Vladimir Putin has unveiled an ambitious plan to forge a new economic superpower from a clutch of former Soviet states.
Writing in Izvestia, Russia’s high-circulation daily newspaper, the prime minister, who is due to be returned to the Kremlin as president by the March 2012 elections, announced his desire to create a Eurasian Union to rival the economic powerhouses of America, the European Union (EU) and China.
Despite its banal title – Putin called it his “integration project” - the move is likely to cause concern in the West where the former KGB operative’s increasingly nationalistic rhetoric has raised fears of a new Cold War.
"We received a big legacy from the Soviet Union – infrastructure, current industrial specialisation, and a common linguistic, scientific and cultural space,” Putin wrote.
“To use this resource together for our development is in our common interest."
The article sets out a plan to build upon the existing trade agreement between Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus to create a single market in trade.
Through the Customs Union set in place in January 2010, the three republics already benefit from a degree of economic unity, however, under Putin’s proposal, integration will be further increased through the removal of all customs borders.
“We are not going to stop there and are setting ourselves an ambitious goal: to move to the next, even higher level of integration – to a Eurasian Union,” he wrote.
The republics of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are likely to be invited to join, expanding the trade bloc further.
“Close integration based on new political and economic values is the imperative of our time,” Putin argued, proposing a model of a "powerful supranational association that is capable of becoming one of the poles of the modern world and, within that, to play an effective linking role between Europe and the dynamic Asia-Pacific region”.
However, the in-coming president is likely to face opposition from some of his neighbours, particularly Ukraine, whose president, Viktor Yanukovych, has been petitioning Brussels to become a member state of the EU.
The former Soviet republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia already boasts EU member status and are therefore likely to reject any overtures from Moscow.
Georgia too is unlikely to accede following its 2008 war with Russia over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Addressing fears that he was trying to reform the Soviet Union, Putin wrote: "We are not talking about recreating the USSR in one form or another. It would be naive to try to restore or copy that which remains in the past, but close integration based on new values and a political and economic foundation is imperative."
"The logic behind it is primarily economic, and in this sense it is different from previous attempts, which were political or just decorative, to show Russian leadership."
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