Kyrgyzstan becomes fifth member of Russia-backed economic bloc

Kyrgyzstan's President Almazbek Atambayev (R) and Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov walk past Kyrgyz flags during an official welcoming ceremony at Manas' airport, 30 km from Bishkek, on August 5, 2015.

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan - Kyrgyzstan became Thursday the fifth member of a Moscow-backed economic bloc of former Soviet countries, a move firmly linking the Central Asian state to Russia at the risk of disrupting trade with China.

The impoverished nation of six million people signed accession papers for the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) in December, but had to wait for the bloc's four other members - Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia - to ratify its entry.

The bloc's main regulatory body said Wednesday Kyrgyzstan would officially become the fifth member of the bloc on August 6 after its membership was formally approved by neighbouring Kazakhstan.

In 1998, Kyrgyzstan was the first of the ex-Soviet states to join the World Trade Organisation and has since grown into a hub for the re-export of Chinese goods throughout the region after Beijing joined the WTO in 2001.

But Eurasian Union tariffs on imports are significantly higher than WTO tariffs, raising fears that EEU membership will lead to a rise in prices in the mainly agrarian economy.

Union membership may however ease bureaucratic troubles for up to a million Kyrgyz migrants living and working in Russia, whose remittances hold the key to social stability in the politically fragile nation.