MOSCOW - Russia sought Wednesday to expand its influence over former territories during integration talks that Washington has cast as a bid to “re-Sovietise” the region.
President Vladimir Putin met separately with the leaders of Belarus and Armenia before engaging the head of resource-rich Kazakhstan about ways to more closely bind the neighbours’ economies.
He also attended a collective security meeting that resolved to create a Moscow-led air defence unit that would focus its activities on the regions surrounding war-torn Afghanistan.
Western attempts “to force other nations to accept their own standards can lead to the most serious circumstances,” Putin said in a trademark swipe at the United States.
This is especially underscored by the “dramatic situation in North Africa and the Middle East,” Putin said.
Putin once called the Soviet Union’s demise one of the 20th century’s great calamities and has sought to stamp Moscow’s authority over its old holdings.
Two blocs have now emerged from Soviet ruins - a Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan as well as an alliance called the Eurasian Economic Community that loosely groups seven other states.
The Kremlin is casting attempts to blur post-Soviet borders as only natural in a world beset by economic problems.
“Considering the current turbulence and unpredictability in the world of economics... (and) the whiff of crisis that is always around us, the only way to survive is by following the integration trend,” said Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
“So the processes taking shape in the post-Soviet landscape - to call this an attempt at Sovietisation is to show a near-complete misunderstanding of what is going on,” Peskov told the state news channel Vesti.
But Washington - keen to maintain its own ties with nations in Central Asia that host key pipelines and some of the world’s biggest energy reserves - has been more than sceptical.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton infuriated Moscow by claiming that “there is an attempt to re-Sovietise the region.” “We know what the goal is and we are trying to figure out effective ways to slow down or prevent it,” she said in Dublin before entering December 6 talks with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
The unusually sharp comments came despite US efforts to win Moscow’s backing for a solution to the 21-month conflict in Syria.
Wednesday’s talks in Moscow had also been due to include Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych - a former backer of Putin who more recently tried to mend his nation’s bridges with the European Union.
Yanukovych cancelled the trip without an explanation on Tuesday after reports that he had been willing to sign his country up for Customs Union membership in exchange for cheaper Russian natural gas.