The Ukraine crisis, which led to the most serious confrontation between Russia and the West since the Cold War, prompted Moscow to develop its relations with key regional players in its neighborhood and strengthen multilateral regional structures to offset the pressure from NATO and the United States.
Russia’s expanding bilateral relations with China and Iran, its plans to develop the Eurasian Economic Union and its attempts to play a more active role within the SCO are just a few of the indications of this trend. Indeed, for the Russians, pursuit of this approach is so important that on June 24 — just one day after the failure to initiate Iran’s admission process — President Vladimir Putin once again said that there is no obstacle to Iran’s accession to the SCO.
China, as the other great power in the SCO, has a somewhat similar approach to the need to strengthen the organization. Over the past two years, China has entered a cycle of increasing tensions with the United States over a range of issues, especially its sovereignty over the South China Sea. Thus, Beijing shares Moscow’s view of the necessity of balancing US actions through the expansion of regional cooperation.
In contrast, since the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran has focused on improving its deteriorated relations with the West. This effort is evidenced by the frequent diplomatic trips to Iran by senior European officials and also similar visits to European capitals by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Given that the SCO is known in the international sphere as a club of revisionist states at best, and at worst as a wholly anti-Western organization or the “NATO of the East,” it seems that for Iran to join the organization would thus hurt its current balanced foreign policy approach.