Russia vows more arms for bigger peacekeeping role

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DUSHANBE, Oct 6 (Reuters) Russia promised today to sell more weapons at cheaper prices to its ex-Soviet allies in exchange for their playing a bigger role in peacekeeping operations in the region, including conflict-torn Georgia.

The deals on peacekeeping and the sale of Russian military hardware were among more than 20 documents signed by the leaders of the Moscow-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) during a summit in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe.

''CSTO members will now get special equipment at domestic Russian prices,'' Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters after the summit.

The grouping, which includes Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, has grown more active in the past few years as new rifts have appeared in Moscow's relations with the West.

Russia, alarmed at peaceful pro-Western revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia, has stepped up security cooperation with the leaders of Belarus and some Central Asian states.

Russia's security umbrella is also seen as an important survival instrument by Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko and Uzbek President Islam Karimov, blamed by the West of crushing democratic freedom at home.

MORE PARTICIPATION Moscow, which alone carries the peacekeeping burden of the broader Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which groups 12 former Soviet countries, said during the meeting it wants more active participation by its allies.

''The CIS peacekeeping force is now deployed in (Georgia's breakaway region of) Abkhazia, but it is 100 per cent Russian,'' Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters. ''We have always wanted more states to take part in this work.'' Under the agreement signed at the summit, each CSTO member state will allocate a detachment for a peacekeeping force that could be used should a joint decision be made to launch a mission.

Lavrov said the agreement was not drafted with any specific country in mind. But the declaration drew attention to conflicts on the fringes of the CSTO member states.

''We are concerned by a conflict potential, which has been accumulating in the immediate proximity of the CSTO zone of responsibility,'' it said. ''This is fraught with the creation of new division lines and mutual suspicions.'' CSTO Executive Secretary Nikolai Bordyuzha did not rule out that Abkhazia and another Georgian breakaway region, South Ossetia, could be options for a joint peacekeeping mission.

''The use of the peacekeeping force in Abkhazia and South Ossetia is possible if all sides involved in the conflict agree,'' he told a news conference ahead of the summit.

Pro-Western Georgia wants to win back control of the two provinces, which broke away in the early 1990s, and blames Russian peacekeepers for backing separatists.

Georgia, which is seeking NATO membership, wants the Russian peacekeepers to be replaced by a neutral force.

REUTERS PY RK2235

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