Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao will meet Monday to discuss expanding their loose Central Asian security alliance to include Pakistan and Iran.Putin will host Wen in his native city of Saint Petersburg almost exactly 10 years after the two countries joined forces with the four ex-Soviet Central Asian republics to form the Shanghai Co-operation Organization (SCO). Russia has previously billed the alliance as a regional alternative to Nato and discussed at past meetings the option of including other regional powers in its ranks. "We are talking about Pakistan and Iran, which have applied for membership," Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told reporters ahead of the talks.
"India is also intent on joining, and Afghanistan has said it wants to be an observer," the Russian spokesman said. But analysts said China prefers to view the group as primarily an economic organization and note that Pakistan's membership has already been under discussion for five years.
Russia is also upset that the group still receives no formal recognition from Nato. "Of course, SCO expansion is not an easy process.
It requires careful analysis and assessment," the Russian foreign ministry spokesman conceded.
The meeting between Wen and Putin will be their second since the Russian premier announced in September plans to next year regain the Kremlin post he held in 2000-2008. Bilateral relations are particularly important to Russia's attempts to find new Asian clients for its energy exports just as European growth stalls. A top Russian official said the meeting will note slowing global growth's impact on the price of commodities - the bulk of Russia's exports - and financial market stability.
"You should expect the prime minister to deliver an assessment of economic affairs in the SCO region," Russia's SCO envoy Kirill Barsky told Interfax. "By the way, it is distinguished by stability, good GDP growth rates and improving investment attraction," the Russian envoy said.