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Armenian 'Road Map' To Russian-Led Customs Union Ready; Kyrgyzstan Nearly So

Armenian President Serzh Sarkissian (center) at the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council meeting in Moscow on December 24
Armenian President Serzh Sarkissian (center) at the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council meeting in Moscow on December 24
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said after a summit of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council (SEEC) that the "road map" for Armenia to join is ready and similar documents for Kyrgyzstan are almost ready.

Putin said he and the leaders of CIS Customs Union countries Belarus and Kazakhstan, as well as the leaders of aspiring union members Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, discussed the legal basis for accepting new members and defined the tasks and goals for the council.

"[We] succeeded in advancing preparations for the draft of the project for the Eurasian Economic Union," Putin said. "Our experts have agreed on the basic, institutional part of the agreement [that contain] international, legislative status, tasks, mechanisms, and activities of the future union."

Putin said a treaty on transforming the three-member CIS Customs Union into the SEEC should be ready for signing by May 2014 so the "Eurasian Economic Union may start full-scale work on January 2015."

Armenia angered some in the West recently when it turned its back on ongoing negotiations on closer ties with the European Union by announcing its intention to seek membership of the Russian-led customs grouping.

While Putin said the road map for Armenia had been endorsed at the December 24 summit, he added that the "draft of a similar document for Kyrgyzstan is almost ready and is being coordinated with the Kyrgyzstani colleagues."

Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev was at the gathering and has been saying for months that his country wants to join the CIS economic union, but members of his government have been requesting special conditions that include financial help from the union for their comparatively poor Central Asian country.

Atambaev recently spoke about the need for the union to meet Kyrgyzstan's "national interests."

Russian presidential aide Yury Ushakov said the Kremlin still expects an endorsement of Kyrgyzstan's accession to SEEC to be ready by March 2014.

"We are creating an economic union not to fence ourselves off from the world," Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev said to counter criticism from some that the SEEC looks like an attempt to reform the Soviet Union. "On the contrary, it is in order to cooperate with it [the world] successfully and to the fullest. This is not an attempt to restore the USSR, as some want to say. There is no return to the past and there will not be and this is the common, agreed upon position of our governments -- we're going forward, not backward."

Nazarbaev and Putin have advocated accepting countries such as Turkey and India into SEEC, should those countries, or others, wish to join.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov was also at the meeting, seeking observer status for his country.

Azarov said after the summit: "We were given the opportunity to express our position today, and it consists in the fact that Ukraine primarily considers cooperation with the Customs Union countries as cooperation within the free trade area. And this agreement that has been signed and ratified by Ukraine should be implemented in full."

Russia has been pushing for Ukraine to join the CIS union instead of courting closer ties with the European Union.

Kyiv's decision in late November to suspend talks with the European Union on a new trade agreement and instead court stronger trade ties with neighbor Russia sparked widespread protests that are continuing.

A deal Putin reached with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych last week to lower the price of Russian gas and help Ukraine financially defused some of the tensions inside Ukraine.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told Azarov before the summit that Russia had transferred the first $3 billion tranche of a $15 billion bailout for Ukraine on December 23.

Based on reporting by Interfax, ITAR-TASS, and AFP
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