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Europe

Russia Looks East After Criticism from the West

President Dmitry Medvedev met his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao and the leaders of four ex-Soviet Central Asian nations in a bid to secure support for Russia its standoff with the West over Georgia.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, left, and Chinese President Hu Jintao shake hands

Medvedev and Hu Jintao have many common goals but differences remain

Medvedev was in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, on Thursday, Aug. 28, for the second of two days of consultations with his partners in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as Western leaders renewed their condemnation of Russia's diplomatic recognition of breakaway regions of Georgia.

The SCO was formed in 2001 as a counterweight to NATO's growing influence in the region.

"If we are talking about SCO's move from an economic organization to a military one, then this has already happened," Alexei Mukhin, head of the Moscow-based Center of Political Information, told the DPA news agency. "All the member states were willing in response to the strengthening of NATO."

With Russian troops still in key positions in Georgia, tension with NATO mounted as a top Russian general accused the alliance of building up its fleet in the Black Sea.

"Can NATO indefinitely build up its forces and means there?" Anatoly Nogovitsyn, the deputy chief of Russia's general staff, asked at a Moscow briefing. "It turns out it cannot."

He added that 10 of the Western alliance's vessels were currently patrolling the Black Sea and eight more were on route to join them.

Russia belligerent but lacking support

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

Medvedev's defiance belies his search for supporters

Medvedev's defiant recognition of Georgia's separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where the conflict erupted early August, has led to a sharp cooling of diplomatic relations.

"We're not afraid of anything, of a new Cold War," Medvedev said on Tuesday. "If our partners want to maintain good relations with Russia, they will understand our decision."

But the move provoked NATO, the United States and some European allies to demand a "reversal" of the decision.

So far, the presidents of Belarus and Syria are the only allies to support the Russian move.

While Georgia is not officially part of the summit agenda in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe, a Kremlin spokesman said it was "obvious" that the issue would take center stage.

Realistic demands of China

Moscow will be pushing for judicial support, namely from China, and promises of tighter military cooperation from eastern allies.

Chinese police in Tibet

China has its reasons for not commenting on Russia's decree

Russia cannot expect China to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia because it faces similar problems with restless regions at home, analysts said. China had no comment Wednesday on Russia recognizing the independence of two rebel Georgian provinces, continuing its policy of saying virtually nothing about the situation.

Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang, on Tuesday, elaborated only slightly when asked about the Russian parliament's passing of motions to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent nations.

"We have noted the latest developments of the situation, and we hope relevant parties find a proper resolution of the issue through dialogue," Qin said. The ministry added that it would contact the media when it had more to say.

But in Russia, lack of criticism is being seen as tacit agreement.

"But silence on this question will de facto mean agreement, and, more importantly, China will move to block any economic sanctions against Russia within the UN," Mukhin said.

The parliament's motions preceded Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's decision to formally recognize the two regions as independent on Tuesday.

Following the government's line, China's state-run press has given the issue scant attention.

The People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party, carried only a small article Wednesday on page six, giving a factual account of Medvedev's decision.

The Global Times, which focuses on international affairs, ran the story on its front page but with no commentary.

China faces a dilemma over the Georgian issue. While it has close ties with Russia, it is facing its own problems with groups pushing for independence in its Buddhist region of Tibet and Muslim Xinjiang.

SCO leadership battle provides further problems

Shanghai Cooperation Organisation logo

Russia and China are vying for the leadership of the SCO

China and Russia's competition for influence within the SCO also complicates any potential for rapprochement.

The two nations hold different visions of what should become of the organization, with China aiming for an expansion of trade benefits while Moscow wants increased military cooperation.

Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, which host both US and Russian military bases, have looked to balance their Russian ties with the United States in recent years and are likely to find this a compromising position.

The Kremlin said in a statement that high on the summit agenda would be reviewing procedures for admitting new members, such as Iran which holds observer status in the club.

The move would snub Washington's drive to isolate the Islamic state, which it suspects of harboring a nuclear weapons program, while moving closer to realizing Russia's goal of knitting an anti-hegemonic alliance to counter US policy.

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