Western countries found it questionable that Aleksandr Lukashenko had won the presidential elections held in Belarus in 2020. Thus, the elections were not considered legitimate and the country was asked to turn away from this mistake. Lukashenko’s clear stance deriving from the support he received from Russia led Belarus to be subjected to some sanctions. The Minsk administration, which aimed at reversing the negative effects caused by the sanctions, has entered a serious integration process with Russia. During this period, they signed many economic agreements and showed the West a picture of unity by organizing joint exercises.
Moreover, the Minsk administration, which gave support messages to Moscow in the war against Ukraine and opened its territory for the deployment of Russian soldiers, faced the addition of another to the sanctions it was subjected to due to its choices. Thus, a great decrease in the country’s economy has been observed. According to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) data, it can be said that it has entered a deep economic recession. As a matter of fact, after the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine War, GDP of the country decreased by 4.2%.
In order to reverse the negative picture in question, it is seen that Belarus prioritizes economic pursuits and tries to improve its commercial relations with Russia and China. The statement of Belarusian Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko that his country and the Russian economy successfully adapted to the pressure of sanctions and managed the situation well sets an example in this regard. For instance, between January and June 2022, the trade volume in Belarus-Russia relations increased by 12.2% compared to the first half of 2021 and approached 20 billion dollars. It was observed that exports to Russia increased by 23.1% to 9.1 billion dollars. Moreover, Belarusian Deputy Minister of Economy Alesia Abramenko announced that Belarus’ trade relations with China have grown at a record rate and Beijing has become Minsk’s second largest trading partner. At this point, Belarus wants to crown its pursuit with the membership of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
Towards Full Membership in the Belarus-SCO Relations
Founded in 1996 by Russia, China, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, the Shanghai Five took the name SCO in 2001 with the participation of Uzbekistan. The organization has become important in the international system as a rapidly growing power center with the participation of India and Pakistan in 2017 and Iran in 2021.
The continuation of the international system under the hegemony of the United States (US) after the end of the Cold War enabled SCO to reinforce the unity of China and Russia against the unipolar system.
Belarus, on the other hand, has been trying to develop political, diplomatic, commercial and cultural relations with SCO for years. The country contacted the SCO with the “dialogue partner” status in 2010, and obtained the “observer” status in 2015.
In June 2022, the Russian Administration announced that the Special Representative for SCO Affairs, Bakhtiar Hakimov had applied for full membership in the organization. Based on this, it can be argued that Belarus’ SCO orientation is primarily due to economic reasons. The country aims to find new markets against the sanctions imposed by Western countries and pursues a policy of balance of power. In this context, Belarusian Minister of Defence Viktor Khrenin stated that Belarus intends to expand its multifaceted cooperation with the members of the SCO and therefore applied for full membership. 
After Belarus’s membership application, it was seen that Russia and China, which are the two most important actors of the SCO, has supported the process. Indeed, while Belarusian Ambassador to China Yuri Senko stated that he expects Belarus’ participation in the SCO to allow the country to participate in “multiple projects,” Senko claimed that the Minsk administration’s application for full membership would be finalized at the summit to be held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on 15-16 September 2022. Moreover, there is a serious support for the full membership of Belarus from the member countries of the SCO.
Possible Scenarios After Full Membership
It is observed that the international system dominated by the US hegemony gradually evolved into a multipolar order following the end of the Cold War. Actors who want to take part in the new system are trying to establish a multipolar world order. For this reason, Eurasian countries are looking for ways to strengthen their cooperation among themselves. It is noteworthy that Belarus also became a full member after Iran’s SCO membership. It is understood from here that at a time when NATO’s expansion towards the east is at an impasse with the Ukrainian Crisis, SCO is pursuing a growth-oriented policy.
The present obstacles regarding the formation of a new international system and the growing effectiveness of the SCO as an international association is parallel to the alinement of interests of the main actors that determine the internal dynamics of the organization. In this context, Belarus is expected to continue its integration process with Russia and improve its relations with Central Asian countries. Therefore, there is a search for a balance in Belarusian foreign policy.
As can be understood, for the Minsk administration, the SCO Leaders Summit, which will be held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on 15-16 September 2022, is critical. It is anticipated that the full membership application of Belarus will be addressed and accepted at the summit, which is expected to bring up the full membership of Belarus. This situation will bring up some scenarios. It is possible to list possible scenarios as follows:
- Coordinated steps taken by the SCO member countries will strengthen cooperation within the organization and make national economies more competitive.
- Belarus’ membership, which has recently been striving to integrate with Russia, will increase Moscow’s influence in the SCO.
- Beijing can accelerate its relations with Moscow by anticipating that Russia’s influence within the SCO will increase. Or rather, China may also seek to stabilize Russia.
- It can be argued that Belarus’ problems with the West will increase even more if it becomes a SCO member. It can be said that the country will face the risk of completely losing the Western market, especially due to economic sanctions.
- Belarus’s possible membership can be perceived as a new achievement in the context of breaking Western hegemony and lifting sanctions.
- This membership will be of great importance for Minsk in terms of easing the isolation policy of the West. Reaching a new market, Belarus will expand its economic relations with the member countries of the SCO.
As a result, the SCO Leaders’ Summit to be held on 15-16 September 2022 will witness critical developments not only for Belarus but also for Russia, China and the countries of the region. Because, membership of Belarus to SCO will mean a new declaration of will about the search for a multipolar world.
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