MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that the final pieces were in place for the 2015 launch of an economic union with Belarus and Kazakhstan that Moscow hopes can also be joined by Ukraine.
Putin said following talks with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko that the so-called Eurasian Economic Union would turn into a new source of economic growth for all involved.
The new alliance would replace a much looser Eurasian Customs Union that Russia formed with the two ex-Soviet nations in an effort to build up a free trade group rivalling the 28-nation EU bloc.
"Government representatives of the troika (Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus) ... have developed the draft of the institutional part of the Eurasian Economic Union agreement," news agencies quoted Putin as saying.
"This document determines the international legal status, organisational frameworks, the objectives and mechanisms of how the union will operate starting on January 1, 2015," Putin said.
Putin has made the creation of a post-Soviet economic union that could one day even be joined by nations such as Turkey and India the keystone project of his third Kremlin term.
Russia has put immense pressure on Ukraine to join the alliance and threatened economic sanctions against Kiev when it was on the verge of signing a landmark trade and political association deal with Brussels last month.
Kiev's decision to spurn the EU pact sparked the biggest protests since the 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution and exposed the deep cultural rifts running between the nationalist west of Ukraine and its more Russified eastern parts.
But the size of those protests began to ebb when Ukraine agreed a US$15 billion bailout package with Russia that also included a one-third cut in the price Moscow charges its neighbour for natural gas.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was not present for Tuesday's meeting in Moscow but had earlier said that Kiev was ready to study joining specific clauses of the Russian-led bloc.
Kiev was represented at Tuesday's talks by Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov.