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Nazarbaev Says Customs Union With Russia May Grow

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Several other former members of the Soviet Union are interested in joining a customs union with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev is quoted as saying.

"I am sure that the customs union will begin operations on January 1. This is a very serious step toward integration and several other members of the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] are already interested," Nazarbayev told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow, ITAR-TASS news agency said.

The three former Soviet republics plan to launch the customs union at the start of next year as part of a move to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) together.

Russia surprised the WTO last month when it announced that it would abandon its long-running bid to join the group in favor of a joint application with its two neighbours.

Russia is the largest economy to remain outside the 153-member global trade watchdog.

Nazarbaev did not say which other members of the 11-nation CIS were interested in joining the customs union.