Putin denies Shanghai regional group is military bloc

RIA Novosti
Friday, August 17, 2007

CHEBARKUL (Urals), August 17 (RIA Novosti) - Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed as irrelevant allegations that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is a military bloc, and highlighted its increasing role in economic cooperation.

The group, comprising Russia, China, and four ex-Soviet Central Asian states concluded Friday a large-scale anti-terrorism exercise in Russia's south Urals. The SCO, seen as a counterweight to U.S. influence in Asia, was recently dubbed the "Anti-NATO" by Russian daily Izvestia.

Putin said after the exercises: "The SCO today is an organization tackling political and economic issues, and the economic aspect is increasingly coming to the foreground." Comparisons with NATO are entirely untrue, he said.

Although the "Shanghai Six" was originally set up to deal with border disputes that emerged following the breakup of the Soviet Union between the newly-independent states and China, these problems have since been resolved, he said.

The Russian president said that cooperation between member states' militaries is more anti-terrorist than military in nature. Moscow is still faced with the threat of terrorism, and will continue counter-terrorism efforts both at home and abroad, in conjunction with its partners, he added.

The Peace Mission 2007 exercise began in the Chelyabinsk Region on August 9, involving around 7,500 servicemen from SCO member states Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. SCO leaders attended the final day of training.

Putin declared the drills a success, and said the countries' troops had carried out exercises without a single hitch.

A Defense Ministry official said earlier Friday that the exercises, the first in which military units of all SCO member states have participated, have cost Russia 2 billion rubles ($80 million).

The bloc's leaders traveled to Russia from the SCO summit held in Kyrgyzstan's capital, Bishkek, on Thursday. At the meeting in Bishkek, the Russian president had proposed holding counter-terrorism exercises on a regular basis, while highlighting the need for a multi-polar system for international security, and speaking out against attempts by any one nation to take global security into its own hands.

In the summit declaration released Thursday, SCO leaders said no outside assistance was needed to ensure regional stability and energy security, and that the organization's regional antiterrorism structure had sufficient resources to fight terrorism, separatism and extremism in Eurasia.

Member states pledged to push forward with creating a joint mechanism to counter threats to regional peace, stability and security, and to deepen cooperation in fighting drug trafficking and illegal migration.

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