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.
President Lukashenka has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.