Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country will further develop relations with Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan in an apparent demonstration of close ties with former Soviet nations.
Putin spoke on Saturday at a ceremony near Moscow to mark the launch of the first pipeline supply of Russian gas to Uzbekistan via Kazakhstan. The presidents of the two countries also attended.
Putin stressed the importance of the project for economic development and energy security of the entire region. He said the strategic partnership of the three countries will continue and develop further.
Putin turned 71 on Saturday. The Russian presidential office said he received birthday greetings by telephone from leaders of former Soviet countries including Belarus and friendly nations such as Cuba.
The Kremlin also said that Putin separately held phone talks with the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia and discussed the latest situation on the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The moves come as some observers point out the decline of Russian influence over some nations of the former Soviet Union. Armenia recently has shown moves to distance itself from Russia.
Later this month, Putin plans to attend a summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States made up of former Soviet republics. The Russian president apparently wants to underscore unity of those countries.