DUSHANBE, Oct 5 (Reuters) Russia's ally Kazakhstan snubbed the Kremlin today at a summit for former Soviet states by announcing plans to form an economic grouping in Central Asia without former Soviet master Moscow.
''I proposed creating a Central Asian economic union to allow the 50-million strong region to create a self-sufficient market using both economic and political means,'' long-ruling Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev told a news conference.
There was no immediate reaction from Russian President Vladimir Putin or his officials at the lavish summit of the Russia-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States, uniting 12 former Soviet republics, in the Tajik capital Dushanbe.
Nazarbayev also made clear his unhappiness at Russia's domination of the group.
''Of course Russia is the biggest (post-Soviet) economy and we cooperate smoothly,'' Nazarbayev said.
''But although in the European Union the special role of France and Germany is taken into account indeed, they cannot make decisions without smaller member states.'' Nazarbayev, in power since 1989, was one of the creators of the CIS back in 1991 and a member of several Moscow-led groupings like the Collective Security Treaty (CST) body.
But in recent months Nazarbayev's unhappiness at the CIS, and his own desire to take a leadership role in Central Asia, where Kazakhstan is by far the biggest economy, have become evident.
SIMMERING DISCONTENT Other signs of discontent over Russia's continued domination soured the gathering, overshadowing birthday wishes to summit host, Tajik leader Imomali Rakhmon, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who both turn 55 at the weekend.
The summit adopted a modification to the CIS's treaty to make the grouping more flexible and allow its members to join other alliances if they wished.
''All member states backed this concept,'' Nazarbayev, who had held a rotating presidency in the CIS over the past year, told the news conference.
However, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, seeking to integrate his nation into the European Union and NATO, shunned the meeting altogether, taking a visit to Paris instead.
And Putin's outspoken critic, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, was present at the summit but said he had declined to sign the document.
''We have not signed the main conceptual document because we believe that not a single positive clause of CIS (treaties) is being respected regarding Georgia,'' Saakashvili said in remarks broadcast by Georgian TV channels.
''We have good relations practically with all the Commonwealth countries, but there is a number of problematic issues with Russia.'' Saakashvili has clashed sharply with Putin over his plans to take Georgia into NATO and the European Union and out of Moscow's orbit. Rumours of a possible bilateral meeting with Putin at the summit failed to materialise.
Apart from Georgia, other CIS states Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus are locked in trade disputes with Russia.
Central Asian states, many with giant oil and gas reserves, have pondered closer ties with China or the United States, while Georgia and Ukraine are more interested in membership of NATO.
However, Russia is expected to push ahead with efforts to maintain control in the post-Soviet world, jealously guarded against what Moscow sees as an infringement by the West.
The summit decided on Friday to appoint the head of Russia's SVR foreign intelligence service Sergei Lebedev as its secretary.
Earlier today, the Russia-led CST defence pact signed a deal to link up with a security body headed by China, the Shangai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Both sides said they were not challenging NATO.
REUTERS PDT AS0029