Wednesday, 17 June 2009


Sino-Russian baby comes of age

Asia Times Online
By M K Bhadrakumar

By the yardstick of Jacques, the melancholy
philosopher-clown in William Shakespeare's play As You Like
It, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has
indisputably passed the stage of "Mewling and puking in the
nurse's arms".

Nor is SCO anymore the "whining schoolboy, with his
satchel/And shining morning face, creeping like
snail/Unwillingly to school". The SCO more and more
resembles Jacques' lover, "Sighing like a furnace, with a
woeful ballad/Made to his mistress' brow." Indeed, if all
the world's a stage and the regional organizations are
players who make their exits and entrances, the SCO is
doing remarkably well playing many parts. That it has
finally reached adulthood is beyond dispute.

But growing up is never easy, especially adolescence, and
the past year since the SCO summit in Dushanbe, Tajikistan,
has been particularly transformational. What stands out
when the SCO's ninth summit meeting begins in the Urals
city of Yekaterinburg in Russia on Monday is that the
setting in which the regional organization - comprising
China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and
Uzbekistan - is called on to perform has itself
unrecognizably shifted since last August's gathering of
leaders in Dushanbe. First, the big picture.

The locus shifts east

The world economic crisis has descended on the SCO space
like a Siberian blast that brings frost and ice and leaves
behind a white winter, sparking mild hysteria. The
landscape seems uniformly attired, but that can be a highly
deceptive appearance. Russia and China, which make up the
sum total of the SCO experience, are responding to the
economic crisis in vastly different terms.

For Russia, as former prime minister and well-known scholar
academician Yevgeniy Primakov observed ruefully in a recent
Izvestia interview, "Russia will not come out of the crisis
anytime soon ... Russia will most likely come out of the
recession in the second echelon - after the developed
countries ... The trap of the present crisis is that it is
not localized but is worldwide. Russia is dependent on
other countries. That lessens the opportunity to get out of
the recession in a short period of time." [1]

Primakov should know. It was he as president Boris
Yeltsin's prime minister who steered Russia out of its
near-terminal financial crisis 10 years ago that brought
the whole post-Soviet edifice in Moscow all but tumbling

Russia's economic structure is such that 40% of its gross
domestic product (GDP) is created through raw material
exports, which engenders a highly vulnerable threshold when
the world economy as a whole gets caught up in the grip of
recession. But what about China?

This was how Primakov compared the Chinese and Russian
economic scenario:

"In China too, as in Russia, exports make up a significant
part of the GDP. The crisis smacked them and us. The
difference is that China exports ready-made products, while
on our country [Russia] a strong raw material flow was
traditional. What are the Chinese doing?

"They are moving a large part of the ready-made goods to the
domestic market. At the same time, they are trying to raise
the population's solvent demand. On this basis, the plants
and factories will continue to operate and the economy will

"We [Russia] cannot do that. If raw materials are moved to
the domestic market, consumers of such vast volumes will
not be found. Raise the population's solvent demand? That
merely steps up imports."

This is only one part of a complex story, but the short
point concerns the vastly different prospects of economic
stabilization in the current crisis that China and Russia
face. To be sure, its impact on the geopolitics of the SCO
space cannot be overlooked. Simply put, China's profile as
the "donor" country in the SCO space is shining brighter
than ever before. China has given US$25 billion as a loan
to Russia and $15 billion as a loan to Kazakhstan, the two
big-time players in the SCO, during the April-May period.

Last week, in yet another breathtaking move, China offered
a loan of $3 billion to Turkmenistan. The loan for Russia
is a vital lifeline for its number one oil major Rosneft
and its monopoly pipeline builder Transneft. The loan for
Kazakhstan, which goes partly towards acquiring a 50% stake
in MangistauMunaiGaz, increases China's share of oil
production in Kazakhstan to 22%. Again, the loan for
Turkmenistan ensures that China has the inside track on the
fabulous Yolotan-Osman, which is reputed to be one of the
biggest gas fields in the world.

No heartburn in Moscow

In short, if the law of nature is such that gravitation in
life is inevitably towards where the money comes from, the
locus of the SCO has shifted to Beijing more than ever
before. In any other context, this would have straightaway
introduced a high state of disequilibrium within the SCO.
It took decades for France and Germany to figure out
cohabitation within the European Economic Community. The
China-Russia equilibrium within the SCO has always been
delicate, but it may have prima facie become more so than
ever before. But in actuality, it isn't so.

