Russia Wants to Make Iran a Member of Asian Power Bloc, the Shanghai Five

Sergey Lavrov
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks at a news conference in Moscow on April 18. He says Iran fits the bill to join the Shanghai Five, seen as a counterweight to Western alliances. Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters

Russia would support Iran joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, an emerging economic and political alliance led by China, often considered a counterweight to Western alliance organizations. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Iran fully fits the criteria for membership of the so-called Shanghai Five and said that discussions on its bid to join will happen this summer.

"Next in line [for membership] Iran, which has resolved issues related to sanctions from the U.N. Security Council," Lavrov told Russian state news agency Itar-Tass. Iran has expressed a wish to become full member of group under both former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and current leader Hassan Rouhani and was given observer status in 2005, allowing it attend summits.

The country now "fully meets the criteria for membership," Lavrov told journalists at the end of a meeting of the group's foreign ministers, and added that the possibility of offering Iran a full place in the organization will be on the agenda in the upcoming meeting of the bloc in Kazakhstan in June.

The Shanghai Five is a alliance originally devised as a confidence-building forum between neighbors in Central Asia to cooperate in fighting radical insurgent groups and demilitarize borders.

Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan are fully fledged members while India and Pakistan are in the process of becoming full members.

As well as the question of Iran's joining the group, Lavrov said the summit in June would also cover more cooperation in education and forming joint efforts in fighting the illegal drugs trade, plus the vaguely defined effort to crack down on "extremist ideology."

The policy aims of the bloc, particularly in military cooperation, have so far been limited. However, the group notably rejected the U.S. from gaining observer status in 2004, reinforcing the impression that its goal is to exist in opposition to Western political and military alliances.

In November Turkey, a member of NATO, hinted that it could seek membership of the Shanghai group. President Recip Tayyip Erdogan suggested Turkey could join the Shanghai Five instead of being "fixated" on joining the European Union, after European allies were critical of the worsening state of civil liberties in the country.