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4 CIS Leaders Snub Moscow Meeting

For the Kremlin, fresh from its public relations coup at the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg, the informal meeting of leaders from the Commonwealth of Independent States should have put the icing on the cake.

Instead, the leaders of Armenia, Georgia, Turkmenistan and Ukraine chose to skip the meeting, casting doubt on Russia's role as the linchpin of the increasingly shaky alliance.

The biggest intrigue of the get-together, held in Moscow over the weekend, was Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's absence. Saakashvili had actively sought a one-on-one meeting with President Vladimir Putin to discuss the situation in Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. When the Kremlin had not confirmed the meeting by last Friday afternoon, the Georgian leader canceled his travel plans.

In an apparent attempt to convince Moscow to stop interfering in the two regions, Georgia had earlier threatened to reconsider its approval of Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization. Last Wednesday the Georgian parliament demanded that Russia withdraw its peacekeeping forces from Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Georgy Arveladze, Saakashvili's chief of staff, explained that the proposed plan for the meeting was "unacceptable," Kommsersant reported Saturday. "We're not coming to Moscow just to watch a horse race," he said.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko also turned down the Kremlin's invitation, citing the tense political situation at home.

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, who attended the informal CIS summit last year on the eve of Victory Day celebrations in Moscow, offered by far the flimsiest excuse for staying away this year. The Turkmenbashi, or Father of all Turkmens, was enjoying some R&R on the Caspian coast.

The fourth no-show, Robert Kocharyan of Armenia, a staunch Kremlin ally, caught cold on the eve of the meeting and stayed home to convalesce.

For the eight leaders in attendance this weekend, the meeting began with dinner at the exclusive riverfront Prichal restaurant outside of Moscow, where they dined on meat and fish kebabs, grilled sterlet and carp, marinated mushrooms and a whole calf roast on a spit.

The heads of state washed down these delicacies with French and Italian wines. RIA-Novosti made a point of reporting that all of the wines served at Prichal had the new excise stamps required by law.

Virtuozy Moskvy, a well-known classical music ensemble, and Doctor Watson, a retro-pop group, entertained the leaders during dinner, which ended with a traditional dessert of turnovers filled with honey and apples.

The eight leaders devoted less than two hours early Saturday to a closed-door discussion. The topics included revamping the CIS. Putin himself remarked last year that the organization had been created in 1991 to ensure a "civilized divorce" of the Soviet republics.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, whose nation holds the rotating leadership of the CIS this year, shared his ideas for strengthening the organization after Saturday's meeting.

"We need to make decisions that will satisfy everyone," he said. "There should be no countries that do not agree and refuse to sign the resolutions, and therefore fail to implement them."

Of more than 1,600 resolutions adopted by the CIS in its 15-year history, Nazarbayev said, only 10 percent have been implemented.

The Kazakh leader called for a unanimous approach in five main policy areas: migration, transportation, education, security and humanitarian assistance. Agreements on less important issues could be reached between individual states on a bilateral basis, he said.

Nazarbayev added that other leaders had called for a unified foreign policy and a common defense strategy. A formal CIS summit will be held in Minsk this October.

Putin — who was tireless in courting the press at the G8 summit — and the remaining leaders, Ilham Aliyev from Azerbaijan, Alexander Lukashenko from Belarus, Vladimir Voronin from Moldova, Ilam Karimov from Uzbekistan, Emomali Rakhmonov from Tadzhikstan and Kurmanbek Bakiyev from Kyrgyzstan, made no comments to journalists Saturday.

The summit concluded with a visit to the track Saturday afternoon. The races were also attended by Mayor Yury Luzhkov, back in the capital after his visit last Thursday to the Abkhaz capital, Sukhumi, where he took part in a ground-breaking ceremony for a new Russian cultural and business center.

During his visit to Sukhumi, Luzhkov said Russia would treat Abkhazia as a sovereign state, a remark condemned by top Georgian officials, including hawkish Defense Minister Irakly Okruashvili, who publicly branded Luzhkov a "provocateur."

It is unknown whether the CIS leaders placed any bets Saturday. When Putin went to the races last year, it was reported that he placed a bet and won.

The smallest wager accepted at the Moscow Hippodrome is 10 rubles, and the largest sum won by a punter in recent years is 500,000 rubles ($18,500), racetrack spokeswoman Yulia Gavrova told RIA-Novosti on Saturday.

The Russian President's Cup, held on Saturday for the third year in a row, finished in a dead heat between a Russian stallion named Satellit and Eshkia, an Azeri stallion. The owners of the two horses split a pot of 6 million rubles ($230,000).


(The Moscow Times 24.vii.06)

 
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