It goes to the credit of the leaderships in Moscow and
Beijing that they have steered their relationship in a
positive direction by rationally analyzing the imperatives
of their strategic partnership in the overall international
situation rather than in a limited sphere of who gains
access to which gas fields first in the Caspian or who is a
lender and who is a borrower in these extraordinary times.

Thus, the frequent tempo of Russia-China high-level
exchanges has been kept up. Both sides are sensitive to
each other's core concerns and vital interests. Russia's
conflict in the Caucasus last August was a litmus test and
Beijing passed the test. The Russia-China mutual
understanding survived intact without bruises.

Despite China's highly principled position on the issue of
political separatism and secessionism, and despite all
efforts by Western propaganda, China kept a watchful
position on Georgia's breakaway republics of Abkhazia and
South Ossetia and silently took note of Moscow's
recognition of their unilateral declaration of
independence, but on balance remained broadly sympathetic
to Russia's concerns and predicaments, which Moscow duly

Again, belying all Western expectations that Russian and
Chinese priorities in energy security diverge, the two
countries have finally begun taking big strides on the
ground in energy cooperation. A variety of factors went
into it - the fall in demand for energy in the
recession-struck European markets; strains in
Russia-European Union energy relations; Russia's own search
for diversification of its Asian market; Russia's energy
rivalries with the European Union and the United States in
the Caspian and so on - but the fact remains that Moscow is
increasingly overcoming its hesitancy that it might get
hooked to the massive Chinese energy market as an
"appendage", as a mere provider of raw materials for
China's economy.

The 25-year $25 billion China-Russia "loan-for-oil" deal
signed in April alone amounts to Russian oil supplies
equivalent of 4% of China's current daily needs. Not bad at
all. But it is in the sphere of natural gas that we may
expect big news in the coming period. This is virgin soil.
Russia at present does not figure as a gas exporter to the
Chinese market. And natural gas is where the world's - and
especially China's - focus is turning in the coming

Powerful Kremlin politician Deputy Prime Minister Igor
Sechin is on record that the Russian leadership will be
making some major proposals to Chinese President Hu Jintao
during his visit to Russia to attend the SCO summit.
("Whatever amount they [China] ask for, we [Russia] have
the gas," Sechin reportedly said.) It cannot be lost on
observers that the Kremlin has earmarked the SCO summit
event for taking such a strategic step in energy
cooperation with China.

Thus, it has become a moot point whether Moscow has or has
not yet realized the then president Vladimir Putin's
four-year-old idea of forming an "energy club" within the
SCO framework. Effectively, a matrix is developing among
the SCO countries (involving member countries as well as
"observers") in the field of energy cooperation. It has
several templates - China on the one hand and Kazakhstan,
Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan on the other; Russia-China;
China-Iran; Russia-Iran; Iran-Pakistan; and, of course
Russia's traditional ties with the Central Asian states.
(If the current Iranian plan for an oil pipeline linking
the Caspian Sea and the Gulf of Oman materializes soon, yet
another template may be formed involving Iran, Russia,
Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.)

Arguably, so far these vectors have not collided with each
other, despite the prognosis of Western experts that
Russian and Chinese interests in the Central Asian and the
Caspian region will inevitably collide [2]. Moscow seems to
be quite comfortable with the idea that the Chinese are
accessing the region's surplus energy reserves rather than
the US or EU countries. As a commentator put it, "Russia is
also doing its damnedest to keep Europe out of Central Asia
... In Central Asia, it's starting to look as if Moscow
and, to a lesser extent, Beijing ... may have already
outmaneuvered Europe." [3]

SCO gatecrashes the Hindu Kush

Less than three years ago, a leading American expert on the
Central Asian region, Dr Martha Brill Olcott of the
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, described the
SCO as "little more than a discussion forum". Olcott said,
"Today, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization does not pose
any direct threat to US interests in Central Asia or in the
region more generally." [4]

That was a debatable point even three years ago, more so
now. What seems to have happened is that the US simply has
had no choice but to learn to live with a unique regional
organization that insists on keeping it excluded. Any
regional body that includes Russia and China cannot but be
of interest to Washington. No doubt, SCO has been an object
of intense curiosity for US regional policies through the
past decade. American diplomats did all they could to
debunk it in its formative years. Finally, Washington
reconciled. This was evident from the fact that eventually
the US began making efforts of its own, vainly though, to
gain observer status in the SCO.

