Belarus seeks counterbalance to Kremlin and Brussels
Belarus has enhanced interest in international fora and organisations in order to boost contacts with the major Asian countries, China in particular. In addition, the Belarusian government seeks to bolster trade and economic relations with the ‘third’ countries to market Belarusian products. By becoming more active within the SCO and BRICS, Belarus hopes to diminish political and economic dependence on the Kremlin, as well as fulfil requirements of the West concerning economic liberalization and human rights.
At a meeting with BRICS leaders, President Lukashenka noted that Belarus welcomed the open nature of BRICS and was ready to become involved in cooperation on various issues.
During the SCO Summit in Ufa, Belarus was granted observer status in this organisation. Belarus applied for observer status in 2005, and since 2010 was a dialogue partner with the SCO. Until recently, Uzbekistan was against upgrading Belarus’ status in the SCO, however last week all disagreements were removed.
By joining the SCO, Belarus anticipates to improve her image on the international arena. Among the main tasks of the Belarusian diplomacy is to build new contacts with foreign countries and step up participation in international organisations. For a long time, Belarus has been in an international isolation by the West, which has led to her critical dependence on the Kremlin.
By becoming an observer at the SCO, Belarus has increased her opportunities to participate in greater number of events at a higher level. In an interview with Russia-24 TV channel, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makey emphasised the pragmatic component of Belarus’ participation in the SCO, "We want to contribute to the development of this organization and participate in the development and implementation of mutually beneficial projects...”.
The Belarusian authorities have used the SCO and BRICS Summits in Ufa in order to boost their contacts with Asian and South American countries. For instance, the Belarusian delegation discussed the prospects of bilateral trade and economic cooperation with the representatives of Mongolia, Iran and Brazil.
Belarus is aiming to build up her image as a ‘western corridor for the SCO’, especially if she manages to normalise relations with Western capitals. President Lukashenka outlined Belarus’ mission as a mediator between the West and the SCO, based on her experience in settling the conflict in Ukraine: “We have long and consistently been promoting the idea of ‘integrating integrations’ in the modern world. Belarus is BRICS’ natural ally in building mutually beneficial and equal relations between East and West, North and South, without the dividing lines”.
The upgraded status in the SCO has opened new opportunities for Belarus’ potential cooperation with China. Belarus is doing all it can to become Beijing’s partner in the Economic Belt of the Silk Road project and thanks to the Sino-Belarusian industrial park, estimates her chances as quite high.
In addition, Lukashenka’s participation in the SCO and BRICS Summits has an important significance for domestic politics in the view of the election campaign kick-off in Belarus. Amid poor socio-economic performance, the president focuses on foreign policy successes and political stability in the country against the backdrop of the conflict in Ukraine.
Once again, Belarus is in the quest for foreign partners among major Asian countries, who could balance the growing military-political and economic dependence on the Kremlin and lower the human rights requirements by Western capitals.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.