"Ukraine is interested in entering Asian markets with high-tech products manufactured together with the Russian Federation", Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich said during a meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Sochi.
Manufacturing of high-tech products is an important element of economic growth, the Ukrainian leader said. “We are interested in combining efforts in order for us to be able to work on the markets of third countries, first of all, the CIS,” he told Putin. “We would like to become an observer in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in order to get the opportunity to take part in integration processes ongoing within it. We would like you to be one of our partners in the SCO.” The Russian president, in his turn, said search for sales markets in Asia was really important for Ukraine at the moment.
The SCO is not a military bloc, even though its main goals are strengthening stability and security on the huge territory of its member states, fighting against terrorism, separatism, extremism and drug trafficking, developing economic and energy cooperation, and scientific and cultural interaction.
“The SCO is a political rather than military union,” Mikhail Pogrebinsky, head of the Center of Political Research and Conflict Studies in Kiev, told us. “Yet since the organization unites a huge number of people and is a serious authority, its membership is prestigious and useful for any country. You can stay in the know about what the great powers are discussing and can even put in a word sometimes. The SCO membership doesn’t offer any significant economic profit, but this is big politics. So becoming an SCO observer will greatly improve Ukraine’s image. The organization is in no hurry to invite us, and I am certain that there is no way we are going to become a member, but we still should voice our ambitions and desire to attend its events from time to time. I believe that it is Putin who first of all wants to see us in the SCO. It is as if Russia were telling us, “We are willing to represent your interests in the SCO, but giving you the right to vote – don’t even think of it!”
SCO member states have agreed not to cooperate with organizations whose goals contradict their common interests. In reality, this means that the SCO will counteract the intentions of NATO and the United States to increase their influence in the region it “controls.” A proof of this can be seen in the fact that the United States (and Japan) has repeatedly asked to get the status of an observer and has been rejected. Instead, the SCO is actively expanding relations with the European Union; EU-China summits are held annually. So even Ukraine’s intention to join NATO will severe any relations with the Shanghai Six for good.
“No one is inviting anyone to the SCO, because, even though this is officially an open union, Russia and China are unlikely to be eager to invite new members,” comments Sergei Belashko, head of the Social Communications Agency in Kiev. “Leaders of the Shanghai Six are much more interested in cooperation with India and Iran, which – alongside Pakistan, Mongolia and Afghanistan – have the status of permanent observers. The statuses of Belarus, Turkey and Sri Lanka are even vaguer: they are sometimes invited to participate in some of the organization’s events. The SCO is not an anti-American or global union; it is designed to deal with purely regional issues. Consequently, cooperation with it is not a priority for the US. The SCO is significantly different from, say, the CIS, it is not an umbrella structure that embraces everything and everyone, it has clear priorities that are limited to issues of security and economy. That is, this organization addresses purely practical issues – such as security of transport corridors or counteraction to drug trafficking and Islamic extremism.”
Washington continues pulling Ukraine towards NATO, because it views it exclusively as a convenient military foothold and a necessary transport corridor. Obviously, the opinion of Ukrainian citizens and their well-being is of zero importance here. It is no secret that the Kremlin takes calmly any of Kiev’s foreign political movements except for integration with NATO. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has repeatedly said that Ukraine’s accession to the organization will disturb the geopolitical balance in Europe and Moscow will be forced to take measures. Apart from direct threats of aiming strategic missiles towards Ukraine, there was a hint of ending any Russian-Ukrainian contacts in the Asian region of Russia’s influence. So the Kremlin needs to be certain of Kiev’s reliability before it starts lobbying its interests in the SCO.
“The SCO is of interest for us first of all because we need to develop our exports,” says Oleg Ustenko, executive director of the international Bleyzer Foundation. Out of each 1,000 hryvnas of the Ukrainian GDP, half is generated outside of the country. The CIS accounts for 40% of the country’s foreign currency revenues, Europe for 25%, and almost all of the rest comes from Asian markets. The SCO is important for us not only because of Russia and China, but because other countries of the region are joining it. This creates opportunities for lobbying the interests of Ukrainian exporters. China keeps discussing at different levels the idea of restoring the Great Silk Way, which can even go through Ukraine. So we should not ignore the geopolitical interests of China, which is the world’s second biggest economy. This is why we should do everything we can to become an SCO observer. In this aspect, we need to choose our tactic with Russia very carefully, since no one will take into account our interests just for the sake of it – self always comes first. A way to encourage Russia to become our lobbyist could be attracting our neighbors as observers in our talks with the European Union – so that they know what we are trying to achieve and we avoid potential misunderstanding. So I believe that the SCO is a promising area which Ukraine doesn’t pay sufficient attention to yet.”
Even if Russia decides it wants to see Ukraine as at least an observer in the SCO, it needs to be sure that Ukraine will work to protect Russia’s interests within the organization, too. The way to achieve this is a task with many indeterminates for Ukrainian leaders and diplomats. Russia and China can afford to sometimes ignore their economic interests for the sake of passing or global political goals. For Ukraine, this is unacceptable.