By Vladimir Isachenkov, Associated Press Writer
MOSCOW (AP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of five other ex-Soviet republics, including Armenia, failed Tuesday to agree on beefing up their 10-year-old security pact with a joint military command under Russian control – indicating unease over any hint of Moscow's increasing its dominance in the region.
Russia's efforts to strengthen its military role in the ex-Soviet world come after U.S. troops moved into Central Asia last fall for the anti-terrorist campaign in Afghanistan. Officials from the six-nation Collective Security Treaty say the unstable situation in Afghanistan requires closer military and security cooperation among them. Foreign and defense ministers from treaty member nations, who met Monday ahead of Tuesday's presidential summit, advised their presidents to establish a joint military command under the auspices of Russia's General Staff.
But the presidents of the six member countries - Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan - could not come to agreement.
"We tried to reach a solution" but put off discussions on the command for a later date, Armenian President Robert Kocharian said after the talks.
Despite that failure, Putin stressed the importance of the security pact in today's uncertain world. Its members "are cooperating not against someone but against threats we are all facing," he said. The group agreed Tuesday to trade weapons to each other at a single, privileged price and agreed to help each other train military personnel. They also agreed to upgrade the status of the group to a full-fledged regional organization.
Belarus' outspoken, anti-Western President Alexander Lukashenko urged the creation of a group that could compare with NATO. "It will be a powerful military-political organization, a mighty center of force on the post-Soviet space. We must ensure not only protection from terrorists but the defense of our countries and people in the military sense," he said.
After years of talks, the Collective Security Treaty finally agreed last year to set up joint rapid reaction forces for Central Asia. About 1,000 servicemen from all six nations on Monday launched their first three-day joint exercises in Russia's Nizhny Novgorod region.
The Collective Security Treaty was signed in the wake of the 1991 Soviet collapse to retain military and security cooperation among the newly independent ex-Soviet states. However, it has largely remained on paper as Russia -- the group's richest member -- suffered economic woes that limited its ability to fulfill its military promises.
Meanwhile, some ex-Soviet states began drifting out of Russia's orbit. Georgia and Azerbaijan withdrew from the organization, protesting its inability to solve conflicts on their territories and voicing fears of Russian domination. Uzbekistan also pulled out.