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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Will Skip Warsaw Summit

President Vladimir Putin will not attend a summit of the Council of Europe in Warsaw on Monday and Tuesday, sending instead a delegation led by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

The Council of Europe -- the continent's leading human rights watchdog -- has been critical of Russia's record in Chechnya and brushed off pleas from Moscow to reprimand the Baltic countries over their treatment of Russian-speaking minorities.

But observers suggested Putin probably decided to skip the summit to avoid potentially uncomfortable questions from journalists about Yukos. A verdict in the state's politically tinged case against Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky is expected at the same time as the summit.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman would not say Thursday what prompted Putin to decide not to attend. "Every country freely decides the level of its participation in this summit," spokesman Mikhail Troyanovsky said by telephone. "It was decided to send Lavrov. That is a high enough level."

Most of the other member states of the 46-nation Council of Europe will be represented by their presidents or prime ministers. Apart from Putin, only British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and French President Jacques Chirac will not attend, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported Thursday.

Then-President Boris Yeltsin attended the last summit, in 1997.

Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected analyst, said Putin's decision was probably motivated by a combination of factors, including irritation with the Council of Europe over the Baltics and for not heeding Russian demands to investigate alleged fraud in Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's election last year.

"The president wants to send a signal that Russia is not satisfied with the performance of the Council of Europe," Markov said.

Ekho Moskvy radio speculated that Putin wants to avoid being grilled by Western journalists over Yukos and the Soviet occupation of countries in Eastern Europe after World War II -- a hot topic in the Western press in the run-up to Moscow's Victory Day celebrations this week.

Some national newspapers suggested that a recent souring of Russian-Polish relations over the occupation and Warsaw's backing of popular uprisings in Ukraine and Georgia might have played a role in Putin's decision not to go to Poland.