Medvedev Heads East Looking for Support

Russia will be looking for unambiguous support from Asian nations, including China, in its standoff with the West over South Ossetia and Abkhazia when the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meets Thursday in Dushanbe.

Moscow is hoping the SCO members, which also include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, will sign a declaration expressing unequivocal support for Russia's stance in the conflict over South Ossetia by condemning violence and praising Russia's role in mediating the hostilities there, a Foreign Ministry official said Tuesday.

"We are hoping that our efforts in resolving the conflict in Georgia will be acknowledged," said a ministry official familiar with the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters. "A draft declaration is currently being confirmed at the expert level."

He added that although South Ossetia was not located in Asia, unlike the SCO member states and observers, an expression of support from the organization would be important because "we are talking about Russian citizens."

Moscow has largely been going it alone, with only mute expressions of support from most of its allies, since Russian forces halted and chased back into Georgia military forces that had tried to retake control of the breakaway republic.

President Dmitry Medvedev, after recognizing the independence of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia on Tuesday, will likely be looking for more support, particularly after Britain called for an international coalition to counter Russia following Medvedev's announcement.

The declaration, if signed, would be the strongest backing Russia has received to date.

So far, strong statements of support have come only from Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Although Russia is likely to garner at least some of the backing it seeks at the meeting, it is less certain whether other members will go as far as recognizing South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

"Russia is in a situation right now where any reaction that doesn't condemn it will be interpreted as indirect support," said Alexei Makarkin, an analyst with the Center for Political Technologies.

"The issue of recognition will become key," he said, adding that China, for one, was unlikely to side with Russia on the subject of recognition for fear of escalating tensions in its own provinces of Tibet and Xinjiang.

A Chinese government spokesman said Tuesday that a common position on South Ossetia was likely to be discussed in Dushanbe.

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

The Russian official added that the members were also expected to issue a communique mapping out future cooperation in economic, security and humanitarian spheres and sign agreements on anti-terrorism military exercises, battling the illegal international arms trade and cooperation in the banking sphere.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman from summit host Tajikistan, Davlatmand Gulmadov, would not discuss on Tuesday the documents to be signed at the summit.

Medvedev is expected to arrive Wednesday for a three-day visit, while Chinese President Hu Jintao was already in Dushanbe, the spokesman said, adding that Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov was not expected to attend.

While Makarkin said the days of dueling East-West alliances were a thing of the past, the Foreign Ministry official clearly expected the event to send a message to the West, and to Washington in particular.

"When boxer Muhammad Ali began wearing a T-shirt with the words 'I am the greatest', he ceased to be the greatest," the official said.