Chinese, Russian Troops join Central Asia Exercises in Kazakhstan

    By Robin Paxton
     Thousands of Russian, Chinese and Kazakh soldiers began two weeks of war games in Kazakhstan on Monday, preparing to counter regional threats ranging from drug traffickers to Islamist militants.
    More than 3,000 troops will take part in the exercises at the Matybulak military range in southern Kazakhstan. Almost a third of them are Chinese, underlining Beijing’s growing clout in central Asia, a region Moscow still sees as within its sphere of influence.
     The “Peace Mission 2010″ exercises are the largest in three years involving the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a six-nation group led by Moscow and Beijing that some analysts say might one day become a counterweight to NATO.
    However, the SCO has limited itself so far to smaller military exercises and security initiatives.
     Less than a month ago US and British troops joined more than 1,000 Kazakh servicemen for the Steppe Eagle program, which aimed to train Kazakh troops for future deployment with NATO peacekeepers.
    The SCO, which also includes the ex-Soviet central Asian states of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, has focussed in recent months on fighting terrorism and radicalism in the region, as well as drug trafficking from Afghanistan, according to Reuters.