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CIS: Dushanbe Summit Discusses Labor Migration, Free-Trade Zone

Armenian President Robert Kocharian (left), President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia (right), and President Vladimir Voronin of Moldova meet in Dushanbe at the CIS summit (ITAR-TASS) October 5, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) met in Dushanbe today to discuss the further development of their loose alliance. A coordinated migration policy and improved economic cooperation topped the agenda.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev -- whose country holds the rotating CIS presidency -- said the leaders of the member countries have agreed to coordinate labor migration in the region, as well as the legal and social protection of the migrants.

Seventeen documents were signed during the meeting, including agreements on the creation of a free-trade zone and a coordinated customs system. The summit also approved Russian Sergei Lebedev as the new CIS executive secretary, replacing countryman Vladimir Rushailo.

Criticized As Ineffective

The CIS was initially formed by Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The loose alliance is often criticized as an ineffective talking shop. It now brings together 12 former Soviet republics. It has been strained by disputes between Russia and other member states, including Ukraine and Georgia over Russian gas prices.

Some Central Asian countries have sought closer ties with the United States and China, while Georgia and Ukraine have expressed a desire to enter the European Union and NATO. Russia has sought to maintain its influence in the former Soviet countries through other, smaller regional alliances, including the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The CSTO brings together Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Russia.

Linking With SCO

Shortly before the summit of the heads of the CIS member states, the CSTO signed an agreement to link with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a China-led regional security body.

Nikolai Bordyuzha, the CSTO general-secretary, said confrontation with NATO is not in his group's plans.

"We don't see NATO as a rival, and certainly not as an enemy," he said. "As you know, we have offered our cooperation to NATO in many areas, including [combating] illegal drug trafficking. So I think it is a mistake to say that the document we signed today on systematic cooperation between the CSTO and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is an attempt to rival or counteract NATO."

Although the membership of the two regional groups overlaps to some degree, the move is seen as a sign of Russian and Chinese determination to strengthen security links with each other and energy-rich Central Asia.

(RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this story.)