Putin urges ex-Soviet leaders to stick together
By Richard Balmforth
May 8 2005
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday urged
leaders of the 12-member club of ex-Soviet states, some of them
already shifting to the West, to stick together to fight extremism
Putin, avoiding controversy as he raised the curtain on three days
of summits and parties marking the Allied victory over Nazi Germany,
made no mention of the political about-face in four members of the
Commonwealth of Independent States.
But, referring to a U.N. call to fight national extremism, terrorism,
racism and xenophobia, he said: “I am convinced the CIS is capable
of becoming an effective instrument for such a joint fight.”
Security forces threw a ring of steel around Red Square and the Kremlin
— focal points for celebrations on Monday that will be attended by
U.S. President George W. Bush and more than 50 other world leaders.
The biggest danger comes from Chechen separatists who have staged
deadly attacks throughout Putin’s five years in power and rarely
let Victory Day pass without incident. Russia seeks help from CIS
neighbours in efforts to cut their supply routes and end a campaign
seen by many here as a threat to Russian unity.
Ten of the 12 leaders attended the informal summit of the CIS, an
ill-assorted alliance of states stretching from Central Asia on the
border with China to the edge of the European Union.
It was an occasion for Putin to reflect on Russia’s waning influence,
in a region where it once held absolute sway, as former colonies
shift their allegiance from Moscow and towards a welcoming and more
financially alluring West.
Georgia’s pro-western leader boycotted because of a row with Moscow
over Russian bases on its territory. Azerbaijan’s president stayed away
because of tension with the Armenian leader over a disputed territory.
But Ukraine’s Viktor Yushchenko, elected against Moscow’s wishes
after a pro-western revolution late last year, was present as was
the leader of Moldova who also wants to turn his tiny country away
from Moscow towards western Europe.
But Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko — described by Washington as
Europe’s last dictator — took his place at the round table meeting.
Interfax news agency quoted him as saying earlier in Moscow that
there would be “no revolutions or bandits actions” in his country in
the near future.
Ex-Soviet Kyrgyzstan, where the entrenched leadership was swept away
in a chaotic, unplanned coup in March, was represented by acting
president Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
The four other autocratic rulers of former Soviet Central Asia were
also present, including Turkmenistan’s President Saparmurat Niyazov
who has built up a bizarre personality cult.
Most have made plain that they will not ease their grip and allow
‘people power’ revolutions of the sort seen in Georgia and Ukraine.
PUTIN UNDER FIRE
Putin, under criticism over his democracy record from the United States
as well as being at odds with some CIS leaders, hopes the high-profile
ceremonies around Monday’s 60th anniversary of the Soviet defeat of
Nazi Germany will lift his international image.
Bush himself was scheduled to fly in later on Sunday for dinner and
what could be tense talks with Putin following the U.S. leader’s trip
to the Latvian capital Riga.
In Riga, Bush on Saturday called the Cold War division of Europe
after 1945 one of the greatest wrongs of history, angering Russia at
a time when it is marking the war in which 27 million Soviet citizens
Putin, who earlier this month described the collapse of the Soviet
Union as the 20th century’s biggest geo-political catastrophe, says
the Red Army was a liberator, not an oppressor, of Eastern Europe.
He has ignored calls by the Baltic nations for atonement.
Moscow’s city centre was awash with Soviet-style hoardings and banners
lauding victory over Germany. Police, interior ministry troops and
OMON special forces sealed off the Kremlin and Red Square.
Heavy trucks blocked access roads and officials said military aircraft
and helicopters were patrolling the skies around the city to protect
leaders arriving on Sunday.