by Nick Coleman

Agence France Presse
Sept 3 2008

President Dmitry Medvedev will seek backing for Russia's intervention
in Georgia as leaders of seven ex-Soviet states meet on Friday,
officials said, amid signs of a Kremlin drive to fortify regional

Russia hopes the meeting of a security bloc called the Collective
Security Treaty Organisation will build on another gathering in
Central Asia last week that included China, said presidential advisor
Sergei Prikhodko.

"We expect from our partners... confirmation of understanding and a
principled assessment of Georgia's actions, which led to this crisis,"
Prikhodko said, according to the RIA Novosti agency.

Friday's gathering in Moscow of the heads of Armenia, Belarus,
Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan comes as
the Kremlin has brushed off Western condemnation of its surge into
southern neighbour Georgia and subsequent recognition of two Georgian
regions as independent.

Russian leaders have jetted round the region, with Medvedev announcing
closer military ties with Tajikistan, located next to Afghanistan,
and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin unveiling a new pipeline deal in
energy-rich Uzbekistan.

This push comes as US Vice President Dick Cheney was making his own
tour of US-friendly states in the region, visiting Azerbaijan on
Wednesday and later due in Georgia and Ukraine to show support in
the face of Russian pressure.

Russian newspapers voiced frustration on Wednesday that not all
appeared to be going Russia's way among the neighbours.

Even Russia's ally China has been lukewarm in supporting Russia's
surge into Georgia, portrayed by Moscow as a defence of Russian
citizens there but by the West as naked aggression against the
pro-Western neighbour.

The popular daily Izvestia noted that no country had followed Moscow's
lead and recognised as independent the two Georgian regions at the
heart of the conflict, following the Kremlin's decision to recognise
their independence last week.

"Our close strategic partners... are still keeping quiet or very
cautious in their declarations. Even the closest neighbour and reliable
partner Belarus is completely for us in words but in practice is in
no hurry to recognise the independence of the two Caucasus republics,"
Izvestia said on Wednesday.

However Russian officials may be reconciling themselves to a slow
process towards wider international recognition of the two rebel
regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

"Recognition is something each state does in turn. There can't be any
kind of collective step," Medvedev told Russian television on Sunday.

"Look at the example of Kosovo. It's quite clear that in this situation
there will be states that agree with the appearance of new states
and states that will consider their appearance untimely," he said.

Russia has so far won the clearest support on Georgia from immediate
neighbour Belarus and from far-off Venezuela, the three all having
close ties and being vocal critics of the United States.

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko has said Russia had no
choice but to recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia and even gushed
that Moscow had acted "beautifully" and "wisely" in its military
surge into Georgia last month.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has also voiced support, saying
Russia was "defending its interests."

However Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the independently funded journal
Russia in Global Affairs, said even Belarus' intentions remained
unclear and all countries in the region were waiting to see how
determined Russia is to stand up to Western pressure.

Of those countries attending Friday's meeting, several have concerns
about Russia and about ethnic unrest and potential separatism on
their own territory, analysts note.

"For quite a long period Russia will be completely alone in recognising
them (Abkhazia and South Ossetia)," said Lukyanov.

"It will take months, years. But the reality has changed.... The new
Russian approach means we don't need confrontation with the West but
won't continue a West-centric foreign policy," he said.