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Medvedev starts Asia tour in Kazakhstan

Latest update : 2008-05-22

Russia's newly elected president Dmitry Medvedev embarked on his first official foreign tour in office. His first stop is Kazakhstan, whose president Nursultan Nezabayev said the two nations were "strategically" linked.

Russia's new president, Dmitry Medvedev, arrived in Kazakhstan on Thursday at the start of his first foreign tour since taking office, also due to include talks in Beijing with Chinese leaders.

The symbolic first trip by the 42-year-old leader, who took over from Vladimir Putin earlier this month, underlined Russia's growing attention to Asia. A headline in the Russian daily Vedomosti declared: "Asia In First Place."

At the start of talks at a sumptuous new residence of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the two leaders said they were committed to retaining close ties.

"This visit shows the direction of our cooperation, of the special relations of trust and fraternity between Russia and Kazakhstan," Medvedev said.

Nazarbayev stressed the "strategic" nature of relations between the two neighbours.

The two were to discuss energy pipelines and Russia's use of the Baikonur space launch pad, which is located on the Kazakh steppe, the Kremlin said earlier in a statement.

However analysts noted Russia's post-Soviet loss of influence in Central Asia and the steady advance of both Western and Chinese influence.

Russia and Beijing have pursued increasingly close ties, aligning their positions in international diplomacy. But analysts point to unspoken rivalry, with the two countries competing for Central Asia's oil and gas.

In Kazakhstan, Central Asia analyst Bulat Auelbayev voiced doubt about Russia's commitment to strong cooperation with the region, noting that states like Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were "following their path without special attention to Russia," Interfax reported.

The Kremlin said Medvedev and Nazarbayev would discuss expansion of a pipeline that brings gas from Central Asia to southern Siberia, supplementing Russia's own reserves and known as Central Asia-Centre.

Differences had also to be resolved over expansion of an oil pipeline that runs from Kazakhstan to the Black Sea via Russia, a project Moscow hopes will feed oil to the Mediterranean via another pipeline through Bulgaria and Greece, Vedomosti said.

Another item on the agenda was possible Kazakh purchases of Russian air defence technology, the Interfax new agency quoted a Kremlin source as saying.

On Friday, Medvedev was to fly to Beijing, where he was to spend two days.

In comments posted on the Kremlin website, Medvedev said he was sure that Russia and China would reach agreement on plans to extend a Russian far eastern oil pipeline to Chinese territory.

"We currently have a basic agreement on this and today are at the concluding stage in talks between Rosneft and CNPC," he said, referring respectively to the Russian and Chinese sides.

"We expect that all the main issues, all the main parameters of future cooperation will be agreed," Medvedev said.

However analysts doubt China and Russia will hammer out specific deals during Medvedev's visit.

It nonetheless underscores that today Russia takes account of its populous and resource-hungry neighbour in numerous spheres -- a major change for a country used to measuring itself against the West.

Analyst Yevgeny Volk, of the US Heritage Foundation's Moscow office, said that "these destinations reflect the new priorities of Russia's foreign policy, while relations with the United States and the European Union are cooling."

Date created : 2008-05-22