Leaders of 12 former Soviet republics were gathering Friday amid deepening cracks in the alliance and growing efforts by some members to temper Russia's influence in the region and strengthen ties with the West.
President Vladimir Putin will host the meeting of the Commonwealth of Independent States against the backdrop of millennial anniversary celebrations in this central Russian city Kazan some 720 kilometers (450 miles) east of Moscow.
Ahead of the CIS summit, Putin met with the State Council, a group of governors from Russia's 89 regions. He told them that the council, along with the "the consolidation of all Russian authorities" and the "widening of authority to the regions," would help in the country's economic and political development.
The Kremlin in the past few years has pushed legislative changes designed to strengthen central control over the sprawling country.
The latest round, taken last fall in response to a series of terrorist attacks culminating in the Beslan school hostage seizure, allows the president to appoint governors and did away with the right of individuals to compete for parliamentary seats strengthening the hand of the largest, Kremlin-backed political parties, which run candidates on party lists.
The Kremlin official also said the leaders would sign agreements on terrorism and fighting extremist groups and on curbing illegal migration, and would back an agreement on the exchange of border guards and mutual aid for "the resolution or liquidation of crisis situations on external borders."
The CIS was set up following the demise of the Soviet Union with the aim of preserving economic and defense ties. It does not include the Baltic states.
US military analysts are concerned about the appearance of a new Russian sniper rifle known as T-5000
On December 14, President Putin holds his annual Q&A session with Russian and foreign journalists. This conference is considered to be the beginning of his presidential campaign