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Putin praises strength of 'Warsaw Pact 2'

London Telegraph | August 17, 2007
Adrian Blomfield

President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, will attend an unprecedented show of joint military force today amid fears that the Russian leader is trying to turn an increasingly powerful central Asian alliance into a second Warsaw Pact.

The United States will be anxiously watching the military manoeuvres - held under the auspices of the six-member Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) - from afar after its request to send observers was rejected.

Washington has plenty of reasons to be uneasy. Founded in 2001, the SCO, which includes the four central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyztan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as well as China and Russia, is rapidly gaining a reputation as an anti-Western organisation.

That image seems to be one that Mr Putin is happy to cultivate. Analysts say that the Russian president believes the organisation is emerging as a bloc that is rapidly becoming powerful enough to stand up to the West.

Russia's most pro-government newspapers, often used by the Kremlin as propaganda vehicles, yesterday proclaimed the arrival of an "anti-Nato" alliance and a "Warsaw Pact 2". At the annual SCO summit in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek yesterday, Mr Putin praised the alliance's growing strength. "Year after year the SCO becomes a more significant factor in strengthening security and stability in the central Asian region," he said.

In a thinly disguised swipe at Washington, which mirrored earlier attacks on American "unilateralism" and "diktat", he added: "We are convinced that any attempts to resolve global and regional problems alone are useless."

For the most part, the summit's agenda concentrated on promoting energy co-operation in central Asia, whose vast resources have elevated the region's geopolitical importance.

The West has been desperate to strengthen its presence in the area but has begun to fall behind both Russia and China in a race for influence that has been compared to the 19th century Great Game, when Britain and Russia competed for control of the region.

Yet the SCO has wider ambitions. Pakistan, India and Mongolia all want to join - as does Iran, whose president, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, attended the summit as guest of honour, a title bound to rile Washington. Iranian membership of the SCO would pose an enormous headache for the United States. Like Nato, its treaty states that an attack on one member is regarded as an attack on all, raising the prospect that the United States could find itself aligned against both Russia and China if it invaded Iran. Yet, for all Mr Putin's posturing, most analysts believe that an underlying antagonism between the member states means that the SCO is far from cohesive, a charge that reduces its chances to be effective.

Thrown together for the moment by mutual expediency, Russia and China have historically distrusted each other. Beijing, which plays host to the Olympic Games next summer, has much less interest in antagonising the United States and would almost certainly block Iran's accession to the club.

Similarly, the central Asian nations are wary of the two regional superpowers - although, for the time being, the tolerance of Beijing and Moscow for their autocratic ways is more attractive than the demands to democratise made by the United States.

Even so, today's exercises will serve as a reminder that the global balance of power is shifting.

For the first time ever, China is deploying troops, tanks and aircraft on a combined mission abroad.

The exercises, being held in the Russian region of Chelyabinsk, involve 6,500 troops, heavy weapons and combat aircraft.

While the goal of the mission is to simulate the capture of a city held by terrorists, the sight of Russian and Chinese troops marching together will give observers in Washington pause for reflection.

 

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