Shanghai Cooperation Organization Meeting in Samarkand: First Conclusions

The world’s media have paid close attention to the gathering of 15 world leaders in Samarkand, Uzbekistan these past two days with particular emphasis on the ‘summit’ held by Presidents Putin of Russia and Xi of China on the sidelines of this general meeting.

Observers noted that the visit to Samarkand is the first foreign trip by XI since before the onset of the Covid pandemic and it was being undertaken precisely for the sake of face-to-face meetings with Putin, with whom he met last during the Winter Olympics in Beijing, just weeks prior to the launch of Russia’s ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine.

Today’s news updates from Moscow point to the Chinese leader’s expressions of readiness to continue and expand his country’s ties with and support for Russia. What exactly that means is left entirely vague. However, yesterday the pickings for the world press were still more meager. The online edition of The Financial Times built its main ‘front page’ article on the Russian-Chinese summit around one sentence from Putin, to the effect that he understands the questions and concerns of the Chinese with respect to the war. From this one sentence, the FT speculated at length on how the Ukraine war has raised tensions between the two countries and put in question XI’s famous declaration at the Olympics summit that the Russian-Chinese relationship is greater than an alliance.

As a protocol event, the SCO gathering has a great deal of symbolism because of the shared ambition of all its members to pursue creation of a multi-polar world order to replace global American hegemony. The members represent a very substantial share of the world population and also of the world economy. However, what went on in Samarkand surely also had a great deal of material content. We know, for example, that Russia and Pakistan in their side talks have fleshed out prospective energy cooperation entailing the high volume sale of pipeline gas to Karachi, all of which will represent a substantial restructuring of the energy markets in South Asia. But because so much of the content is being negotiated against a backdrop of aggressive American imposition of sanctions, most particularly of late directed against Russia in connection with its military operation in Ukraine, it is understandable that all parties in Samarkand sought to avoid waving a red flag before the American bull and were quiet about their bilateral commercial and other agreements.

Apart from Russia and China, surely the country that has followed the progress of talks in Samarkand most closely is Iran, which made its debut as a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Accordingly, Iran’s Press TV last night organized a live discussion of the fruits of the Samarkand talks in which I was pleased to be a participant. The link to the video recording of this broadcast is here

Gilbert Doctorow is a Brussels-based political analyst. His latest book is Does Russia Have a Future? Reprinted with permission from his blog.

© Gilbert Doctorow, 2022