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Russia, China Looking To Form 'NATO Of The East'?
A six-member group, seeking to balance US power, meets in Moscow Wednesday.
By Fred Weir, Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
Christian Science Monitor
October 26, 2005 Pg. 4
MOSCOW -- Russia and China could take a step closer to forming a Eurasian
military confederacy to rival NATO at a Moscow meeting of the six-member
Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Wednesday, experts say.
The group, which started in 2001 with limited goals of promoting cooperation
in former Soviet Central Asia, has evolved rapidly toward a regional
security bloc and could soon induct new members such as India, Pakistan, and
One initiative that core members Russia and China agree on, experts say, is
to squeeze US influence -- which peaked after 9/11 -- out of the SCO's
neighborhood. "Four years ago, when the SCO was formed, official Washington
pooh-poohed it and declared it was no cause for concern," says Ariel Cohen,
senior researcher at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. "Now they're
Wednesday's meeting is expected to review security cooperation, including a
spate of upcoming joint military exercises between SCO members' armed
forces. It may also sign off on a new "Contact Group" for Afghanistan. That
would help Russia and China -- both concerned about increased opium flows and the rise of Islamism -- develop direct relations between SCO and the
Afghan government. While this will be highly controversial given the presence of NATO troops and Afghans' bitter memories of fighting Russian
throughout the 1980s, the Russians have an "in" because they still have long-standing allies in the country.
In attendance Wednesday will be prime ministers of member states Russia,
China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, as well as top
officials from several recently added "observer" states, including Indian
Foreign Minister Natwar Singh, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, and
Iranian Vice President Parviz Davudi.
The SCO's swift rise has been fueled by deteriorating security conditions in
ex-Soviet Central Asia, as well as a hunger in Moscow and Beijing for a
vehicle that could counter US influence in the region.
"Moscow is seeking options to demonstrate -- to Washington in the first place
-- that Russia is still an important player in this area," says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a partner of the US
bimonthly journal Foreign Affairs. "China's ambitions are growing fast, and it also wants to turn the SCO into something bigger and more
Russian leaders blame the Bush administration, with its emphasis on
democracy-building, for recent unrest, including revolution in Kyrgyzstan
and a putative Islamist revolt in Uzbekistan. "Washington wants to expand
democracy, which it sees as a panacea for all social and geopolitical evils," says Sergei Karaganov, head of the Council for Foreign and Defense
Policies, which advises the Kremlin. "But it is clear to us that any rapid democratization of these countries (in Central Asia) will lead to
An SCO summit last June demanded that the US set a timetable to remove the
bases it put in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan with Moscow's acquiescence in the
wake of 9/11. In July, Uzbek leader Islam Karimov ordered the US base at
Karshi-Khanabad to evacuate by year's end. But two recent visits to Kyrgyzstan by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appear to have secured the
US lease on that country's Manas airbase indefinitely -- albeit with a sharp rent increase.
"There is nothing to cheer about," says Mr. Cohen. "Washington has signaled
to the Russians that we won't be seeking any new bases in Central Asia.
Basically, we are doing nothing to counter the moves against us."
In joint maneuvers last August, Russian strategic bombers, submarines, and
paratroopers staged a mock invasion of a "destabilized" far eastern region
with Chinese troops. This month, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov
proposed holding the first Indian-Chinese-Russian war games under SCO
sponsorship. "In principle, this is possible," he said. "The SCO was formed
as an organization to deal with security issues."
Should states like India and Iran join, the SCO's sway could spread into
South Asia and the Middle East. "India sees observer status [in the SCO] as
a steppingstone to full membership," says a Moscow-based Indian diplomat who asked not to be named. But he added that India, which has recently
improved its relations with the US, does not want to send an anti-US message. "We would hope the Americans would understand our desire to be
inside the SCO, rather than outside," he says.
While the SCO's potential looks vast on paper, experts say internal rivalries would preclude it from evolving into a NATO-like security bloc.
"What kind of allies could Russia and China be?" says Akady Dubnov, an expert with the Vremya Novostei newspaper. "The main question
for them in
Central Asia is who will gain the upper hand."
Still, the idea of a unified eastern bloc has strong appeal for some in Moscow. "It's very important that regional powers are showing the
will to resolve Eurasian problems without the intrusion of the US," says Alexander Dugin, chair of the International Eurasian Movement, whose
members include leading Russian businessmen and politicians. "Step by step we're building a world order not based on the unipolar hegemony
of the US."
Says Cohen: "Eventually they'll wake up to this challenge in Washington. But
will it be too late?"