YEREVAN -- An informal summit of a Russia-dominated military alliance of seven ex-Soviet states has kicked off in Yerevan, with its participants discussing ways of providing a "more effective response" to emergencies, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) gathering is focused on issues of emergency response to crises similar to the one in Kyrgyzstan earlier this year, when the Central Asian state was plunged into chaos and ethnic violence after its president was deposed by the opposition.
The organization then effectively refused to step in with its military power to resolve the crisis, despite appeals made by the country's provisional government.
Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian, as the leader of the host nation, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, as the leader of the country that currently holds the organization's rotating presidency, made opening remarks, welcoming their counterparts from Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan at a closed-door opening session today.
The president of Uzbekistan, the other CSTO member, is not attending the summit.
The CSTO has grown out of a Collective Security Treaty that was signed by Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan back in 1992.
Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Belarus joined the treaty in 1993, but the two South Caucasus states, as well as Uzbekistan, withdrew from it six years later.
Uzbekistan rejoined the treaty in 2006, four years after it had turned into an organization that has its own charter and legal status.
Meetings and discussions among the former Soviet leaders will proceed at a lakeside resort in Sevan on August 21. One such bilateral meeting is due to feature Medvedev and Kyrgyzstan's leader Roza Otunbaeva.
Summits of this kind are largely viewed as an additional forum for former Soviet leaders to sort out their bilateral problems.
It is not yet clear whether Medvedev, who completed his two-day state visit to Armenia today and stayed on for the event, will hold a separate meeting with his Belarusian counterpart, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, on the margins of the unofficial gathering.
Lukashenka's participation in the summit was originally in doubt because of his worsening relations with the Kremlin. Once considered Moscow's most loyal ex-Soviet ally, Belarus was locked earlier this year in a major row with Russia over gas prices and debts, which led to a cut in Russia's Europe-bound supplies flowing via Belarusian territory.
Tensions between the two states rose further late last week when the Kremlin accused Lukashenka of dishonorable and inconsistent behavior following the Belarusian strongman's claims that he had never promised to recognize Georgia's Russian-backed breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
In remarks that might indicate some thaw in the strained relations between the two leaders, Medvedev welcomed Lukashenka's readiness for Belarus to assume the CSTO's rotating presidency in 2011.
The statement was made at a press conference not attended by Lukashenka. But both leaders are scheduled to attend the August 21 events.
The CSTO leaders' informal summit is due to end on August 22.