Medvedev's First Trip Highlights Asia Ties

President Dmitry Medvedev plans to sign a political declaration and economic agreements with China and two space deals with Kazakhstan this week during an Asian visit aimed at highlighting the continuity of Russia's foreign policy and its priorities.

Medvedev, who will be making his first foreign trip since assuming office May 7, will fly to Astana on Thursday and travel from there to Beijing. Fifteen business leaders, including billionaires Oleg Deripaska and Vladimir Yevtushenkov and Aeroflot CEO Valery Okulov, will accompany him to Chin, a Foreign Ministry official said Monday.

The choice of destinations is meant to demonstrate that Russia will continue to invest in its partnerships in Asia, while ties with the United States and the European Union remain strained, analysts said.

"This is a warning of sorts to the West that Moscow is firmly determined to stick to its priorities and will not settle for any compromise the West might be expecting from Medvedev," said Yevgeny Volk, Moscow head of the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.

Moscow, Beijing and Astana cooperate within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional security body seen as an attempt to counterbalance the United States and NATO in Asia.

Medvedev's first trip to the West as president will be to Germany early next month. In his trips to Asia and the West, Medvedev, who has pledged to work in tandem with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and continue his policies, will not blaze any new foreign policy trails but follow Putin's well-trodden path -- at least for now, analysts said.

During his eight years in office, Putin made Kazakhstan and Germany two of his most frequent destinations. Other than Ukraine, Putin visited Kazakhstan more than any other foreign country, going there a total of 15 times. In Europe, Putin most frequently traveled to Germany, where he once worked as a KGB officer. Putin visited Germany 13 times and China seven times.

In Beijing, Medvedev and Chinese President Hu Jintao are expected to sign a political declaration to confirm "good neighbor relations and strategic partnership," said a Foreign Ministry official who will participate in the visit, speaking on customary condition of anonymity. In March 2007, Putin and Hu signed a broad declaration aimed at easing cross-border deals for businesses.

Medvedev, who traveled to China three times in late 2005 and 2006 as co-chair of the organizing committees of the Year of China in Russia and the Year of Russia in China, will also oversee the signing of a series of agreements in banking, energy, tourism and regional cooperation, the ministry official said. He declined to put a price tag on the deals.

Hu and Putin oversaw the signing of $6 billion worth of agreements during Hu's trip to Russia last year.

"The visit will once again demonstrate the potential that Russian-Chinese relations have, especially in the energy sector," said Aram Akopyan, director for investment projects at the Russian-Chinese Center for Trade and Economic Cooperation.

Russia is building an East Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline that will send crude eastward. Russia and China aim to almost triple bilateral trade to $80 billion by 2010.

In Kazakhstan, Medvedev will oversee the signing of intergovernmental agreements on the "peaceful exploration of space" and Russia's Glonass navigation network, a rival to the U.S. Global Positioning System, said another Foreign Ministry official.

Medvedev and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev may also adopt a political framework agreement, said the official and Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman Ilyas Umarov.

A traditional Moscow ally, Kazakhstan is key to Russia's desire to keep Central Asian gas under its influence. Last December, Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan signed a landmark agreement to build a natural gas pipeline along the Caspian Sea coast. The United States and the European Union have lobbied for a rival pipeline to be built under the Caspian Sea, bypassing Russia.

Umarov said Kazakhstan was happy that Medvedev's first trip abroad was to Kazakhstan. "We have a common historic past and long borders," he said.

Trade between Russia and Kazakhstan reached $16.5 billion last year.

Kazakhstan will assume chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in 2010, and the first talks between Kazakh and Russian officials on Astana's chairmanship in the OSCE started last week, Umarov said.