Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met Friday with leaders of a fractious alliance of former Soviet republics, ranging from autocratic Kremlin allies to pro-Westerners determined to escape Moscow's shadow.
Medvedev held one-on-one talks with several presidents from the 12-nation Commonwealth of Independent State at the lavish Konstantin Palace in Strelna, on the Gulf of Finland near St. Petersburg, before what was billed as an informal summit meeting later in the day.
The first major CIS gathering for Medvedev since he took over from Vladimir Putin a month ago was being held amid increasing tensions between Moscow and both Ukraine and Georgia, whose leaders are trying to bring their countries into NATO.
Meeting with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, Medvedev suggested that Ukrainian membership in NATO would violate a 1999 friendship treaty between the Slavic neighbors, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said. He said the treaty stipulates that neither nation should pose a security threat to the other.
"One-sided steps taken despite the essence of the agreement do not add stability to our relations," Lavrov said. Russia's parliament adopted a declaration this week urging Russia to declare the friendship treaty invalid if Ukraine takes further steps toward joining NATO.
Lavrov indicated that Medvedev had criticized Yushchenko over his suggestions that Ukraine would evict the Russian navy from the Black Sea port of Sevastopol when the lease runs out in 2017.
Kiev's actions "are not what we would like to see from close partners," Lavrov said.
Russian officials have warned Ukraine and Georgia not to join NATO. In response to Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili's push for membership in the alliance, Russia has stepped up support for Georgia's separatist region of Abkhazia, drawing Georgian claims that Russia is moving toward annexing the province.
Medvedev planned to meet later with Saakashvili, whose relationship with Putin was tense.
Medvedev has suggested his foreign policy would not differ fundamentally from Putin's, and it is unclear whether the change in Kremlin leadership might help in resolving Russian-Georgian disputes.
Russia has far warmer relations with other ex-Soviet republics - some of whose leaders are authoritarian strongmen deeply disliked by the West - though ties are complicated by jockeying for position over energy supplies and export routes.
Medvedev's first foreign destination as president was Kazakhstan. After Medvedev met Friday with the leaders of the energy-rich Caspian Sea coast nations of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, Kremlin aide Sergei Prikhodko said Medvedev would visit both countries in early July.
Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan are at the heart of wrangling between Russia and the West for control over oil and gas supplies and pipeline routes.
Medvedev, inaugurated May 7, has said relations with former Soviet republics would be a priority in foreign policy - a pledge in line with the policy Putin pursued.
In a weary world of endless US military interventions, sanctions, trade tariffs and chaos, let’s pause and take stock of the shining house on the hill