Leaders of former Soviet republics in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) have met online for a virtual summit to discuss issues ranging from the COVID-19 pandemic to the situation the South Caucasus region following the war over Azerbaijan’s breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Other topics included cooperation on security issues and how CIS members can achieve greater integration.
During the December 18 online gathering, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country will assist all other CIS members in the battle against COVID-19 with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and other vaccines that have been developed by laboratories in Russia.
Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev said his country will start producing the Sputnik V vaccine, as well as Kazakhstan’s own coronavirus vaccine, starting next week.
Kyrgyzstan’s Acting President Talant Mamytov said Bishkek is interested in receiving COVID vaccines from Russia.
Talking about the situation in Azerbaijan’s breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, some parts of which and seven adjacent districts around it were returned under Baku’s control last month after a 44-day war between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces, Putin said Russian peacekeepers are doing their best to preserve peace in the area.
Putin also said “the risks of terrorism have increased” in the region following a November cease-fire agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia that was brokered by Russia.
The accord took effect on November 10, ending the worst clashes in the conflict since the early 1990s.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said during the online summit that the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh is now “history.” He said all talk about the war “must be in the past tense.”
Aliyev also said Azerbaijan’s armed forces had defeated an Armenian army that was established by previous Armenian presidents — Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian. He said Armenia’s current leader, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, was not responsible for the army’s poor performance.
Pashinian did not take part in the summit due to the death of his father on December 16.
Pashinian’s domestic opponents have been rallying in Yerevan since the end of the conflict to demand his resignation.
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon called on the CIS member states to establish a “common list of terrorists and extremist organizations” in order to increase joint counterterrorism efforts.
Putin expressed his gratitude to other CIS leaders for what he called “support of Russia’s efforts to preserve historic truth about the Soviet Union’s contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany” in 1945.
“I am confident that we have to continue to act in solidarity to defend the memory of our peoples, who managed to save the world from aggression by paying enormous and irreversible sacrifices,” Putin said.
In recent years, Russian leadership has been using the victory in World War II, known in former Soviet republics as the Great Patriotic War, in propaganda that has intensified since Moscow’s seizure and illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014.
Putin also said that in 2020, some countries in the CIS have faced “attempts by external forces to meddle” in their domestic affairs.
Although Putin didn’t specify any country, observers suggest he was referring to Belarus, where anti-government rallies have been staged across the country regularly since election officials in Minsk declared Alyaksandr Lukashenka had won reelection to a sixth term on August 9.
Tens of thousands of Belarusians continue to march weekly to demand Lukashenka’s resignation — despite mass arrests and beatings by police, a tightened grip on media, and expulsions of opposition leaders that have included the exiled presidential challenger Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
Lukashenka has resisted the calls of protesters and Western government to hold a new election and speak to the opposition.
He has blamed the European Union and the United States for “inciting mass disorders” in Belarus.
The CIS summit also covered issues of trade, economic cooperation, and cultural exchanges between their countries.
Belarus was announced as the next chairman of the CIS. The next CIS summit was scheduled for October 15, 2021.
CIS members include Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan has an associate status in the group.
Ukraine quit the CIS in 2018, four years after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Georgia quit the CIS following a five-day Russian-Georgian war in August 2008.
Russia is among the few countries in the world to recognize the independence of Georgia’s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Russia continues to maintain a military presence in both regions.
With reporting by TASS, RIA Novosti, and Interfax
This post was originally published on Radio Free.