August 29 2008
By Stefan Wagstyl in London, Charles Clover in Moscow and,Geoff Dyer in Beijing
At a central Asian summit in Tajikistan, Mr Medvedev was unable to persuade Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, or other regional leaders to give explicit backing to Russia’s intervention or its decision to recognise the independence of the two breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Georgia.
While the leaders refrained from criticising Russia, their joint statement gave the Kremlin only modest comfort. "[We] express grave concern in connection with the recent tensions around the South Ossetian issue and urge the sides to solve existing problems peacefully, through dialogue, and to make efforts facilitating reconciliation and talks," said a final statement from the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, which groups Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The leaders welcomed the French-brokered ceasefire deal that ended the fighting between Russia and Georgia and acknowledged Russia’s role in the Caucasus, saying they supported "Russia’s active role in contributing to peace and co-operation in the region".
Before the summit China had expressed its "concern" about "the latest changes in South Ossetia and Abkhazia", an unusual move for Beijing which generally refrains from negative comment about Russia. Chinese officials declined to comment yesterday but western diplomats in Beijing said the summit statement fitted closely with Chinese views. China had avoided any anti-western flourishes and – an absolute priority – any support for separatism.
China, with restless ethnic minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang province, is concerned about precedents that might be set in Georgia, as are the central Asian states.
Russian officials put a brave face on the summit.
Ivan Melnikov, deputy chairman of Russia’s Communist party, claimed Russia had received great support and he was "convinced that the endorsement of the declaration has put a stop to all this speculation about the international isolation of Russia".
But Yevgeny Volk, an analyst in Moscow for the Heritage Foundation, a US think- tank, said the result of the summit illustrated the opposite. "The statement was very equivocal," he said. "Thisshows Russia’s isolation." Robert Wood of the US state department said: "Russia, I think you are seeing, is becoming more and more isolated: they are isolating themselves. You haven’t seen countries come forth and recognise these two parts of Georgia’s territory".
*Belarus, perhaps Russia’s closest ally in the former Soviet Union, said yesterday Moscow had "no choice" about recognising South Ossetia and Abkhazia but it declined to follow suit.
Additional reporting by Daniel Dombey in Washington