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CIS leaders assemble for what was to be an informal summit (epa)
All 12 Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) leaders are expected to attend today's informal summit in Moscow -- a rare event considering the tendency of some member states to boycott CIS summits over Russia's domination of the grouping.
Energy cooperation and immigration policies are among the topics of discussion by CIS members, which comprise all former Soviet countries minus the Baltic states.
Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev is expected to urge Russia to do more to curb a wave of racially motivated crimes. Kyrgyzstan's parliament adopted a resolution on February 22 calling on the Russian legislature to address the issue following a spate of killings of Kyrgyz migrants.
Addressing the gathering, outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is scheduled to hold one-to-one meetings with some heads of state, said: "Although we have more than enough problems, we have been able to avoid unnecessary worsening [of relations] where it could have happened. We have always sought solutions acceptable to each of our countries."
Russian political analyst Aleksei Mukhin says the summit is an occasion for participants to get a closer look at First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Putin's anointed successor and the absolute favorite to win the March 2 presidential election. Mukhin says Putin will present "Medvedev as his successor and officially take leave from his CIS partners."
Putin stressed to his fellow CIS leaders that they will see little change in future dealing with Medvedev. "It was together with [Medvedev] that I have made crucial decisions, including those in the most important area of foreign policy for us, the CIS," Putin said. "Essentially, he is one of the authors of Russia's policy in this area. I don't believe we should or will have any revolutionary changes here because [Medvedev] is one of the authors of Russia's [CIS] policy."
Under Kosovo's Shadow
But Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia on February 17 threatens to spark a heated debate over the status of Georgia's two separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are backed by Moscow.
A Russian recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia would deal a severe blow to already strained ties with Georgia, whose president has vowed to bring the breakaway regions back into the fold.
"It has somewhat changed the summit's format by introducing a new element: a discussion on what to do with South Ossetia and Abkhazia," Mukhin says. Georgian President Mikheil "Saakashvili, who traveled to the summit to solve internal Georgian issues, will have to answer uncomfortable questions."
Kosovo's declaration of independence has raised speculation that both regions would use the summit to ask the CIS to recognize their sovereignty.
But Sergei Bagapsh and Eduard Kokoity, the de facto presidents of the self-proclaimed Abkhaz and South Ossetian governments, told the Russian news agency Interfax they didn't intend to raise the issue at the summit.
However, they did confirm plans to send a formal recognition request to Russia, CIS states, and NATO in the near future.
Kosovo's independence comes as relations between Moscow and Tbilisi are showing signs of warming.
Putin held a rare meeting with Saakashvili in Moscow on February 21 in a bid to iron out some of the differences that have soured ties between the two countries.
They agreed to restore direct flights linking Russia and Georgia after an almost 16-month embargo. Striking a conciliatory tone, Georgia's president said he expected "new momentum" in bilateral relations and invited Putin to visit his country.
Putin praised what he described as "adjustments" in Georgia's stance on Russia and pledged to "answer in kind," raising hopes that Moscow will lift a ban on Georgian wine and mineral water that has hurt the country's economy.
(RFE/RL's Turkmen Service contributed to this report.)