A top Russian official met with Turkmen authorities today over claims by President Saparmurad Niyazov that an alleged attempt on his life was organized and financed in Russia.

"Turkmenistan and the Russian Federation are equally interested in bringing their bilateral relations to a new level," Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo said as the meeting opened.

Rushailo arrived in Turkmenistan today and sat down with Rejepbay Arazov, the Turkmen vice premier and defense minister. He was due to see Niyazov on Friday.

Niyazov has said the Nov. 25 attack, in which gunmen opened fire on his motorcade, was financed and organized by Turkmen opposition figures in Russia. Niyazov was not hurt in the attack, but four police officers were injured, officials have said.

The alleged organizer of the attack, former foreign minister Boris Shikhmuradov, was sentenced on Monday to life in prison after a trial that lasted less than a day. In a videotaped confession broadcast on state television, Shikhmuradov said he and other opposition members had recruited mercenaries in Russia to kill the president in an attempt to seize power.

Niyazov said he had asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for help in locating and extraditing two alleged conspirators still at large: ex-Central Bank chief Khudaiberdi Orazov and former ambassador to Turkey Nurmukhammed Khanamov.

Critics have accused Niyazov of staging the assassination attempt as a cover for cracking down on opponents, and human rights groups have criticized Turkmen authorities for rounding up whole families in the search for suspects.

Niyazov has said four Russian citizens from the breakaway region of Chechnya are among the 51 suspects detained so far. Rushailo was due to discuss their possible extradition to Russia.

Niyazov -- one of the most authoritarian rulers in Central Asia -- has ruled impoverished but energy-rich Turkmenistan since 1985, when it was still part of the Soviet Union. He has fostered a massive cult of personality -- naming cities, palaces, mosques and airports after himself.

Saparmurad Niyazov, president of Turkmenistan, is due to meet with a top Russian security official today.