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Putin’s expansion plan

Written by Reuters | Moscow | Published on:December 3, 2013 2:57 am

Ukraine’s refusal to sign a trade pact drawing it into Europe’s orbit marked a victory for Vladimir Putin,winning him time to lure Kiev into a trade and political bloc stretching from China to the edge of the EU. The Russian president sees his ‘Eurasian Union’ as a rival to China,the US and EU. Some say he sees it as his legacy — a strong force emerging from the ashes of the old Soviet Union.

“The Eurasian Union is a very important project for Putin. Without Ukraine,it is impossible,” said Gleb Pavlovsky,a former Kremlin spin doctor. Putin also hopes to woo several other former Soviet republics that are being courted by EU leaders. But none is more important than Ukraine,a huge market and the cradle of Russian civilisation.

Russia clearly offered Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich better terms than the 600 million euros the EU put on the table. Yanukovich urgently needs money to meet scheduled debt repayments of more than 8 billion dollars next year.

Putin showed his intent on the first day of his new presidency,by adopting a decree that made it a priority to develop ties with ex-Soviet republics.

The Customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus,formed in 2010,was a first step to launching the Eurasian Union in 2015. Kyrgyzstan and Armenia say they will join but other former Soviet republics such as Azerbaijan,Georgia and Moldova,which are being wooed by the EU,have reservations. So do Uzbekistan,Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.

There are concerns in such states that Russia will reassert its control over its “near abroad”,and many have stepped up trade with China.

In a recent Moscow Times piece,Anders Aslund of the Peterson Institute for International Economics called the push to build the Eurasian Union “an offensive to expand an entity of unwilling allies”. ”This costs Russia money,harms its economy,and alienates the rest of the world.”

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