Former Soviet countries united by a new free trade agreement
by Nina Achmatova
With the blessing of Prime Minister Putin, nostalgic for the USSR, 8 out of 11 nations sign a free trade agreement which, however, excludes oil and gas. Moscow uses it to immediately accelerate its entry into the WTO.
Moscow (AsiaNews) - It could be the first step towards the Eurasian Union project: from the meeting of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), in St. Petersburg on October 17, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has brought home the free trade pact between the nations of the former Soviet zone, laying the groundwork for a possible new Soviet Union, not on an ideological basis, but a commercial and economic one. 8 out of 11 countries signed the agreement: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Moldova and Tajikistan.

Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, the richest in terms of energy resources, are still considering joining.

"It is a fundamental document that will serve as the basis for long-term relationships," a satisfied Putin announced, who in March could return to lead the Kremlin. The prime minister also stressed how the agreement will give "a new configuration to the economic and trade relations in the former Soviet bloc." The agreement will enter into force from January and will replace the 1994 agreement that was never ratified between the CIS, the community created after the collapse of the USSR.

The free trade agreement comes at a time when Moscow is pressing strongly for entry into the World Trade Organisation, for which it has been waiting 18 years. Even though the Kremlin denies it, the pact between the CIS countries has been presented as a viable alternative to the WTO and used as an instrument of pressure to force a quick decision from international partners. The proof is the fact that, within hours of the signing the Treaty, President Dmitry Medvedev said with confidence that "Russia will survive even without the World Trade Organization."

Ukraine may also use the free-trade pact to accelerate negotiations on sensitive fronts, who signed the treaty following fading hopes of establishing a free trade agreement with the European Union. Brussels, in fact, decided to postpone to a date to define the negotiating meeting scheduled for October 20, after the controversial condemnation of Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. The Ukrainian prime minister, Mikola Azarov, however, has assured that the signing of the treaty with the CIS is not an alternative to European integration, but "part of a single strategy to open the Ukrainian economy to foreign markets."

Another country could use the free-trade pact to accelerate negotiations on sensitive fronts. This is Ukraine, which followed the signing of the covenant is disappointed to have seen the fading hopes of establishing free trade agreement with the European Union. Brussels, in fact, decided to postpone to a date to define the negotiating meeting scheduled for October 20, after the controversial condemnation of Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. The Ukrainian prime minister, Mikola Azarov, however, has assured that the initials of the treaty with the CIS is not an alternative to European integration, but "part of a single strategy to open the Ukrainian economy to foreign markets."

Critics of the agreement sponsored by Putin stressed that it is just a political strategy with no real economic significance. In fact oil and gas are not part of the pact. "The importance of duties on oil and gas exports for Russia is perfectly clear," noted Azarov, whose government is engaged in a tug of war with Moscow over gas prices.

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