The list of participants at the SCO summit in Yekaterinburg
testifies to the SCO's steady evolution as an influential
regional and international body. Curiously, the list of
participants includes Mahinda Rajapaksa, president of Sri
Lanka, as a "dialogue partner". In terms of realpolitik,
SCO has broadened its reach to the Indian Ocean region.
Clearly, it is a matter of time before Nepal, Myanmar
Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are associated with the SCO
processes one way or another. The SCO already has
institutionalized links with the 10-member Association of
Southeast Asian Nations.

A stage has come when the SCO's common stances on regional
and international issues are widely noted by the
international community and discussed threadbare by
regional experts. Quite likely, this year's statement will
reflect a common SCO position strongly endorsing the Sri
Lankan government's policy of rebuffing the Western
intrusive approach in terms of humanitarian intervention in
the island's current problem affecting displaced Tamils.

For Colombo, the SCO support will come as a much-needed
shot in the arm in warding off Western pressure in the
period ahead. Already in the United Nations Security
Council, Colombo depends on the robust support of Russia
and China, both veto-holding powers from the SCO.

Again, the SCO's formulations this year on the North Korean
and Iran nuclear problems will be read with interest. Last
year's statement on the conflict in the Caucasus was widely
discussed by regional experts.

During the past year, the SCO has virtually gatecrashed
into the Afghanistan problem, so much so that it is going
to be counter-productive for Washington to shut out the
regional body altogether from the Hindu Kush. The SCO has
rapidly built on its nascent idea of a "contact group" with
Kabul. It has maintained a smooth working relationship
with the government led by President Hamid Karzai. If
anything, Karzai's recent difficulties with North Atlantic
Treaty Organization (NATO) capitals have prompted him
to reach out to Moscow.

United States pressure on Karzai to keep him away from the
SCO is unlikely to work again. Karzai will be present at
the Yekaterinburg summit meeting. His vice presidential
running mate, Karim Khalili, recently visited Moscow.
Karzai's other running mate, Mohammed Fahim, has old links
with Russia's security agencies.

The SCO conference on Afghanistan held in Moscow on March
27 was primarily intended to challenge the US's monopoly
over conflict resolution in Afghanistan, though its focus
was on the problem of drug trafficking. It followed three
years of futile efforts by the SCO to forge a partnership
with NATO for the stabilization of the Afghan situation,
which Washington kept frustrating.

Finally, the US was compelled to attend the Moscow
conference lest Russia and China dissociate from similar
American-sponsored forums on Afghanistan. The conference
has opened a window of opportunity for regional powers to
get involved with Afghanistan's stabilization, independent
of US strategy. Countries like India, which are being left
out of the loop, will find the SCO as a useful framework to
work with. (India will be represented at the SCO summit for
the first time ever at the level of the prime minister.)

The SCO conference also assumes significance in the context
of the Barack Obama administration's AfPak strategy, which
envisages "grand bargains" with regional powers. The SCO
sized up that Washington's game plan would be to strike
"grand bargains" individually and separately with each of
the countries in the region, which would effectively ensure
that the US retained the monopoly of conflict resolution
and enabled the US to give new underpinnings to its
regional policies aimed at broadening and deepening its
influence in Central Asian and Southwest Asian geopolitics.

Bush's policies continue

NATO has officially invited Kazakhstan, a major SCO member
country, to take part in its Afghan operations. [5] This is
despite Kazakhstan being an active promoter and a prominent
member of the Collective Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the
SCO, both of which have repeatedly offered partnerships to
the Western alliance for its Afghan mission. [6]

Robert Simmons, the NATO secretary general's special
representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, is on
record as saying that the Kazakh army has already achieved
"interoperability" with NATO forces and could make a good
showing in the Afghan mission. Clearly, NATO is
sidestepping the CSTO and the SCO and would prefer to deal
with Central Asian capitals individually. The US is
striking similar "grand bargains" with other Central Asian
capitals in terms of gaining access to new military base

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev stated in April that
Russia and China would strengthen their military
cooperation through the SCO and engage in several joint
military maneuvers. He implied that these plans were aimed
at limiting the US's presence in Central Asia. From the
Russian and Chinese point of view, it is obvious that the
erosion of the US's economic foundations is not preventing
Washington from pursuing with renewed vigor its project
aimed at regaining lost influence in Central Asia.

