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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Unhappiness With Moscow Sours CIS Summit

ReutersEleven CIS presidents, Ukraine's foreign minister and CIS secretary, Vladimir Rushailo, posing for a photo Friday.
DUSHANBE, Tajikistan -- Discontent over Russia's continued domination of former Soviet republics soured a summit of their leaders, with Kazakhstan announcing plans to form an economic grouping without Moscow and Tbilisi refusing to sign an amended CIS treaty.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev proposed at the summit Friday the creation of a union of Central Asian countries that would "allow the region of 50 million people to create a self-sufficient market using both economic and political means."

Nazarbayev, speaking with reporters in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, also made clear his unhappiness at Russia's domination of the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose grouping of 12 former Soviet republics.

"Of course Russia is the biggest economy and we cooperate smoothly," said Nazarbayev, who had held the rotating presidency in the CIS over the past year. "But although the special role of France and Germany is taken into account in the European Union, they cannot make decisions without smaller member states."

Nazarbayev's own desire to take a leadership role in Central Asia, where Kazakhstan is by far the biggest economy, has become evident in recent months.

Other signs of discontent over Russia's domination overshadowed birthday wishes to summit host, Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon, and President Vladimir Putin, who both turned 55 over the weekend.

The summit adopted a modification to the CIS treaty to make the grouping more flexible and allow its members to join other alliances if they wished.

"We all talk about the CIS as an organization that is not effective, we all make decisions and sign documents that are not implemented -- that's why Kazakhstan initiated this reform," Nazarbayev said at the news conference.

However, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, seeking to integrate his nation into the European Union and NATO, skipped the meeting altogether, taking a trip to Paris instead. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, an outspoken critic of Putin, attended the summit but said he had declined to sign the document.

"We did not sign the main conceptual document because we believe that practically not a single positive norm works in the CIS in relation to Georgia," Saakashvili told Georgian journalists in Dushanbe.

He said Georgia has good relations with most CIS nations but "a whole series of questions for Russia."

Amid a series of disputes last year, Russia imposed a sweeping transportation and postal blockade on Georgia and a crackdown on Georgian migrants living in Russia. It also banned imports of Georgian wine and mineral water, two of the country's most important exports.

The declaration adopted Friday bemoaned the lack of implementation of CIS decisions and said it was essential that members be on the same page. It said that to boost effectiveness meant "reaching a common understanding on ... the legal status of decisions of CIS bodies and provisions for implementation by the states of their commitments."

The CIS was created during the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, and has become less cohesive as some members seek to decrease Russia's influence on their nations and court the West -- and China -- to varying degrees.

n Two Russian-dominated defense alliances signed an agreement on Friday to link up with each other, but both denied they were challenging NATO.

The agreement, signed in Dushanbe, connects the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to the Collective Security Treaty Organization.

"The memorandum will allow us to broaden cooperation between our similar organizations in security issues, in fighting crime and illegal drug traffic," SCO head Bolat Nurgaliyev said.

CSTO head Nikolai Bordyuzha said confronting the West was not in the plans of the alliances.

"We have no plans to compete with NATO," he said. "On the contrary, we are striving to cooperate with NATO."

n Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan moved a step closer to a long-delayed customs and trade union Saturday, with their leaders signing agreements that will speed up the creation of the three-nation Eurasian Economic Community.

Putin said the customs union ought to be operational in three years.

Reuters, AP