Vladimir Putin wants Russia to again be a great power, despite the sanctions imposed by Western nations. The route Putin is taking to achieve that goal is the Eurasian Economic Union, which envisions a single market from Belarus to Kyrgyzstan.
China also plans on spreading its influence. Its Silk Road economic initiative involves massive infrastructure projects throughout Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and much of eastern Asia.
Where the two come together to further their agendas is through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
The SCO was originally founded to settle border disputes. But these days, the SCO is much more than just a security bloc. The goal is to build a meaningful global organization that purposefully excludes the United States.
The institution’s current roster includes Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. With India, Pakistan, Iran, Mongolia, and Afghanistan having observer status.
India, Pakistan, Iran Join Club
On July 10, Putin hosted the latest meeting of the SCO.
At the meeting, the formation of an SCO Development Bank and Development Fund were announced. Belarus was added as an observer. And Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, and Nepal were added as “dialogue partners.”
But the real news was Putin’s announcement that the organization was beginning a new chapter.
The SCO will formally add bitter rivals India and Pakistan as full-fledged members in 2016. This is the first time the two south-central Asian countries have been members of the same security organization.
India’s partnership with Russia and China is rather surprising, too. India has never been close to China and hasn’t been close to Russia since the Cold War.
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But resource-poor India no doubt sees the SCO as an opportunity to cozy up to the resource bounties held in Central Asia countries.
Next on the agenda for the SCO will be to bring Iran in as a full member. A natural move since Iran is already building a natural gas pipeline to Pakistan with China’s help.
The Secretary General of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Dmitry Mezentsev, spoke about that move at the summit. He pointed out that the sanctions on Iran were holding back Iran’s ascension into the SCO. But now that the sanctions are lifting, “This obstacle has now been removed,” said Mezentsev.
The Implications of the Axis
The Russians look at these partnerships as a deterrent to NATO expansion. And both Russia and China see the SCO as a necessity.
Yan Xuetong, Dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing, put it this way to the Financial Times: “We [China and Russia] are both under strategic pressure from the United States. As long as the United States retains its hegemony, our relationship will continue going in this direction.”
Even though the SCO will soon have friendly nations like India in it, the goal to lock the United States out of the region seems to remain.
That means less trade with that region, and quite possibly a move away from the U.S. dollar as the currency of choice. If that happens, the yuan will most certainly be its replacement.
These events bring Mark Twain to mind. He said, “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
After all, Central Asia was where the “Great Game” was played between the British and Russian Empires.
If the United States does play the “Game,” there may be years of strategic moves back and forth.