscow Currency Exchange.

Last week, Belarus' Central Bank Chairman, Stanislav Bogdankevich, said monthly inflation would almost double to 80 percent by the end of February or March, from January's 43 percent on extra state spending for farmers and state salary hikes.

Kebich promised Sunday night to pay a one-off subsidy in February for pensioners and families with children.