Putin eyes new era of economic ties with EU
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Thursday outlined a vision of a new era of closer economic cooperation between Russia and the European Union, including the creation of free trade zones.
In an unusually impassioned championing of closer ties with the EU as he starts a visit to Germany, Putin envisaged the creation of a "harmonised community of economies from Lisbon to Vladivostok.
"In the future it is possible that we will have zones of free trade and even more advanced forms of economic integration," Putin wrote in an article for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily, whose text was published on the government website.
"In essence, we will get a continental market with a volume of trillions of euros," he said.
Putin said it was clear that current levels of cooperation between Russia and the European Union did not correspond to the challenges of the future.
He wrote of the need for an "organic synthesis of two economies -- the classic, established model in the European Union and the new, developing one in Russia."
The prime minister said a necessary condition was Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization -- which officials have said is finally on the cards after years of wrangling.
Also vital was the abolition of visas on both sides but the chances of this remained unclear, Putin said.
Putin, who served as a KGB agent in the form Communist East Germany, said the two sides had the chance for an new breakthrough in Europe two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
"Today, in the new economic conditions, we have a chance to build a united and flourishing Europe," he said.
President Dmitry Medvedev often talks of the need for greater economic modernisation in Russia and closer ties with foreign partners but it is rare to hear such sentiments echoed so strongly by Putin, still seen as the de-facto number one.
The European Union is Russia's largest trading partner, accounting for around one half of its foreign trade. According to the federal customs agency, total trade in the first half of the year was 141.9 billion dollars, up 43 percent.
© 2010 AFP