Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
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Ex-Heads of Soviet Republics in Moscow
November 30, 2001

MOSCOW (AP) - Vladimir Putin welcomed the heads of 11 former Soviet republics to the Kremlin on Friday for the 10th anniversary of the Commonwealth of Independent States, saying the confederation had become a ``unifying, coordinating and stabilizing'' force in the world.

The commonwealth was formed to coordinate cooperation between the countries that emerged when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, and to prevent the confusion and anarchy that many top officials feared.

It has helped regulate administrative, economic and other matters, organized limited peacekeeping missions, and sent observers to elections in CIS member states to counter western criticism of balloting in countries such as Belarus.

However, attempts at forging closer ties have been hampered by the large differences in the members' economies and their levels of development, as well as suspicions that Russia may seek to dominate the organization.

``The CIS has emerged as a major international regional organization, the main functions of which are unifying, coordinating and stabilizing,'' Putin said as he opened the summit.

``Russia and other CIS countries were and remain an outpost in the fight against such evils as terrorism, illegal migration, arms trafficking and drugs.''

He said that the organization had ``serious potential'' for growth as a common economic market, and that ``financial and economic stability in the world as a whole'' depend on the CIS, since a number of its members are key energy suppliers.

Putin also called on the CIS leaders to ensure that minority rights were respected - bearing in mind the approximately 25 million ethnic Russians left outside Russia's borders in the former Soviet Union.

``Problems in cooperation have arisen whenever any state, whether intentionally or not, has infringed on the interests of its own citizens,'' Putin said. ``For Russia, where many CIS citizens, your countrymen, live, it has always been a matter of principle to create favorable conditions for them.''

Putin said that the summit would be devoted to examining the current situation in the CIS and ``looking a bit into the future.'' The CIS leaders were expected to issue a joint statement on Afghanistan, which borders several of the Central Asian members of the organization.

The CIS established an anti-terrorism center in Moscow in June 2000. Six CIS members belonging to a Collective Security Council also agreed this year to form rapid-reaction forces, in part to quell any unrest spilling over from Afghanistan.

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