- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2005

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin told leaders of the troubled Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) yesterday that their grouping of ex-Soviet republics remained relevant and urged them to defend its existence.

At a summit held the day before commemorations of the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, Mr. Putin said the grouping of 12 of the 15 former Soviet republics had a key role to play in combating the spread of terrorism and fostering peace.

“For all of us, it is obvious that Nazism, extremism and terrorism are threats feeding on a single ideological source, a terrible threat, against which we are obliged to defend our unique and peaceful commonwealth,” Mr. Putin said.

“The new generation of our citizens should know the truth about the events of those days. To know that truth means having an internal immunity to the propaganda of extremism and xenophobia, national and religious incitement,” he said.

There are a growing number of questions about the viability of the CIS — which brings reformist leaders together with entrenched Soviet-era autocrats — after the popular uprisings against regimes in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

Mr. Putin himself in March questioned the body’s usefulness, saying it had been created for a “civilized divorce” of Soviet republics.

But yesterday he said the fraternity that the peoples of the Soviet Union felt during World War II remained palpable today.

In a reflection of the disputes among the member countries, two of the leaders, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev, did not attend.

Mr. Saakashvili also will skip today’s Victory in Europe Day celebration in Moscow, because Georgia failed to win agreement last week on the removal of Russian bases it regards as a legacy of Moscow’s imperial domination.

Mr. Aliev was boycotting because of the attendance of his rival, Armenian President Robert Kocharian.

The CIS was born in the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, and its advocates hoped it would foster closer integration among the newly independent countries.

Many of its initiatives have foundered, however, including plans to remove trade barriers that have dominated the CIS agenda since its creation. Three of its members — Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova — are aiming for membership in the European Union and NATO in hopes of throwing off Moscow’s influence.

The summit ended after two hours with a declaration on cooperation in humanitarian areas, such as culture and education, to help foster contacts among citizens of CIS countries.

Inside the meeting, the tensions were high as Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who led his country’s Orange Revolution, and Belarus’ leader, Alexander Lukashenko, dubbed by some the “last dictator in Europe,” stared stonily at each other.

Mr. Lukashenko later vowed at a meeting with World War II veterans that he would not be dislodged from power.

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