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.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.