Ex-Soviet states to create EU-style 'Eurasian Union'
Three ex-Soviet states agreed on Friday to create a Eurasian economic union, an EU-style project championed by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to bind closer the remnants of the USSR.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his Kazakhstan and Belarus counterparts Nursultan Nazarbayev and Alexander Lukashenko signed in the Kremlin a declaration targeting a full "Eurasian economic union" by 2015.
They also inked a formal accord ordering the creation of a super-national executive body resembling the EU commission to oversee tighter economic integration at the start of 2012.
"We made a very important step towards the creation of a Eurasian economic union. Without doubt this will be decisive in the future of our countries," Medvedev said in comments on state television which broadcast the ceremony.
Putin, who was not present at the meeting, evoked the idea of creating a Eurasian Union in a newspaper article published shortly after the announcement that he would seek to return to the Kremlin as president in 2012 polls.
Medvedev did not mention Putin and insisted the idea originally belonged to the veteran strongman Nazarbayev, who he said dreamt it up in the turbulent days of post-Soviet chaos in the 1990s.
Lukashenko, a rare Kremlin visitor in the last year as he presses on with a ruthless crackdown on the opposition, gave a characteristically rambling address in which he denied the new union would result in a loss of sovereignty.
Nazarbayev -- who has overseen a canny foreign policy in over two decades in power of keeping close ties with the West without ever alienating Russia -- described the signing as an "important historic moment".
He said that the commission body would be headed by Russian Industry Minister Viktor Khristenko and the Eurasian economic union would be headquartered in Moscow.
The three countries already have a customs union but the creation of the Eurasian Union with its own executive body and overseeing a single economic space would mark a huge step further.
The Eurasian Economic Commission will oversee a single economic space that is due to come into force next year to remove trade barriers between the three countries.
Medvedev said the initial members of the Eurasian economic union would be Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia but any ex-Soviet state would be welcome to join. He listed 2015 as the target date but did not rule out faster progress.
He expressed his admiration for the EU, saying it was a "very successful union" despite the current economic crisis in the eurozone.
"It (the European Union) has allowed the creation of a huge common market and allowed a number of mid-sized countries to live on a very decent level," said Medvedev.
Putin, who once described the Soviet collapse as the greatest geo-political tragedy of the 20th century, denied in his October article he simply wanted to recreate the USSR under another guise.
However previous attempts at tight integration between ex-Soviet states have not been successful and a so-called "Union State" set up between Russia and Belarus in the 1990s now barely exists in all but name.
Lukashenko frankly admitted that the Union State could be rendered defunct by the creation of the Eurasian economic union.
It also remains unclear what impact the project could have on Russia's entry to the World Trade Organisation, which is finally expected to be agreed by the end of this year after 18 years of negotiations.
© 2011 AFP