The Obama administration's proposed budget for the State
Department allocates aid of $41.5 million for Kyrgyzstan
and $46.5 million for Tajikistan, whereas the corresponding
figures for the current fiscal year are $24.4 million and
$25.2 million, respectively. US military aid to the two
countries will also similarly be increased under the new

The justification given is that Central Asia's strategic
importance has risen of late for US regional policies.
According to budget justification documents released by the
State Department in Washington on May 7:

"Central Asia remains alarmingly fragile: a lack of
economic opportunity and weak democratic institutions
foster conditions where corruption is endemic and Islamic
extremism and drug trafficking can thrive. For this region,
where good relations play an important role in supporting
our [US] military and civilian efforts to stabilize
Afghanistan, the [budget] request prioritizes assistance
for the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan."

The political rationale of the aid request makes no bones
about the fact that geopolitics is a factor in Washington's
decision to step up aid to Central Asia at a time when the
Russian capacity to bankroll Central Asian economies is in
serious doubt. "The United States rejects the notion that
any country has special privileges or a 'sphere of
influence' in this region; instead the United States is
open to cooperating with all countries in the region and
where appropriate providing assistance that helps develop
democratic and market institutions and practices."

Curiously, Washington has lately made it clear that it has
no intentions of vacating the Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan
in August without a last-ditch effort to get Bishkek to
reconsider its decision. Apart from sustained US diplomatic
efforts to persuade a rethink in Bishkek, Washington has
also sought the good offices of Karzai to raise the issue
with his Kyrgyz counterpart President Kurmanbek Bakiyev -
interestingly enough, on the sidelines of the SCO summit in

Therefore, it is against the backdrop of the deteriorating
security situation in Afghanistan, which causes concern
among the SCO member countries, as well as the robust US
diplomacy in the Central Asian region to expand American
influence that the Chinese and Russian decision to step up
SCO military cooperation will be viewed. The SCO defense
ministers' meeting held on April 29 in Moscow confirmed
reports that China and Russia would hold 25 joint maneuvers
this year. (In the entire period since 2002, China has held
only 21 military exercises with foreign countries.)

Interestingly, all these proposed maneuvers will be focused
on the "war on terror". The SCO war games for 2009 began
with a joint "anti-terror" exercise in Tajikistan near the
Afghan border. The main exercise, codenamed Peace Mission
2009, is planned for July-August. This year's exercises
assume the nature of a conventional drill operation insofar
as they will involve more than 2,000 Russian and Chinese
troops with heavy weapons such as tanks, transport planes,
self-propelled artillery and possibly including strategic

The exercises will be held in three stages inside Russia
and in northeastern China. Unmistakably, closer
Chinese-Russian military cooperation within the SCO
framework has been prompted by their perception that the US
is pressing ahead with its strategic plans to bring the
energy-rich Eurasian region under its influence.

Can Obama become a heretic?

In a remarkably candid interview recently, well-known
Russia scholar Professor Stephen Cohen at New York
University said he didn't believe "anything substantially
or enduringly good" is about to happen in US-Russia
relations in the foreseeable future. Nor is a "real
partnership" possible between the two countries.

More ominously, he warned that the US-Russia relationship
was fast getting "militarized", as it used to be during the
Cold War. He said, "NATO expansion has militarized the
relationship between the US and Russia, between the United
States and the former Soviet republics, and between Russia
and the former Soviet republics. Remove NATO expansion,
remove the military aspect, and let them compete
otherwise." [7]

More startlingly, Cohen assesses that despite the Obama
administration's call to "reset" ties with Russia, the "old
thinking" prevails in Washington - "that Russia is a
defeated power, it's not a legitimate great power with
equal rights to the US, that Russia should make concessions
... that the US can go back on its promises because Russia
is imperialistic and evil."

Cohen said Russia hands in the Obama administration - Vice
President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,
National Security Advisor General James Jones, National
Security Council member Michael McFaul - are all in one way
or another associated with the "old thinking" toward
Russia. "So there are no new thinkers in Obama's foreign
policy okruzhenie [circles]. There is enormous support in
the US for the old thinking. It's the majority view. The
American media, the political class, the American
bureaucracy - they all support it. Therefore, all hope
rides with Obama himself, who is not tied to these old
policies. He has to become a heretic and break with

Cohen added:

"Now you and I might say that's impossible, but there is a
precedent. Just over twenty years ago, out of the Soviet
orthodoxy, the much more rigid Communist Party
nomenklatura, came a heretic, Mikhail Sergeyevich
Gorbachev. It's not a question of whether we like
Gorbachev's leadership or we don't. The point is that he
came forward with something he called "new thinking",
breaking with the old Soviet thinking, and the result was
that he and [president Ronald] Reagan ended the Cold War,
or came very close to doing so. So the question is whether
Obama can break with the old thinking."

