(Adds quotes, background, context)
MOSCOW Dec 12 President Vladimir Putin made a
new attempt on Thursday to woo Ukraine, touting the economic
benefits of joining a customs union with Russia and two other
former Soviet republics.
Putin also said he was counting on Ukraine finding a
political solution to its crisis over President Viktor
Yanukovich's decision to spurn a free-trade agreement with the
European Union in favour of closer economic ties with Moscow.
Demonstrations triggered by the decision have at times drawn
hundreds of thousands into the streets of Kiev this month.
"I'm sure achieving Eurasian integration will only increase
interest (in it) from our other neighbours, including from our
Ukrainian partners ... I hope that all political sides can
successfully reach an agreement in the interests of the
Ukrainian people," Putin said in a state-of-the-nation address.
"Our integration project is based on equal rights and real
economic interests," referring to a customs union with Belarus
and Kazakhstan which Putin plans to develop into a political and
trading bloc to be known as the Eurasian Union.
The EU, which had hoped to sign agreements with Yanukovich
last month, has criticised Russia for putting economic and trade
pressure on Ukraine over the decision.
On Wednesday, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria
Nuland said Ukraine's "European future" could still be saved,
and Brussels has repeatedly said the door to EU integration
(Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk, Writing by Thomas Grove,
Editing by Timothy Heritage)