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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin to Pursue CIS Union at Talks

President Boris Yeltsin will pursue his distant dream of turning the 12 countries in the CIS into a body resembling the European Union at a summit in Minsk on Friday.

The Commonwealth of Independent States, grouping all former Soviet republics except Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, has made little real progress toward integration since it was created from the ashes of the Soviet Union in 1991.

But Yeltsin made clear he was encouraged by moves toward freer trade with Belarus and said the 12 member states would seek closer trade and economic ties at the one-day meeting.

The CIS "could be like the European Union, so that the countries have full independence but at the same time put all their problems in one basket and sort them out together," he said in a television interview Wednesday night.

The heads of state of 10 of the 12 CIS countries will attend Friday's summit.

Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev will be absent because of a bad cold and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze will attend his country's independence day events. They will send lower-ranking officials.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Demurin told a news conference conflicts in the former Soviet Union would be on the agenda. The summit will also discuss plans for a regional currency commission and civil rights and environmental issues, he said.

Efforts to forge firmer ties between CIS states have failed many times to get off the ground, making hopes of turning it into an organization like the European Union seem a distant dream.

Most CIS agreements have never been implemented because the newly independent countries want to protect their sovereignty.

Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus have already started creating a customs union. The latter two hope to forge closer ties after Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko won backing for close integration with Russia in a referendum this month.

"All customs barriers will be taken down between Belarus and Russia. You will be able to come and go quite freely. We would like such integration to continue with others," Yeltsin said in the interview, citing Belarus as an example of good cooperation.

He said Kazakhstan had also expressed interest in open borders, but that this was a more complex question because of the vast length of the Russian-Kazakh border.

Yeltsin made it clear that ties with Ukraine remained difficult and that no such agreement with Kiev would be possible until differences over the dividing up of the Black Sea Fleet were settled.

"It is more difficult with Ukraine. We are seeking contacts with Ukraine but of course until we solve the question of the Black Sea Fleet, we cannot sign such an agreement," he said.