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Medvedev trip east sends signal to west

In a signal to the west that Russia has a choice of partners, Dmitry Medvedev will on Thursday head east for his maiden foreign trip as Russian president – breaking with the tradition of his predecessors.

Mr Medvedev will fly to the central Asian republic of Kazakhstan, a big oil and gas producer, and then on for a two-day trip to China, with whom relations blossomed under the presidency of Vladimir Putin, Mr Medvedev’s predecessor and mentor. The newly-inaugurated president will make his first trip west – to Germany – only next month.

“Of course this is a signal,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs magazine. “Russia is a country with diversified interests and diversified friends. If the west is not willing or able or enthusiastic about developing the relationship, we can find other major partners.”

But he added that Mr Medvedev was softening the message by visiting Kazakhstan – one of the most powerful former Soviet republics – before China. Heading straight to Beijing, he said, would have sent a “hard” signal.

Talks on Thursday with Nursultan Nazarbayev, the Kazakh president, in the capital, Astana, are a sign of Russia’s determination to keep Central Asian energy exports under its influence. Defence issues are also expected to be high on the agenda.

Mr Medvedev will seek to continue the close relationship built by his predecessor with Mr Nazarbayev – who last year urged Mr Putin to stay on in the Kremlin, despite a Russian law prohibiting presidents from serving more than two consecutive terms.

Mr Medvedev is expected to urge Mr Nazarbayev to stand by a pledge to ensure that the bulk of Kazakhstan’s oil exports are transported through Russian pipelines. Both countries are uneasy about the ambitions of neighbouring China but are competing for Chinese markets.

During his two-day visit to Beijing, starting on Friday, Mr Medvedev will meet both Hu Jintao, the president, and Wen Jiabao, prime minister. Energy officials travelling with him might sign a nuclear power co-operation deal potentially worth billions of dollars, Russia’s ambassador in Bejing said.

● European Union governments on Wednesday agreed to start talks on a trade accord with Russia, Bloomberg reports from Brussels. The bloc ended two years of internal wrangling over what sort of deal to seek from the country, which has picked fights over minority rights, food safety and energy supplies with one-time Soviet satellites now in the EU.

Source: Financial Times

By Neil Buckley in Moscow and Isabel Gorst in Almaty

Published: May 22 2008 03:01 | Last updated: May 22 2008 03:01

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