Medvedev Meets CIS Presidents at Summit

APPresident Dmitry Medvedev greeting Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili during an informal CIS summit in Strelna, outside St. Petersburg, on Friday. He condemned Georgia's drive to join NATO, saying it could lead to bloodshed in the country's breakaway
President Dmitry Medvedev met Friday with leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose alliance of former Soviet republics, trying to keep energy exports in the region under Moscow's control while warning his counterparts against seeking NATO membership.

Held in St. Petersburg, it was the first CIS summit for Medvedev, and each of the other 11 member nations sent their leaders to meet the new president.

Medvedev held a series of one-on-one meetings with several counterparts, including Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, Uzbek President Islam Karimov and Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin.

Medvedev used the summit to reaffirm the position of his predecessor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, that Moscow considers the former Soviet republics a zone of security and economic interests that are vital to Russia and will seek to prevent the countries from drifting toward the West.

Taking a page from Putin's playbook, Medvedev and his foreign policy aides saved the strongest words for the meeting with Saakashvili, whose country is seeking NATO membership and Western involvement in the conflicts with the separatist Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Saakashvili said there were "many issues that are unsolved, but there are no issues that cannot be solved" in Georgian-Russian relations, Interfax reported.

"The current situation in the relations between our countries has been created artificially, and no one benefits from this," Saakashvili told Medvedev, Interfax said.

Medvedev concurred, telling reporters before closed-door talks that he hoped Russia and Georgia could "resolve our differences."

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, meanwhile, was blunt in his assessment of the talks.

"Those who want to see Georgia in NATO, why do they want it? If they think that this would be an instrument for resolution of the Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-South Ossetian conflicts, then they should realize it is an illusion," Lavrov told a news conference after talks between the Russian and Georgian delegations.

Lavrov also warned that Georgia's "artificial" entry into NATO would "lead to another spiral of confrontation in the area."

Medvedev urged Saakashvili to commit to an agreement banning any use of force to resolve the frozen conflicts with the breakaway regions, Lavrov said. Such an agreement would pave the way for a revival of meaningful talks on resolution of the two standoffs, Lavrov said. Moscow has consistently paid lip service to Georgia's territorial integrity while tacitly supporting the breakaway provinces.

It was unclear whether Medvedev and Voronin, the Moldovan president, made any progress in discussing how to resolve the situation with Moldova's own breakaway Transdnestr region.

Like South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Transdnestr has enjoyed Moscow's support, but the Kremlin is reportedly pushing toward settling the dispute in exchange for Moldova's pledge not to seek NATO membership.

Voronin told Medvedev in the meeting that Moldovan police had recovered two paintings stolen from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and would return them.

As with Saakashvili, Medvedev left it to Lavrov to divulge details of the president's meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yushchenko, whose country is seeking NATO membership.

Medvedev made it to clear to Yushchenko that Russia was far from welcoming Kiev's bid to join the alliance and that its membership in it would violate the 1997 Ukrainian-Russian treaty, Lavrov said, Interfax reported.

Lavrov also made it clear that Medvedev had reproached Yushchenko over the Ukrainian president's vows not to renew the agreement when it expires in 2017. The treaty allows Russia's Black Sea Fleet to remain in the Crimean Peninsula.

Yushchenko avoided repeating the promise during the Friday meeting with Medvedev but noted that Ukraine's constitution bans hosting foreign military bases on its territory.

In a sign of the value Russia places on securing alliances with former Soviet republics, Medvedev paid his first presidential visit last month to oil-rich Kazakhstan, which is vying to diversify its energy exports away from Russia-controlled pipelines.