Russia prods India to join group

Moscow also backed New Delhi’s bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

“We want to see India as a full member of the SCO, not just an observer,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V Lavrov told mediapersons after a meeting with External Affairs Minister S M Krishna here. Lavrov was here to lay the ground for Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to India on December 21-22. “We think the UNSC will only benefit if India becomes its permanent member. This is our position at the ongoing talks on UN reform,” said Lavrov.

The Russian Foreign Minister’s comment came just three weeks after the US President Barack Obama backed India’s bid for a permanent seat on the UNSC. India has been reviewing its stand on the SCO and taking keen interests, particularly after George W Bush era ended in Washington and Obama’s policy on Afghanistan caused unease in New Delhi.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself attended the SCO summit in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg last year – signaling a subtle shift in New Delhi’s policy on Central Asia. It was the first time that the PM represented India in the bloc’s summit. Lavrov’s remark on Monday assumed significance as it was the first time that Russia publicly prodded India to be a member of the SCO.

China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan gave birth to Shanghai Five in 1996. The grouping was renamed as the SCO after Uzbekistan joined it in 2001. Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan are also observers in the SCO. Though India’s observer status in the SCO was cited as an excuse for the PM’s absence in the past summits of the grouping, it also reflected New Delhi’s policy of not actively engaging with the organisation.

Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde represented the Prime Minister in the SCO summit at Tajik capital Dushanbe last week and underscored the importance India attaches to its association with the bloc, which, according to New Delhi, “has steadily emerged as a dynamic regional grouping contributing to economic development and security in the region”.

Washington has over the past few months signaled its willingness to give a re-look to its policies on Afghanistan and Obama, during his visit to India, not only lauded and endorsed New Delhi’s role in the war-ravaged country, but also announced US plan to launch joint developmental projects with India there.

Highly placed officials in New Delhi, however, said that India would like to engage with Russia and other like-minded members of the SCO on the security issues in Central Asia as well as in Afghanistan.

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