Belarusian Economy Sees Growth Despite Hurdles

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 51


Executive Summary:

  • The Belarusian economy experienced 3.9-percent growth in 2023, a positive outcome compared to the 4.7-percent decline in 2022.
  • Minsk is expanding its trade partners, and Belarusian officials have developed numerous connections with their international counterparts in the Global South and elsewhere over the past year.
  • In hoping to sustain growth, Belarus is cultivating stronger economic ties with China, replacing Ukraine as its second-largest trade partner.

In 2023, Belarus’s economy enjoyed 3.9-percent growth after experiencing a 4.7-percent decline in 2022  (, January 17). For Minsk, adjusting to Western sectoral sanctions took time, as did the reorientation of export routes. The upheaval in transit proved especially difficult, as the Belarusian economy has long been export oriented. From 2015 to 2021, the ratios of exports to gross domestic product (GDP) fell within the range of 58 to 71 percent. By September 2023, the number of export restrictions imposed on Belarus amounted to 1,471. On March 24, 2023, the Statistical Committee of Belarus decided to terminate the publication of data on Belarus’s international trade because the measures taken to get around the imposed restrictions may make Minsk seem vulnerable (IMEMO, November 20, 2023).

Minsk’s efforts to develop more international trade opportunities reflect growth, even without the hard data. Pavel Matsukevich of the Center for New Ideas, an émigré think tank, conducted a recent analysis based on the visits and pronouncements of top Belarusian officials (NewBelarus, March 22). During the first quarter of 2024, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka paid two visits to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. He also visited Uzbekistan and received the leader of Bosnian Serbs and the governor of Russia’s Kamchatka in Minsk. Aside from accompanying Lukashenka, Foreign Minister Sergei Aleinik visited Saudi Arabia, India, Mongolia, and Zimbabwe (see EDM, April 1).

Expanding exports and breaking international isolation are two principal tasks of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry. Developments on both fronts have far exceeded the three-year-old predictions. Minsk has also seen some positive changes with European partners, as was apparent with the exchange of visits with Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó in 2023. Matsukevich’s analysis predated the lifting of European sanctions on Belshina, a Bobruisk-based major producer of tires. The removal of sanctions represents another success and can act as a precedent for future economic cooperation with Europe (BelMarket, March 21).

In 2023, Belarus’s volume of international trade grew by 8.6 percent to $83.4 billion (, February 1). The addition of service exports brings the volume to $95.2 billion. A statement from Belarusian Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko suggests that, in 2023, the growth of exports to so-called “friendly countries” exceeded the losses of exports to the West and Ukraine by $1.8 billion (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, February 21).

Russia’s share in Belarusian trade amounts to 56 percent, or $54 billion (Izvestiya, January 28). While this level of dependency on one foreign market may be considered dangerous, Belarusian officials do not seem preoccupied with this possible threat. Minsk continues to insist on establishing a level playing field with Russian producers on Russian soil. Additionally, more than ever before, Russia looks more willing to play along. Given the size of the Russian economy, Belarus only accounts for about 5 percent of Russia’s international trade (Rosstat, December 28, 2023). China and Türkiye are swiftly filling the holes in the Russian market vacated by Western companies. As a result, Belarus’s share in some exports—for example, trucks sold in Russia—have declined as China gains a more dominant position (, March 21).

Lukashenka once declared the goal of splitting Belarus’s international trade into three equal parts between Russia, the European Union, and more distant markets (, October 26, 2023). While political developments precluded the respective suppression of Russia’s share of Belarus’s trade, exchanges with more distant countries are on the rise. In 2022, Beijing became Minsk’s second-largest trade partner, overtaking Ukraine (Ministry of the Economy of the Republic of Belarus, March 20). In 2023, Belarus’s mutual trade turnover with China reached $8.4 billion, exceeding that with Ukraine in 2021 by $2.4  billion (ILEX, February 16, 2022;, March 3). Additionally, Belarus sent 1,500 container trains to China in 2023, 50-percent more than in 2022 (Belarusian Railway, January 4).

According to various estimates, the private sector’s contribution to the Belarusian economy stands at 40–45 percent. Almost 1.5 million people work for small and medium business entities—with below 100 and 101–250 employees, respectively—representing about one-third of all employed Belarusians. Larger private companies have taken on sizeable roles in various sectors, including Eurotorg (retail), Bremor (food processing), Servolux (agribusiness), Tabak Invest (tobacco products), EPAM (information technology), Conte Spa (textile), Amkodor (agricultural machinery), Marco (footwear), and Mark Formelle (textile retail). Belarusian think tank BEROC’s March 2023 survey of 300 owners of small and medium businesses showed that their previous (2022) hopelessness has given way to growing optimism (ILEX, May 24, 2023).

April’s episode of the talk show “The Clock Is Ticking,” conducted by Warsaw-based Belarusian émigrés Artyom Shraibman and Yevgenia Sugak, was devoted to a peculiar aspect of private business in Belarus. Specifically, Olga Loiko, another Belarusian émigré, who spent ten months behind bars in Belarus, was questioned on the subject of any guilt private business owners may experience if they stay in Belarus from dealing with an authoritarian government and contributing to Belarus’s trade with Russia (, March 24) Loiko’s responses were largely non-committal (e.g., “it is hard to say”) but generally adhered to “yes, there are some red lines not to cross, but since employment security of thousands of people is at stake, it is appropriate for private businesses to stay in Belarus.”

Overall, the episode’s message seems to be a tough sell for Belarus’s domestic audience. Socioeconomically secure talk-show hosts, now residing in a country that is wealthier than Belarus, speculate about the morality of retaining businesses critical for people’s livelihood in the home country they left. Unfortunately, this remains an inalienable part of the Belarusian opposition’s predicament. Unable to influence the situation inside Belarus, the opposition is looking for ways to legitimize its policies. In the meantime, the Belarusian economy seeks to maintain economic growth and overcome the hurdles of sanctions.