Putin urges ex-Soviet leaders to stick together
MOSCOW - 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 and terrorism.
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 President 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 neighbors 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 toward 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 toward 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 were killed.
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 center 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.