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President Putin (front) with other regional leaders at a St. Petersburg summit in January (epa) PRAGUE, December 7, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin today said Central Asia would remain a key element of his foreign policy.


Meeting at the Kremlin with Mikhail Bocharnikov, Russia's newly appointed ambassador to Astana, Putin praised Kazakhstan's political role in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), saying that "without any exaggeration, Kazakhstan is one of the leaders in the integration processes taking place in the post-Soviet space. We share a very large number of interests, be it in the sphere of politics, economy, or technology."


Turning to Valentin Vlasov, Russia's new envoy to Bishkek, Putin vowed to continue supporting "the Kyrgyz people and their leaders without meddling in their internal affairs."


He also said Russia would help Kyrgyzstan solve its financial problems and called for a further expansion of military and other ties with Kyrgyzstan.


Russia maintains a military base in Kant.


The base was set up within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russian-led regional grouping that includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.


(kremlin.ru, Rossiya TV)

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