BISHKEK -- Kyrgyzstan's president has signed a law ratifying treaties on his country's accession to the Eurasian Economic Union (EES), the final step required by his country to join Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Armenia in the trade grouping.
Speaking at a signing ceremony in Bishkek on May 21, President Almazbek Atambaev said that joining "one of the world's largest economic unions fully corresponds to Kyrgyzstan's national interests."
"We now have new opportunities to develop our economy, business, and investments both from the EES member-states and other countries," Atambaev said.
Kyrgyzstan's entry must be approved by the parliaments of the other members -- a virtual certainty because Russian President Vladimir Putin has avidly sought to bring former Soviet repubics into the grouping, which was formed in January out of a customs union linking Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus.
Kyrgyzstan's accession will rope the poor Central Asian nation more closely with Russia at a time when the Kremlin's ties with the West are severely strained by Moscow's annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and its support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.
The economies of Belarus and the ex-Soviet states in Central Asia have been hit by shock waves from Russia's slowdown -- caused by last year's oil price plunge and waves of Western sanctions -- generating tension within the EES in the first year of its existence.
But Atambaev said membership would bring cash into Kyrgyzstan, through a Kyrgyz-Russian Development Fund whose capital he said would soon reach $1 billion, and make life easier for the huge number of Kyrgyz who support their families by working in wealthier Russia and Kazakhstan.
"It will be much easier and simpler for our citizens, migrant workers in Russia and Kazakhstan, to live and work there. There are parents and children of these 600,000 people," he said. "This way, we will immediately solve the problems of nearly 3 million Kyrgyz citizens, or half of the country's population."
The union aims to create a single market for the free movement of goods and services over a total population of more than 180 million people, in a similar way as the 28-nation European Union.
Although it is nominally only a trade bloc, many in the former Soviet Union say that its economic heft could be used as a "soft power" political lever for Moscow.
Russia pushed hard for Ukraine to join the bloc, but opponents saw it as an attempt by Moscow to increase its influence and essentially reconstitute the Soviet Union.
The issue was a key factor in the upheaval in Ukraine, where President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February 2014 following months of pro-European protests sparked by his abrupt decision to scrap plans for a landmark pact with the European Union and build up economic ties with Russia.
With reporting by AP and kyrtag