Ex-Soviet republics gather in Ukraine for talks

The two-day summit was to be capped Tuesday with a meeting of presidents from Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Moldova. Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus was expected to participate as an observer, and the leaders of Bulgaria, Romania and Poland were also invited, though it was unclear if they would attend.

The summit began Monday with separate meetings involving foreign ministers and other top officials. Leaders will discuss regional conflicts, energy cooperation and "questions connected to our Euro-Atlantic course," Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko was quoted as saying by Ukraine's Interfax news agency.

Pro-Western presidents have come to power in Ukraine and Georgia since 2003, after their supporters poured into the streets to protest widespread allegations of election fraud. Moldova's leaders have also pulled away from Moscow's influence, and oil-rich Azerbaijan is being courted by both Russia and the West.

Officials were also expected to discuss how to turn the alliance into a stronger structure, giving it a new name and setting up a permanent headquarters in Kiev, the AP reports.

The organization was formed in 1997 to expand cooperation outside the larger Commonwealth of Independent States, the loose grouping of 12 former Soviet republics dominated by Moscow.

Initially, the four-nation grouping included Uzbekistan, but that country withdrew last year, complaining that the alliance had deviated from its goal of economic cooperation and focused too much on security and political issues.

A bloody government crackdown on protesters in the Central Asian nation strained relations with the West.

Though Russian President Vladimir Putin was not invited to the summit, Yushchenko's spokeswoman said the group is not aimed at sidelining the Kremlin.