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Medvedev heads east to drum up support

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev flew to Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe on Wednesday to try to drum up support from eastern allies for its tough policy on Georgia that the West has condemned.

world Updated: Aug 27, 2008 22:24 IST
Oleg Shchedrov

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev flew to Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe on Wednesday to try to drum up support from eastern allies for its tough policy on Georgia that the West has condemned.

The summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) takes place on Thursday as the dust is still settling from the Kremlin’s military intervention in Georgia and its recognition of the breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions.

Western governments issued strongly worded condemnations of the Kremlin’s decision to grant recognition, deepening a rift that has already drawn comparisons with the Cold War.

But Moscow’s allies in the former Soviet Union, Asia and elsewhere, who traditionally side with the Kremlin against the West on contentious issues, have been notable for their silence.

The biggest prize for Russia would be to win the support of China when Medvedev meets Chinese President Hu Jintao at the summit. But analysts say Moscow will not receive decisive backing from
Beijing.

“China, which has own separatists, will be the biggest problem,” Alexei Mukhin, head of the Centre of Political Information think tank, said. “The recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is unacceptable for Beijing.”

Georgia was not included in the formal agenda for the summit of the SCO, which also includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan

But analysts say the agenda will be pushed to one side by the need to discuss the new political realities created by Russia’s military operation in Georgia and Moscow’s growing confrontation with the West.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters in Beijing: “During the summit, the leaders of different countries can... enunciate shared positions on issues of interest to them, including South Ossetia.”

Maintaining a balance
The other four SCO members, all ex-Soviet states who have so far refrained from expressing outright support for Russia on Georgia, all have their own reasons to adopt a “wait-and-see” position.

The four, all in ex-Soviet Central Asia, have built their foreign policy strategies on trying to maintain a balance between loyalty to Moscow and building ties with the West.

Kyrgyzstan will find this balancing act particularly difficult as it now hosts both Russian and US military bases. Analysts say the most Medvedev can hope for is for SCO leaders to say they understand Russia’s motives, without going any further.

“No one will recognise South Ossetia and Abkhazia,” Boris Makarenko, deputy head of Moscow’s Centre for Political Technologies think tank said.

In other business, the Kremlin source said the summit would look at procedures for bringing in new members.

That could allow Iran, which has been an observer at past SCO meetings, to play a greater role — a development that would help the Kremlin achieve its ambition of turning the organisation into a political counterweight to the West.