Putin Seeks Membership of Asian Business Club

President Vladimir Putin flies to a summit of leaders of major Asian states this week hoping to press his case for Russia to be part of their economic and political integration. His trip to Malaysia for the Dec. 13-14 Kuala Lumpur East Asian summit ends a busy year of Asian diplomacy for Russia, which is disillusioned with its role of outsider in European integration and keen to get on board a similar process in Asia.

"The process of globalization is beginning to have an Asian look about it," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in his annual foreign policy review. "This makes the fast-developing Asia-Pacific region a top priority for us."

Asian countries are looking to Russia to provide much of the energy for their booming industries.

Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko said last month that by 2020, 30 percent of the country's oil exports would go to Asia, compared with the current 3 percent.

Russia's interest in Asia has been growing since the mid-1990s, when its dream of becoming an integral part of a larger Europe stumbled over economic and political differences.

Europe has become suspicious of Putin's "managed democracy" and the growing state role in Russia's economy. The Kremlin is unhappy about rising NATO and European Union influence in a region where it once held sway.

"Europe creates as many problems for Russia as opportunities," the Vremya Novostei daily wrote. "Asia is different. ... It shares many values with Russia."

Asian states rarely take Russia to task over its economic and democratic standards. In July, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization -- which groups Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Iran and the ex-Soviet republics of Central Asia -- gave itself the role of regional security forum.

But analysts say an invitation for Putin to take part as a guest of the Kuala Lumpur summit is seen by the Kremlin as the membership card for a new club.

But for now, Moscow's still small role in the Asian economy prevents it from being a central member. Russia's share of the trade of Associaton of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, is only 0.4 percent. The figure is only slightly higher for China and India.

One of its biggest trade items is weaponry. Asia buys more than 90 percent of Russia's $5 billion of annual arms exports.

Russia wants more access to Asian markets as well as investment in its poor Asian provinces.

n?Russia signed an economic cooperation agreement with ASEAN, elevating the country's relationship with the regional group to the same level as China, India and Japan, Bloomberg reported. The accord pledges to deepen two-way trade and investment between Russia and the regional bloc.