The irreversible fundamental changes that have recently emerged in world politics and economics make the growing role of the new centers of power increasingly clear. They interact with each other based on the universally recognized principles of the primacy of international law and the Charter of the UN, to ensure equal and indivisible security, respect for mutual sovereignty, national values, and interests. The joint work of the member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) – an international organization established on June 15, 2001, by the leaders of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan – is based on these principles, which are free of any selfishness. In 2017, India and Pakistan became members of the SCO, turning the “six” into the “eight,” and on September 17, 2021, SCO leaders approved Iran’s admission as a full member of the SCO. In addition to Iran, the official status of observer country has already been granted to Afghanistan, the Republic of Belarus, and Mongolia, and the status of dialog partner to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Turkey. In recent years, East Timor, Israel, the Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and several other states have expressed interest in joining the SCO, making this organization an association of countries from nearly half the world.
Iran’s full membership in the SCO is a very important step, both for Iran and for the organization itself. This is the second expansion of the SCO in the last five years at the expense of fairly large and serious regional players. Iran is also a very important regional player, playing an important role in the security structure of South Asia and traditionally maintaining good relations with India, China, and Russia. With Iran’s accession to the SCO, the organization has built a bridge to another micro-region – the Caucasus. Real conditions are created for the full inclusion of the Caucasus region in the organization’s projects. Having the status of dialog partners with Baku and Yerevan since 2015, the SCO can more actively involve the South Caucasian republics in cooperation.
Iran’s signing of a declaration of commitment to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which opened the way for it to become a full member of this organization, has provoked an active reaction in many countries of the world. Thus, even The Jerusalem Post admits that this step will contribute to Russia’s and China’s attempt to change the world order and will allow Iran to strengthen its position in Central Asia and beyond the region. At the same time, the publication stresses that Iran’s recent strengthening also involves the conclusion of a 25-year agreement with China on comprehensive cooperation, as well as the actively forming and strengthening alliance with Russia.
In a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the SCO summit in Samarkand, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi noted that Tehran and Moscow have strategic relations that are “not ordinary, but strategic. Cooperation can develop in the political, trade, and economic fields, as well as in aerospace.”
During his talks with the Iranian leader on the sidelines of the SCO summit, President Putin also confirmed that relations between Moscow and Tehran are developing along all the previously mentioned vectors. Work is in the final stages on a major new agreement between Russia and Iran that will mark the transition of relations to the level of a strategic partnership.
Aleksey Russkikh, the governor of the Ulyanovsk Region of the Russian Federation, recently spoke about active economic cooperation between Russia and Iran. In particular, the development of a direct logistics channel between the ports of the Ulyanovsk region and Iran will allow the direct delivery of goods from Russia to the Islamic Republic: along the Volga River to the Caspian Sea to the port of Anzali, and the customs and storage terminals in Qazvin. This project will be an important addition to the North-South transport corridor and strengthen cooperation between SCO countries. Given the difficult trade relations with unfriendly countries, it will become one of the most important transport channels, reducing the delivery time of goods from the Indian Ocean basin directly to the banks of the Volga. A delegation of Ulyanovsk businessmen has already visited several companies in Iran to consider the possibility of forming a return cargo, which will significantly reduce the cost of logistics. Iranian authorities highly appreciate the prospects of this project and are ready to help in its implementation.
In the West, as expected, the intensification of Iran’s cooperation with Russia, and China, as well as within the framework of the SCO, is perceived very cautiously, and blatant suspicions are already being voiced that Bloomberg these steps will lead to new world order, the decline of the former US hegemony. Thus, Bloomberg writes that Russia, China, and Iran are allying against the United States and this cooperation may change the strategic picture of the world. The publication emphasizes, “It’s easy to understand the logic of this cooperation. All three autocratic powers seek to preserve and protect illiberal political systems, push the US out of their geographic neighborhoods, and roll back a post-Cold War order dominated by Washington.”
Journalists prone to hyperbole sometimes call the SCO “anti-NATO”, which of course is not true. However, even admitting that this organization is a political and not a military structure, Western analysts cannot hide their concern about what is happening on the distant Eurasian continent. Mainly because they see the Samarkand meeting as a strengthening of the alliance between Moscow, Beijing, and Tehran, and thus a strengthening of the positions of these three countries on the world stage. But that is not what the United States wants at all.
As Fox News notes, Iran joining the SCO “should come as no surprise” because Tehran, disenchanted with the West after Washington’s abandonment of the nuclear agreement, is increasingly aligning itself with Moscow and Beijing. And so Tehran craves the cover that America’s peers can provide Iran against Western pressure. And in this context, the “increasing number of meetings between Putin and Raisi” is seen in the West as a “worrying sign” of deepening cooperation between Iran and Russia. And former US Defense Intelligence Agency official Rebekah Koffler saw Russia’s cooperation with Iran as one of the “rogue states” in general as a serious risk to US national security, stating, “Because Russia has the largest nuclear arsenal in the world and extensive expertise that Moscow can potentially share, this emerging coalition (even if not a true NATO style alliance) could have destabilizing consequences for the US and the world.”
Jonathan Ward, director of the Atlas Organization, a research institute on US-China relations, agrees: “The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, I think, is going to become an increasingly important organization. I mean, Iran has just applied to become a permanent member. That brings together all the adversaries of the United States in an anti-Western coalition that was formed 20 years ago.”
Journalist Dave Lawler writes on Axios that specific interests and a shared desire to challenge Washington are bringing China, Iran, and Russia together to face a common enemy.
According to several other Western analysts, while these three countries have not made formal and public commitments to protect each other, their relationship is rapidly moving in that direction. And this is not only contributing to the growth of their authority on the international stage but also steadily leading to the construction of an international order different from the previous one imposed by states with new centers of power in the world.
Vladimir Odintsov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.