Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday urged ex-Soviet nations in the Caucasus Mountains to help fight the spread of terrorism and religious extremism in the restive region.
"It's important to strengthen and improve our cooperation and jointly seek solutions for the difficult problems of the Caucasus," Putin said in a message to a conference on regional stability read by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.
The conference began its work ahead of Thursday's meeting in Minsk of the presidents of Russia and the three south Caucasian republics to be held on the sidelines of a summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Ivanov said the meeting between Putin and his Armenian, Azerbaijani and Georgian counterparts will "help find ways towards stability and security in the region".
The four leaders are planning an "open discussion" of the most urgent
problems of the region, the minister said. They will also consider long-term prospects of cooperation between their countries, he added.
Putin last week called for a quick solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, saying that Russia has a "vital interest" in a peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Karabakh issue will be on the agenda of the Caucasian summit, along with the conflict in Chechnya.
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said on Monday that Tbilisi, which has strained relations with Moscow, attaches "special importance" to the gathering.
Russia has repeatedly accused Georgia - the only foreign country that borders Chechnya - of allowing rebels to sneak across the border to rest and get reinforcements. Moscow introduced a visa regime with Georgia amid the allegations.
(RFE/RL, Associated Press, Itar-Tass)