Russian trade with Tajikistan up sharply, Putin says

Russia's trade with impoverished former Soviet republic in Central Asia grew by 30 percent in 2005 and by 60 percent in the first four months of this year, ITAR-Tass and RIA-Novosti quoted Putin as saying at a meeting with Rakhmonov at the Russian president's residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Rakhmonov said last year that the volume of trade in 2004 was US$400 million (Ђ310 million).

Putin did not say what accounted for the increases. He has been seeking to bolster his country's political, economic and military ties with Central Asian nations, in part to counter efforts by some other ex-Soviet republics to shed Russian influence and turn Westward.

Russia's state-run natural gas monopoly OAO Gazprom signed a deal in March to help develop the nation's gas fields. Russian aluminum giant Rusal agreed in 2004 to invest more than US$1 billion (Ђ830 million) to build a hydroelecrtic power plant in Tajiksitan, but construction has not started because of a dispute over the dam design.

According to ITAR-Tass, Rakhmonov told Putin he had recently "clearly voiced" Tajikistan's position on the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose-grouping of 12 former Soviet republics that is facing increasing criticism from its Western-leaning members, suggesting Tajikistan supports the Moscow-dominated organization, the AP reports.