Russian President Vladimir Putin began a two-day, three-nation tour of Central Asia on February 27, seeking to shore up ties with Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan.
Putin met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev in Almaty and touted recent talks in the Kazakh capital, Astana, seeking a resolution of the 6-year-old war in Syria.
"The Kazakh side has played a positive role, not only as a host and organizer of the event but in fact influenced the positive results of the Astana gathering," Putin said.
Nazarbaev said that a quarter century after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia is Kazakhstan's "No. 1 economic and political partner."
"In 25 years, we have established exemplary ties that should be between friendly neighboring countries," Nazarbaev said.
Nazarbaev, 76, has been in power since before the Soviet collapse. In late January, he said he would delegate some of his sweeping powers to parliament and the cabinet, raising questions about an eventual transition in the oil-rich, tightly controlled country.
Russia is vying for influence in Central Asia with China, which also borders Kazakhstan and has increased its clout in the region in recent years.
After talks with Nazarbaev, Putin traveled to Tajikistan and held talks with President Emomali Rahmon.
On February 28, Putin will visit Kyrgyzstan.
The Kyrgyz visit comes amid rancor over the detention of opposition leader Omurbek Tekebaev, who Kyrgyz authorities say is being held as part of a criminal corruption investigation.
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia are members of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), groupings that Moscow uses to maintain influence in the region.
The Kremlin says Putin's trip is meant to mark the 25th anniversary of Moscow's diplomatic relations with the three Central Asian nations. He is not visiting the other two, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
Along with Russia and 11 other Soviet republics, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan gained independence when the Soviet Union fell apart in December 1991.
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.