Officially, the summit is aimed at promoting democracy in a region that spent decades under totalitarian Soviet-era regimes.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who took office after last year’s Orange Revolution, is playing host to the event that also includes the region’s other revolutionary, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, as well as the presidents of the three ex-Soviet republics in the Baltics.
Notably missing from the participant list was Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who is criticized by the United States as Europe’s last dictator.
“This forum is part of Ukraine’s policy to promote development of democracy in the region,” Deputy Foreign Minister Anton Buteyko said.
The Foreign Ministry said that Russia was invited, and a senior embassy official will attend. Also scheduled to attend were the presidents of Macedonia, Moldova, Slovenia and Romania as well as high officials from the European Council, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Bulgaria, Poland and Azerbaijan.
The gathering, called the Community of Democratic Choice, was expected to discuss regional stability, the development of democracy and economic cooperation.
Many experts, however, called the forum a challenge to Russia and an attempt to weaken its leadership in the post-Soviet region. Yushchenko and Saakashvili, who took office after the 2003 Rose Revolution protests, were the initiators of the gathering.
Both have pursued a pro-Western course, dragging their nations away from Russia’s strong influence.
“From the very beginning this forum was planned with the aim of limiting Russia’s leadership position in the region,” analyst Mykhaylo Pohrebinsky said.
Ukraine’s parliamentarians are divided over the regional forum, but all agreed that it is a challenge to the Kremlin.
Communist legislator Alla Aleksandrovskaya claimed that the forum was being held “under pressure from the United States with the aim of isolating Russia from Europe.”
But lawmaker Valeriy Shushkevych, an ally of pro-Western opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, countered that it was a right step as “democracy is being turned back in Russia and Ukraine does not want to repeat that.”
“We are just protecting our choice, the choice of the country in favor of democracy,” Shushkevych said.