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Leaders of 4 Ex-Soviet Republics Open Summit in Ukraine

The presidents of four ex-Soviet republics have gathered in Ukraine for a summit meeting to discuss ways to reduce their dependence on Russia.

The meeting brings together the leaders of Georgia, Moldova, Azerbaijan and Ukraine - all of whom are seeking closer ties with the West.

The republics belong to an organization known by its acronym, GUAM, which they say may become an alternative to the Russia-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States. Formed as the Soviet Union was collapsing, the CIS has long been criticized as ineffective.

All four countries have increasingly strained relations with Moscow - especially Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Energy independence is one key issue on the agenda, a sensitive subject given that all four are largely dependent on Russia for natural gas.

Azerbaijan is an exporter of oil but has cooperated with Western companies on new pipeline projects that bypass Russia.

Officials say closer relations with the United States and ways to resolve ethnic conflicts will also be discussed.