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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Tells CIS Summit That Bloc Is Still Relevant

President Vladimir Putin told leaders of the troubled bloc of former Soviet republics on Sunday that the 12-nation Commonwealth of Independent States remained relevant today, and he urged them to defend its existence.

Putin said the body had a key role in combating the spread of terrorism, extremism and xenophobia and fostering peace. "I'm convinced that the CIS is capable of becoming an effective instrument of such work," he said.

The meeting took place amid growing questions about the viability of the CIS, which brings reformist leaders cheek to cheek with entrenched Soviet-era autocrats following popular uprisings in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

Putin himself in March questioned the body's usefulness, saying it had been created for a "civilized divorce."

In a reflection of the disputes between the member-states, two of the leaders, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, did not attend.

Inside the meeting, the tensions were apparent as Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who led his country's Orange Revolution, and Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko, dubbed the "last dictator in Europe," stared stonily at each other across the table.

Yushchenko said after the summit there was "little use" at present for the CIS but its members still needed an organization that would focus on economic integration and avoid interfering in the politics of its members.

Yushchenko said he raised his concerns with other CIS leaders, and although he insisted that Ukraine was not leaving the CIS, he warned that his patience for reform was not infinite.

Kyrgyz acting President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was brought to power by a popular uprising in March, predicted Sunday that other CIS states ultimately would have to embrace democracy.