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Leaders Discuss New Russian-Led Economic Zone

24 May 2004 -- Russian President Vladimir Putin today set the goal of rapidly establishing a new economic zone between Russia and three of its neighbors.

Putin and his counterparts from Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus gathered in the Ukrainian Black Sea resort of Yalta to discuss the new body, the Single Economic Space -- modeled loosely on the European Common Market, forerunner of today's European Union.

Putin today called for quick implementation of the plan.

"The main task now is to create, as soon as possible, an efficient legal base of the Single Economic Space," Putin said. He added that "concrete results" could be achieved by 2005 or 2006.

The four former Soviet republics agreed in September to establish the free-trade zone.

Previous efforts to link Moscow to other former Soviet republics -- through the 12-country Commonwealth of Independent States -- have produced little more than a talking-shop.

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said the four countries needed to prepare some 80 legal documents to put their agreement in motion. The concluding document of today's meeting did not set a target date for establishing the free-trade zone.

The Russian president said the four countries needed to create a supranational regulatory body and harmonize their customs tariffs.

However, he conceded that major differences remain between the would-be members of the future economic zone.

The group's next meeting is set to take place in Kazakhstan in September.


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