Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov’s interview with the Xinhua News Agency, June 6, 2017
Question: This year we will mark 15 years of the SCO Charter and 10 years of the Treaty on Long-Term Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation between SCO Member States. Which SCO achievement would you describe as the most important?
Igor Morgulov: As you know, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation was established in 2001. Over this historically short period, the SCO has become one of the most highly respected and influential regional and global organisations and a major factor for security, stability and sustainable development in international relations. The SCO has an impressive geographical scale, meaning the number of countries involved in various capacities. It has accumulated considerable experience of multifaceted cooperation and created a broad legal framework based on the SCO Charter and the 2007 Treaty on Long-Term Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation. This powerful potential allows the Organisation to look into the future with confidence.
The key factor of the SCO’s forward movement is its member states’ resolve to develop their relations based on mutual trust, equality, dialogue, respect for one another’s interests and their civilisational and cultural diversity, all of which we describe as the Shanghai spirit. Evidence of the demand for this model of cooperation is the growing number of countries and international organisations that seek to join the SCO system, including as observer states or dialogue partners.
We hope that the main result of the meeting of the SCO Heads of States Council, which will be held in Astana on 8−9 June, will be the accession of India and Pakistan. We have also prepared a package of documents for signing at the upcoming SCO Summit.
The draft of the Astana Declaration reflects the member states’ common positions on the further consolidation of the SCO and the deepening of multifaceted cooperation within it, as well as on current regional and international issues. As part of strengthening counterterrorism efforts, the SCO leaders will adopt a special statement on the joint fight against international terrorism. We pin great hopes on the signing of the SCO Convention on Combating Extremism, which should improve the legal framework of international cooperation in this area and encourage practical cooperation of the concerned agencies and civil society institutions in the fight against this global threat.
I am convinced that the Astana Summit will contribute to the further development of the SCO and will help strengthen peace and stability in the region.
Question: We see the growing dangers of international terrorism and extremism for regional stability. What can Russia propose to enhance the effectiveness of security cooperation within the SCO?
Igor Morgulov: The global situation is complicated and can be further compounded by the processes and trends that are difficult to foresee. New risks are arising alongside traditional security challenges and threats. We are seriously concerned about some countries’ attempts to unbalance the system of international relations, to force their views on the global agenda on others and to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign states. This is increasing tensions around the world and leading to the proliferation of crises. Tensions and crises are the breeding ground for the unprecedented escalation in the activity of international terrorism.
Another alarming sign is the growth of ISIS influence in Afghanistan. ISIS has been trying to spread to the SCO countries by promoting its extremist ideology and recruiting new fighters in our countries, including online.
A priority task in this situation is to enhance the effectiveness of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS). Russia proposed back in 2012 that RATS be transformed into a centre to combat the security threats and challenges to the SCO member states. Of course, this takes serious and systematic work, which is why we proposed starting with a working group on combating terrorism financing with illegal drug revenues.
We also need to devise additional comprehensive measures against ISIS and to step up cooperation with the concerned regional and global organisations, primarily in the sphere of international information security.
Another SCO priority is to assist crisis settlement in Afghanistan. A big step towards this was the acceptance of the Russian proposal for the revival of the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group as an optimal platform for facilitating the restoration of peace and security in Afghanistan. The SCO member states and the Afghan government have expressed willingness to work in this format.
Question: What proposals does Russia have for building up economic cooperation within the SCO? What role can the SCO play in Russian-Chinese efforts to align the Eurasian Economic Union and the One Belt, One Road project? What prospects does Russia see for the idea to create an SCO free trade area?
Igor Morgulov: The SCO Development Strategy until 2025 directs us to expand trade, economic and investment ties, as well as the joint project activities in priority cooperation areas.
Russia proceeds from the need to address the relevant tasks with account taken of the current trends in the global and regional economies, with the promotion of integration processes being the most vivid of these trends. Jointly with Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, we are strengthening the Eurasian Economic Union. China has proposed its One Belt, One Road initiative. There are other similar ideas being implemented in the region. In this context, it would be important to avoid rivalry or a fixation on our own plans and to work to achieve connectivity of national development strategies and multilateral projects for a synergistic effect.
Addressing the International Forum dedicated to the One Belt, One Road initiative in Beijing in May of this year, President Vladimir Putin stressed that pooling the potentials of such integration formats as the Eurasian Economic Union, One Belt, One Road, the SCO and ASEAN could provide the basis for a Greater Eurasian Partnership.
We are convinced that combining the efforts on the basis of the principles of equality, openness and respect for each other’s interests is the only way to cope with the challenges facing the world economy. For example, by achieving connectivity of infrastructure projects within the framework of the EAEU, OBOR, and the Northern Sea Route we could form a fundamentally new transit configuration in Eurasia.
As for the SCO free trade area idea, certain member states are so far wary of attempts to promote it within the organisation. Nevertheless, the SCO Charter does hold out prospects for creating favourable conditions for trade and investment with an eye to a step-by-step transition to a free movement of goods, capital, services and technologies. A relevant dialogue is under way.
Question: India and Pakistan are expected to join the SCO as full members at the upcoming summit in Astana. How do you view the SCO expansion process? What are Russia’s proposals for further cooperation in a new composition? What are the cooperation priorities?
Igor Morgulov: The procedure for Indian and Pakistani accession, which was launched in Ufa in July 2015, is now at its final stage. Everything is ready for formalising these two states’ SCO accession at the Astana summit. The scale of this event is yet to be assessed, but it is clear right now that their membership will create additional opportunities for providing a powerful impetus to the development of the SCO format and will bring it to a qualitatively new level in regional and global affairs. We are confident that adapting to operations in an expanded format will be successful, if not easy: after all, in the process of accession both New Delhi and Islamabad confirmed their readiness to follow the SCO rules and procedures, or the Shanghai Spirit I mentioned earlier.
In this connection, I would like to say the following. Russia is confident that the first wave of SCO expansion should also include Iran, given its years-long, active participation in SCO operations as an observer state and the absence of legal obstacles to launching the acceptance procedure. It is clear to us that Iran’s accession would make a positive contribution to SCO interaction in all dimensions, including security, the economy and humanitarian ties.