MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin is making his first public foreign trip since Russia sent troops into Ukraine, heading for two former Soviet republics and meetings likely to be friendly.
Ahead of the trip beginning Tuesday to Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, there were no expectations of significant developments. But the visit gives Putin the opportunity to show that he is not isolated despite widespread sanctions and denunciations from the West because of the Ukraine operation.
At the first stop in Tajikistan, Putin is to meet with authoritarian President Emomali Rahmon, who has been in office since 1994 and kept his country close to Russia. Tajikistan hosts some 7,000 Russian troops, Moscow's largest base abroad.
Putin's foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov said Monday that a key part of the talks with Rahmon will be discussing measures to improve security along Tajikistan's porous, 1,357-kilometer (843-mile) border with Afghanistan.
Tajikistan, where a 1990s civil war that included Islamist insurgents killed as many as 100,000 people, is wary of Islamic radicalism spilling over from Afghanistan. It also is a main route for heroin and opium smuggling from Afghanistan.
Russia is following a narrow path with Afghanistan — although it officially designates the ruling Taliban as a terrorist group, the Taliban also have a representation in Moscow and one of the movement's officials was invited to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June.
The Kremlin “encourages the new Afghan authorities to form an ethnically and politically balanced government and intensify actions for combatting terrorist and drug threats,” Ushakov said.
Putin on Wednesday is to be in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, which largely seals itself off from the world. The purpose is to attend a summit of Caspian Sea littoral states, which also include Azerbaijan, Iran and Kazakhstan.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev raised eyebrows at the St. Petersburg forum when, while appearing on stage with Putin, he firmly stated that Kazakhstan would not recognize the two separatist Ukrainian regions that Russia has declared to be sovereign states.