Belarus has been on the broad agenda of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) for years and actively participates in the organization’s political-diplomatic, commercial-economic and cultural-humanitarian interactions. The status of Belarus, which became a “dialogue partner” in 2010, was raised to the level of “observer” in 2015. On 14 June 2022, it was learned that Belarus applied for full membership to the SCO and hopes for its acceptance. This decision taken in an international environment where the war in Ukraine continues and the sixth package of sanctions against Belarus was introduced together with Russia; points out that the country wants to compensate for the losses caused by the sanctions against Belarusian businesses and is looking for alternative development paths.
First of all, Belarus seems to be interested in the economic aspect of cooperation within the framework of the organization. Under the sanctions of the European Union (EU), the United States (USA) and a number of other countries, the Minsk administration has lost a significant part of its market. According to the latest official data, the volume of damage suffered by the Belarusian economy due to Western sanctions is about 16-18 billion dollars per year. In this context, the SCO, which covers almost two-thirds of the Eurasian continental area, is becoming more important than ever for Belarus as a growing market and an additional source of finance. Foremost, agricultural products are mentioned. The growth of eastern markets creates great opportunities for Belarusian products. In addition, SCO member countries, especially China, are considered an important technology and additional financial resource for Belarus.
In addition, Belarus will be able to derive significant benefits from participating in the promotion of the Silk Road Economic Belt, both in production and logistics, as emphasized in the SCO Development Strategy until 2025. As an example, the creation of the “Big Stone China-Belarus Industrial Park”, whose main purpose is to establish a series of enterprises producing new generation products in the Minsk region, can be cited. In addition, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, in his statement on the occasion of the anniversary of the founding of the SCO on June 15, stated that they would actively participate in all dimensions of the organization and assured that they would contribute to the emergence of a great unity and partnership potential.
In fact, admission to the SCO will provide an additional foothold for Belarus against Western countries and will help to remove the pressure of sanctions. In other words, Minsk sees the SCO not only economically, but also as a geopolitical alternative to the West. This position of Belarus also echoes in the foreign policy of Russia. It is in Moscow’s interest to divert Belarus, which is included in the Eastern Partnership Program and is a buffer zone between Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), away from developing cooperation with the EU. Two interesting points stand out in this context:
- The news about the application to the SCO was first shared not by a Belarusian, but by a Russian official, the Special Representative of the President of Russia for SCO Affairs, Bakhtiar Khakimov.
- This decision was taken simultaneously with the discussion of the applications of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia to obtain the status of candidates for EU membership.
From this point of view, we can say that Russia supports and encourages Belarus to be accepted into the SCO, which is perceived as a potential center of the multipolar world and has the capacity to create an alternative or balance against the USA and its allies. In addition, in the context of China’s increasing influence in Central and South Asian countries, Russia wants to see its closest ally among the full members of the organization. In this sense, Minsk’s full membership will make a significant contribution to strengthening Russia’s position and balancing Beijing’s influence. However, it is difficult to say how realizable Russia’s aspirations are. In this sense, Belarus’ desire to become a full member of the SCO points to another important factor. Despite his “strong allied relations” with Russia, Lukashenko does not want Belarus to become overly dependent on Russia. Considering that the Russian influence in the SCO is balanced by China, India and Pakistan, the importance of this structure in Minsk’s foreign policy is increasing. The internal structure of the SCO helps to maintain a system of checks and balances by resolving the problems through compromise and allows the members of the organization to maintain balanced relations with Russia and China both within the organization and in terms of bilateral dialogues; They are considered indispensable opportunities for Belarus.
For China on the other hand, on the basis of the ongoing war in Ukraine, Belarus is becoming one of the few reliable land bridges between China-Europe, more broadly between the SCO-EU. Of course, this makes Belarus, which is also a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), important for China within the framework of the large-scale Belt-Road Project. It is clear that China, which is not interested in sticking to a country or a route, but in diversifying its trade routes as much as possible, needs Belarus, which establishes a link between Asia and Europe.
As a result, the combination of opportunities and benefits mentioned for Russia, China and Belarus is capable of significantly affecting the acceptance of Minsk as a full member of the SCO.
 “Лукашенко: Беларусь продолжит активно участвовать во всех измерениях ШОС”, Mobile Business, https://mobile-business.by/nowosti/v-mire/lukashenko-belarus-prodolzhit-aktivno-uchastvovat-vo-vsekh-izmereniiakh-shos, (Date of Accession: 16.06.2022).
 “Беларусь намерена подать заявку на членство в ШОС”, Sputnik, https://uz.sputniknews.ru/20220614/belarus-namerena-podat-zayavku-na-chlenstvo-v-shos-25279325.html, (Date of Accession: 16.06.2022).