Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has hailed a free trade deal signed by eight former Soviet republics in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) as a "fundamental" pact that would boost cooperation in the loose regional grouping.
"We are opening up our markets to each other, which means that goods will be brought to our markets at lower prices," he said. "This, in turn, will provide better conditions for starting new joint enterprises. All of this, of course, increases the competitiveness of all of our economies."
The pact was signed by Russia, Armenia, Moldova, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Belarus.
It was unexpectedly announced after talks between regional prime ministers in St. Petersburg on October 18.
The deal would come into effect next year provided that it is ratified by the parliaments of the eight countries.
Putin said it would replace a 1994 deal that some CIS states never ratified.
Putin said the other three CIS states -- Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan -- would study the agreement and consider signing it before the end of the year.
Putin is expected to push for greater regional cooperation on October 19 when he meets his counterparts from Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Russia hopes Ukraine will join a Customs Union which also comprises Belarus and Kazakhstan.
The CIS was created in 1991 as the Soviet Union was collapsing and grew to include all former Soviet republics except the three Baltic states.
Georgia quit the CIS after a five-day war with Russia in 2008.
compiled from agency reports