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Russia Says SCO Must Step Up Efforts To Counter IS Threat

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov (file photo)

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov (file photo)

Russia has called for the strengthening of efforts by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to counter the threat posed by the Islamic State (IS) group to the organization's members.

The SCO is a security alliance dominated by Russia and China and seen as a counterweight to NATO.

Its six member states also include Central Asian countries Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Several other states, notably Pakistan and India, have applied for full membership in the organization.

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov said on March 11 that the SCO's member states would step up cooperation "in the fight against terrorism, separatism, extremism, drug trafficking and transnational organized crime."

The highest security priority for the SCO was the increasingly unsettled situation in Afghanistan, according to Morgulov.

"Specifically, I have in mind the emergence of militants from the Islamic State movement," the Russian deputy foreign minister told attendees at the opening session of the SCO's Forum in Khanty-Mansiysk, the administrative center of Russia's Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug.

Morgulov's comments about the Islamic State threat were echoed by Anatoly Torkunov, the rector of Moscow's State Institute of International Relations and the head of the Russian delegation to the SCO forum.

Torkunov told reporters at the forum that the Islamic State group posed the "most obvious challenge" to the SCO member states.

The Islamic State group is undertaking "extremely high activity including directly on the borders of SCO countries and within SCO countries," Torkunov said, adding that the militant group is "actively operating in Afghanistan."

"This is a direct threat to the countries of Central Asia, China, and the Russian Federation. Here, cooperation in the fight against terrorism and radicalism plays a crucial role," Torkunov said.

Fears of the potential and actual threat posed to domestic security in Central Asian states and Russia has become an increasingly dominant theme in those countries. As concerns have grown, so too have calls by Russia and some Central Asian states for increasing regional cooperation to counter the threat.

In December, Russian President Vladimir Putin used a summit meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CTSO) -- whose member states include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- as a platform to call for "coordinated actions" to counter terrorism, particularly the threat posed by the Islamic State group in Afghanistan.

Russia's calls for increased regional cooperation and the strengthening (and even expansion) of regional security pacts can also be seen as an attempt by Moscow to expand its role and influence in Central Asia, and to counter what Russia sees as efforts by the United States to increase its own influence as the world's only superpower, at the expense of other regional powers.

In his comments to the SCO, Morgulov made clear that it was events in Ukraine, as well as in the Middle East, that posed "additional threats" to Russia and the region.

Morgulov hinted that the United States was responsible for fomenting tensions in Ukraine, the Middle East and North Africa.

"All this is the results of attempts by individual states to build under themselves an international community, and to prevent the formation of a multipolar world order," Morgulov said.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena