The role of the SCO in Russia’s foreign policy strategy. The organization is playing an increasingly prominent role in Moscow’s foreign policy

Date of publication: 11 January 2021

Almost from the moment of its establishment in 2001, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was designed to become one of the most effective mechanisms for Moscow’s interaction with the countries of Asia and the East as a whole and one of the most important tools for implementing Russia’s “eastern” interests. Especially given the fact that in recent years, Moscow’s relations with the United States and a number of European countries have noticeably deteriorated, if not to say more-almost reduced to zero. In this regard, it is not surprising that among the strategic interests of Russia, a special role is played by increasing the international influence and authority of the SCO.

After 2014, when Crimea voluntarily joined Russia, the world began to actively talk about a “turn to the East” in Russia’s foreign policy. However, it is worth noting that this turn was actually a strategic choice of Moscow, which was made even before the introduction of Western economic sanctions over Crimea. Moreover, this turn was made possible in no small part due to the expansion of the SCO’s potential.

At the same time, the dynamics of Russia’s foreign policy, and, above all, those directions that led to the strengthening of its “eastern” vector, can be clearly traced in the Concepts of the country’s foreign policy, which were adopted three times during the existence of the SCO: in 2008, 2013 and 2016. The attention paid to the Organization in these documents clearly shows that the SCO is an important link in modern international relations, where the center of world development is gradually shifting towards the Pacific region, in which the PRC plays an increasingly important role. And in this regard, the leading positions in the SCO of Moscow and Beijing are quite understandable and justified. Russia has a powerful military force, and China has an ever-growing economic potential.

If one takes the geography of foreign trips of the President of Russia in recent years, then the importance that is given to the SCO in the implementation of Moscow’s foreign policy clearly emerges. The statistics of foreign visits of the Russian leader over the past ten years confirms the previously identified trend of Russia’s “turn” towards the East and the growing role of the Organization not only in the region, but also around the world.

It should be noted that in 2016, the potential of the SCO was very much in demand within the framework of a completely new integration project in the Eurasian space, the idea of which was announced at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. At it, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed to create a Large Eurasian Partnership (BEP) with the participation of the SCO member states, the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the CIS, Iran and a number of other states. The work of this partnership is proposed to focus on building a new format of international cooperation in Eurasia with support for the idea of combining Eurasian integration and the Chinese international One Belt, One Road initiative.

In the scenario proposed by Russia for the creation of a new integration structure in Eurasia, a new function of the SCO is also highlighted, namely, it is proposed to act as a link between the IPP and the EAEU. It is no secret that in this case, Moscow pursues its own geopolitical goals, trying to even out the asymmetry of economic opportunities between Moscow and Beijing in the countries of Central Asia, as well as to preserve this region as a sphere of traditional Russian influence, without harming the overall processes of Eurasian integration.

Currently, one of the main challenges for the Organization is the formation of new directions of development in a difficult situation in the world as a whole. After India and Pakistan joined the SCO in 2017, the combined power and influence of the Organization has significantly increased, which makes it possible to set more ambitious goals and objectives. In this regard, within the framework of the SCO, a new vector of development has begun to form, in which the eight countries (India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, China, Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan) will now act as one of the structural foundations and a key element of the new world order, primarily in Eurasia.

The practice of the organization showed that the SCO corresponds to the geopolitical interests of its members, of course, and Russia, such as the weakening of American influence in the region, creating a modern organization of a new type of a multipolar world. Russia, China and India – the largest countries of the Organization-play a leading role in this area.

Due to the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic in the world, already in the first quarter of 2020 – the year of Russia’s presidency in the SCO – the Organization began to study proposals for a rapid response to outbreaks of infectious diseases. Despite the fact that in the context of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, a number of SCO events were postponed or completely canceled, existing cooperation mechanisms made it possible to continue holding meetings in the video conference format. The Moscow summit of the Organization in November last year, which was held online, is a clear confirmation of this. The new development vectors of the SCO demonstrate that the Organization is able to quickly adapt to the new conditions of a changing world, and its participation in new formats of interaction is in demand among the countries of the Eurasian continent.

In conclusion, it should be emphasized that Russia’s participation in the work of the SCO promotes and protects its interests in the Central Asian region and in the East as a whole. The Organization makes it possible to strengthen the territorial integrity of Russia, as well as to develop relatively backward and unstable areas of the country, playing the role of a stabilizing factor in the Eurasian space and acting as a buffer against possible threats from the countries of the Middle East and South Asia. In addition, the leadership of Russia and China in the SCO increases the role of Moscow in the global world and confirms its status as a transregional power.

Sergey Saenko, international columnist



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