Medvedev Plugging CIS on First Trip

Dmitry Medvedev said Thursday that strengthening Russia's ties with other former Soviet republics would be a priority of his presidency, presenting one of the first planks of his foreign policy after taking office two weeks ago.

Medvedev spoke following a meeting with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev in Astana, his first stop on his first foreign trip as president. He will wrap up the trip in Beijing over the weekend.

Medvedev, who oversaw the signing of several energy and technology deals Thursday, also urged Nazarbayev to help hammer out the details of a three-way gas agreement struck between Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan last year.

Russia's relations with several former Soviet republics, including Ukraine and Georgia, have been frosty in recent years as those countries have drifted away from Moscow's orbit. The Kremlin has sought to retain its influence, especially in energy-rich Central Asia, which includes Kazakhstan.

A new federal agency charged with CIS affairs emerged in a government shakeup last week, and Medvedev said Thursday that the agency showed the importance of the region to his foreign policy.

"It is our duty to pay close attention to cooperation with countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States," Medvedev said at a joint news conference with Nazarbayev, Interfax reported. "The time has come for ties to be intensified."

On energy, Medvedev expressed disappointment that specifics remained to be worked out on the gas deal, which calls for Kazakh and Turkmen gas to flow through Russian territory.

"We agreed that these issues remain in the focus of our attention," he said.

Medvedev also said the two countries would set up a joint venture to build nuclear-power plants in Kazakhstan.

At the center of a nanotechnology agreement is a loan from Russia's state-owned Development Bank to the Kazakh Development Bank. The loan is worth $300 million, Vedomosti reported.

Kazakhstan agreed to cooperate on developing Russia's Glonass navigation system, a rival to the U.S.-made Global Positioning System, Interfax reported.

Medvedev and Nazarbayev also agreed to deepen their cooperation on weapons technology.

Nazarbayev said at the news conference that Medvedev had accepted an invitation to return to Astana in July to celebration the Kazakh capital's 10th anniversary.

Separately, Kazakhstan and Russia will meet on the football field this Friday when their national teams play a friendly match in Moscow.

The timing of the game was entirely unrelated to Medvedev's visit, the Kazakh Embassy spokesman said.

Medvedev's delegation included Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Industry and Trade Minister Viktor Khristenko, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko and Rosatom chief Sergei Kiriyenko.

Also accompanying Medvedev were 15 business leaders, including Rosneft CEO Sergei Bogdanchikov, LUKoil CEO Vagit Alekperov, United Company RusAl majority owner Oleg Deripaska, Sistema chairman Vladimir Yevtushenkov, Aeroflot CEO Valery Okulov, Sukhoi Aviation CEO Mikhail Pogosyan and VTB CEO Andrei Kostin.

The Russian delegation will fly to Beijing on Friday, where Medvedev is expected to sign a political declaration and several economic agreements.

China, whose economy expanded by 11.4 percent last year, has seen its trade with Russia grow almost fivefold since 2000 to $48 billion.

Russia may seek Chinese investment in more than 30 projects worth about $3 billion, presidential aide Sergei Prikhodko said, Interfax reported.

He said Russia wanted China to participate in plans to build facilities at the site of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi and develop projects in Vladivostok, which will host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in 2012.

Beijing signaled that it would like to see increased trade with Moscow. "Russian exports of machinery and electronics have slowed down in recent years," Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Li Hui told reporters in Beijing. "China's ready to work with Russia to find a solution to this issue."

A unit of Yevtushenkov's Sistema has been in talks with China's ZTE Corporation to produce telecommunications equipment in China. Sistema CEO Alexander Goncharuk said last week that negotiations were "three-fourths of the way" to completion.

China is also likely to buy more nuclear-power plants from Russia.