ASTANA May 29 The presidents of Russia,
Kazakhstan and Belarus signed a treaty on Thursday creating a
vast trading bloc which they hope will challenge the economic
might of the United States, the European Union and China.
The treaty forging the Eurasian Economic Union will come
into force on Jan. 1, once it has passed the formality of being
approved by the three former Soviet republics' parliaments.
"Our meeting today of course has a special and, without
exaggeration, an epoch-making significance," Russian President
Vladimir Putin said shortly before the treaty was signed in the
Kazakh capital, Astana.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said he saw the new
union as "a bridge between the East and the West".
Putin, whose hopes of securing a place in history with the
union have been dented by Ukraine's refusal to join, denies the
union is an attempt to recreate the Soviet empire which
collapsed in 1991.
The new union's three countries have a combined population
of more than 170 million people, and a gross domestic product
between them of around $2.7 trillion. Kazakhstan and Russia are
both oil producers.
The treaty deepens the ties forged when the three countries
took the initial step of creating a customs union in 2010. It
will guarantee free transit of goods, services, capital and
workforce and coordinate policy for major economic sectors.
Ukraine opted not to join the union after its Moscow-leaning
president was ousted in February, and its relations with Moscow
are severely strained following Russia's annexation of Crimea.
Other former Soviet republics have also refused to sign up
for the union, although Armenia and Kyrgyzstan are considering
(Additional reporting by Dmitry Solovyov in Almaty, Writing by
Timothy Heritage, Editing by Elizabeth Piper)