Thus, the extraordinarily high degree of mutual
understanding that the Russian and Chinese leaderships have
been able to work out in the recent period within the SCO
has a much broader framework than appears at first sight.
US policies towards Russia have significantly contributed
to these regional compulsions felt by Moscow and Beijing.
Chinese commentaries are consistently sympathetic towards
Russia apropos the range of issues affecting US-Russia
relations in Eurasia.

In an extremely meaningful political gesture on April 28,
Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guangalle, heading a
military delegation and visiting Moscow in connection with
the SCO defense ministers' meeting, traveled to Russia's
North Caucasus Military District to discuss regional
security with Medvedev. This happened just two days ahead
of the formalization of the Russian decision to deploy
troops for the defense of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

What emerges is that both Russia and China remain skeptical
ZAfghanistan. Izvestia wrote recently, "Today, despite
their hypocritical talk of 'cooperation' (by which they
mean the shipment of NATO military freight across Russia),
the [US-led] coalition is keeping Russia away from
Afghanistan as much aspossible, even though their own policies in Afghanistan are
the worst possible example of a murderous neo-colonial
regime." [8]

Izvestia continued the tirade:

"Mass killings of the civilian population by the American
army such as bombing wedding and funeral processions,
extending the fighting to Pakistan and dragging it into
Afghanistan's internal ethnic and political feud - all
these and similar actions, which have been without any
social or commercial investment in Afghanistan, threaten
the whole world, Russia included.

The Afghans, sick and tired of the pointless presence of
foreign military forces, have asked Russia to restore its
clear-cut peaceful Afghan policy. A delegation of
influential Afghan politicians will arrive in Moscow to
attend the May 14 Russian-Afghan forum. The group mainly
includes Pashtun leaders, who have shaped the country's
political and state backbone for centuries. They are
convinced that the way to peace and settlement in
Afghanistan will depend on Russia's policy."

CSTO to counter NATO

Does all this add up to the SCO becoming a military

This is a question that has come up frequently during the
past decade. It still refuses to go away. There has been
even some degree of characterization of the SCO at times as
an "Asian NATO". But the answer is a firm "no'. The plain
truth is that neither China nor Russia would be comfortable
for the foreseeable future with the idea of a military
alliance between them, although both have shared concerns
over the US agenda for NATO's eastward expansion.

Besides, we should not overlook that Central Asian
countries also have their own so-called "multi-vector"
foreign policy, which places primacy on national autonomy
and independence that precludes the possibility of their
becoming part of a military bloc as such.

At any rate, Uzbekistan, the maverick of them all but a key
country all the same in regional security, will forever
keep everyone guessing whether its mind is on the same
thing that it speaks about at any given time, or whether
its actions are going to be in conformity with its own
words. Tashkent stayed out of the SCO exercises in April in
Tajikistan. It is right now having a slinging match with
Kyrgyz border guards about recent incidents of violence in
the Ferghana Valley.

However, Moscow has been steadily working on another
option. The CSTO - Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan,
Kyrgyzstan, Russia Uzbekistan and Tajikistan - is
transforming into a full-blooded military alliance. "The
National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation Until
2020", which was recently approved by Medvedev, says that
Moscow views the CSTO as the key instrument to counter
regional challenges, and political and military threats.
The document says pointedly that the struggle for energy
resources in the Caspian and Central Asia may conceivably
lead to armed conflicts.

The special summit meeting of the CSTO held in February in
Moscow decided to set up a collective rapid-response force
to help bloc members to repulse aggression or to meet any
emergency. Moscow has been focusing for some time on the
strengthening of the CSTO and recent strides in this
direction are a major foreign-policy success for the
Kremlin. No doubt, the impetus is to keep "third countries"
out of Central Asia. Medvedev has said that the
rapid-reaction force "will be just as good or comparable to
NATO forces". The CSTO's joint rapid-reaction force will
hold military exercises in August-September in Kazakhstan,
Russia and Belarus.

The force will comprise an airborne division and an air
assault brigade from Russia, and an air assault brigade
from Kazakhstan. The other CSTO members (except Uzbekistan)
will contribute a battalion-size force each. To quote a
Russian expert, "A collective rapid-reaction force will
give CSTO a quick tool, leaving no time for third parties
to intervene." [9]

"The rapid-response force is a major but so far only one of
the first steps toward creating a powerful military
political organization," he added. Indeed, Kommersant
newspaper broke the news on May 29 that Russia was planning
to build a strong military contingent in Central Asia
within the framework of the CSTO, which will be comparable
to NATO forces in Europe. "Work is being conducted in all
areas, and a number of documents have been adopted," the
report said, quoting Russian Foreign Ministry sources.

