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Russia: CIS Leaders Open Informal Summit in St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg, 30 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) opened an informal summit in St. Petersburg today, during festivities marking the city's 300th anniversary. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, speaking in his capacity as chairman of the organization, said CIS leaders faced a full summit agenda. Among the issues he cited for discussion are whether to extend the mandate of CIS peacekeepers in Abkhazia, whether to send CIS observers to upcoming Azerbaijani presidential and Georgian parliamentary elections, and how to assess Armenia's recent contested ballot.

But Kuchma said the development of a unified economic space ranked paramount in the still-unachieved goals of the CIS. "Within the framework of the commonwealth, we have concluded more than 60 free-trade agreements, starting in 1994. In this way, today, the CIS consists of a market that is composed of 60 different segments with rules of the game that often contradict each other," Kuchma said.

Despite Kuchma's appeal, CIS leaders have budgeted two hours for today's informal discussions and are not expected to sign any breakthrough agreements.