12 Leaders Discuss Reforming the CIS

Presidential Press ServicePutin speaking with Nazarbayev, left, and Tajik leader Emomali Rakhmon as they ride a hydrofoil to the forum Sunday.
ST. PETERSBURG -- The heads of 12 former Soviet republics met over the weekend to discuss ways of reforming their loose regional alliance, but the informal summit only underscored uncertainty over the grouping's future.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, whose nation holds the group's rotating presidency, acknowledged that the CIS had been experiencing stagnation over recent years.

"The energy of running away turned out to be stronger than our integration efforts," he told a weekend economic forum in St. Petersburg. Nazarbayev called for "optimizing [the group's] structure, improving the efficiency of the executive committee."

In his opening remarks to the informal CIS summit being held at the same time, President Vladimir Putin said the meeting would be devoted to economic cooperation among CIS members, adding "there are also other problems."

Speaking to journalists at the end of Sunday's meeting at Konstantin Palace, Nazarbayev said the leaders agreed to work in small steps.

"In order to avoid discussing many questions and have disappointments over unfulfilled documents, it was decided to solve one question per year," Nazarbayev said. This year the leaders would consider the issue of migration, he said.

The next CIS summit will be held in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, in October.

Formed on the ashes of the Soviet Union, the Moscow-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States has been unable to resolve long-running conflicts among its members, and skeptics see it as little more than a talking shop.

Armenia and Azerbaijan are at loggerheads over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, and Russia has imposed a punishing transportation and travel ban and economic sanctions against Georgia.

The group includes all former Soviet republics except the three Baltic nations.

n Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian President Robert Kocharyan failed to reach agreement on the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave during a three-hour meeting in St. Petersburg, Reuters reported.

"The two sides have presented their positions. I can't say that progress has been made on these positions," Azeri Foreign Minister Elmar Mamediarov said in comments broadcast Sunday on Armenian television.

Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominantly Armenian region of Azerbaijan, broke away in the late 1980s, triggering a war between separatists and Azerbaijan from 1992 to 1994.

"The sides were offered new, alternative ways of resolving the conflict. They will be discussed," Bernard Fassier, a mediator from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, was quoted as saying. "The negotiations will continue."

n Nazarbayev raised the idea Sunday of building a canal between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea to ease trade between Central Asia and world markets, Reuters reported.

Nazarbayev said such a canal would be 1,000 kilometers shorter than sending goods via Russia's Volga-Don canal network. He offered no further details.