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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

CIS Leaders Fast-Track Putin's Chairmanship

In a strong show of support for acting President Vladimir Putin, leaders of 11 other former Soviet republics unanimously elected him head of the Commonwealth of Independent States without waiting to see if he wins the Russian presidential election.

Putin's appointment reflects CIS leaders' desire to establish good relations with the new Kremlin boss and their hopes of improving sometimes-tense relations with Russia.

CIS member states owe Russia billions of dollars for energy supplies and need to reschedule their debts.

"By appointing Vladimir Putin chairman of the CIS, the heads of state have shown their trust in Russia and respect for Vladimir Putin," Azeri President Heidar Aliyev said.

In contrast with previous CIS summits, leaders who have assailed Moscow for trying to dominate the group said they are ready to take guidance from Russia.

"Cooperation with the CIS countries has been and will remain an absolute priority for Russia," Putin said. He also emphasized that Russia isn't seeking to dominate the alliance.

But many of his colleagues said they want Russia to take a stronger role.

"Russia is the connecting link, the bulwark of the CIS," said Uzbek President Islam Karimov, a hardliner who has cracked down on Islamic opposition.

Putin was quick to promise help in combating extremist movements. He said several CIS states will hold a joint military exercise in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan this spring. CIS leaders also agreed to consider setting up a joint center for combating terrorism.