The unnamed Russian official said, "It will be a purely
military structure, built to ensure security in Central
Asia in case of an act of aggression." It will include
armored and artillery units and a naval flotilla in the
Caspian Sea, according to the CSTO spokesman. The Russian
news agency Novosti reported that the new force would
comprise large military units from five countries
-Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
It commented, "The creation of a powerful military
contingent in Central Asia reflects Moscow's drive to make
the CSTO a pro-Russian military bloc, rivaling NATO forces
in Europe."

Interestingly, a summit meeting of the CSTO is scheduled
for Moscow on Sunday on the eve of the SCO summit in
Yekaterinburg. The million-dollar question is the
co-relation, if any, between the CSTO and the SCO summits
in the scheme of things in Moscow and Beijing. The
political and diplomatic symbolism in the timing of the two
summits on successive days cannot be lost on observers.
There has been some talk that the CSTO and the SCO would
eventually have an institutionalized back-to-back
relationship of sorts. (All the SCO member countries except
China are also CSTO members.)

Conceivably, Moscow and Beijing have been exchanging views
on the CSTO's emergence as a coherent military bloc in
Central Asia, with which China shares thousands of
kilometers of border. What seems to be happening is that
China tacitly welcomes the Russian initiative to build up
the CSTO's capabilities as a military setup. At the very
least, Beijing isn't doing anything to dampen Russia's
enthusiasm, let alone counter the Russian move through
countervailing steps. There could be several factors at
work here.

One, any strengthening of security in Central Asia also
benefits China. Two, to the extent that the CSTO becomes a
bulwark against any NATO expansion into Central Asia, it
also works to China's advantage. Three, Moscow's
determination to stand up to the US's containment strategy
serves Beijing's purpose. Four, the CSTO's build-up means
the consolidation of Central Asian countries, which
precludes opportunities for the US to expand its influence
in the region, let alone roll back Russian and Chinese

Five, the emergence of the CSTO in Central Asia virtually
forecloses any future US attempts to place elements of its
missile defense system in the border regions of China close
to the Xinjiang autonomous region, where China has located
important missile sites. Finally, the CSTO harbors no
animus against China insofar as all the CSTO members except
Armenia and Belarus are in any case SCO members. China's
rapidly expanding influence in Central Asia ensures that
the bulk of the CSTO countries will have high stakes in
friendly relations with Beijing.

Thus, an intriguing security paradigm is developing in
Central Asia. Quintessentially, the SCO will keep shying
away from becoming a military bloc. This is not feigned
posturing. It is real. At the same time, in political
terms, the SCO is the facilitator of a regional security
understanding that is leading to the full-blooded evolution
of the CSTO as an anti-NATO military bloc.

Arguably, in the absence of the SCO, Moscow and Beijing
would have to invent such a body. For, without the SCO, any
such formation under Moscow's leadership of a NATO-like
military bloc shaping up right on China's sensitive border
regions would have been simply unthinkable.

Notes 1. Marina Zavada and Yuriy Kulikov, "Yevgeniy
Primakov", Autopilot Does Not Work in a Crisis, Izvestia,
May, 8, 2009.

2. According to the data from the US Energy Information
Administration, the three “Stans” of Central Asia -
Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan - have more than 7
trillion cbm of proven gas reserves, or around 4% of the
global share, and much of the has hasn’t yet been
harvested. The "Stans" have committed much of their
harvestable gas to Russia and China through the next

3. S Adam Cardais, "Central Asian Gas Not a Panacea for
Europe", Business Week, February 3, 2009.

4. Dr Martha Brill Olcott, "The Shanghai Cooperation
Organization: Changing the Playing Field in Central Asia",
testimony before the Helsinki Commission, September 26,

5. "NATO invites Kazakhstan to join Afghan peacekeeping
operation", Nezavisimaya Gazeta, May, 14, 2009.

6. Significantly, the next round of the SCO joint military
exercises will be held in 2010 in southern Kazakhstan.

7. "Interview with Stephen F Cohen on US-Russia Relations",
Washington Profile, April 2009.

8. "Afghanistan: Russia’s chance to influence global
politics again", Izvestia, May 13, 2009. 9. Ilya Kramnik,
"CSTO: joining forces in a crisis", RIA Novosti, February
5, 2009.

Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the
Indian Foreign Service.

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