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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Former Soviet Republic Leaders Hold Summit

MINSK, Belarus - Leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States, an alliance of 12 former Soviet republics, held a summit in the Belarusian capital on Friday amid bitter criticism of the group's low effectiveness.

The CIS foreign ministers, who met on the eve of the summit to set the agenda, suggested that their presidents discuss a package of documents on joint action against terrorism, drug-trafficking and tax evasion.

But that agenda brought immediate criticism from Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who alleged that the Commonwealth was dragging its feet on more important issues.

?This agenda is worthless,? Karimov said, noting that the CIS leaders had agreed already in June to set up a joint anti-terrorist center. The funding for the center, which was to top Friday's agenda, is a technical issue that could be solved at a lower level, he told reporters after arriving in Minsk.

Karimov said that a much more serious issue, setting up a free-trade zone, had been relegated to the end of the list of topics. The CIS leaders have long pledged to lift customs barriers in mutual trade, but the plan has remained on paper.

?We started discussing the issue in 1994, and have already begun to forget how important it is,? Karimov said.

The CIS has approved a great number of ambitious cooperation programs since it was created in December 1991, in the wake of the Soviet collapse, but just a few have been implemented. Attempts at forging closer ties have been hampered by the large gaps between the sizes of the members' economies and their levels of development, as well as fears that Russia would seek to dominate the alliance.

The group's role has been limited largely to serving as a discussion forum for CIS leaders, many of whom have used the summits as occasions to solve their disputes.

Russian President Vladimir Putin held several bilateral meetings around Friday's summit. At a meeting with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, he agreed to give Ukraine a 10-year reprieve on paying off its huge debt for Russian natural gas supplies.

He also met with his Georgian counterpart Eduard Shevardnadze to defuse tensions caused by Russia's decision to start requiring entry visas from Georgians starting next week.