#5 - JRL 7167
Putin to Back Common Economic Space
May 4, 2003
By TIM VICKERY
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said Sunday he will promote the formation of a common market spanning the European Union and former Soviet republics at summit later this month.
``Along with harmonizing our legislation with Europe's, we intend to work with our colleagues toward creating a common economic space together with Greater Europe,'' Putin said in televised comments at the end of a five-day visit to Ukraine's Crimean resort of Yalta.
Putin met with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and said the two agreed to press ahead with a plan announced by Kuchma to form a common market linking Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus by September.
He said ``a significant portion'' of the May 31 Russia-EU summit in St. Petersburg will be devoted to the idea of a common market with Europe. Leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States - a loose alliance of former Soviet republics headed by Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma - are invited to join the summit, Putin said.
Putin has been seeking closer economic and political integration with Europe, and sided with France and Germany in opposing the US-led war in Iraq. The proposal for a common market is ambitious because neither Russia nor Ukraine is a member of the World Trade Organization and Russia is the only CIS member to have received market economy status from the EU.
Putin said Russia and Ukraine will work together on efforts to join the WTO.
Last year, Putin proposed visa-free travel between Russia and the European Union, a goal EU officials said would likely take years to accomplish.
Putin also stressed the need to deepen military cooperation with Ukraine to create jobs and develop technology, saying the two most populous former Soviet republics are mutually dependent.
``The defense of our countries are connected so closely that they just cannot develop without one another,'' the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Putin as saying.
Earlier, Putin reassured Kuchma of the Kremlin's commitment to continue joint production of the An-70 military transport plane. Speculation had swirled that Moscow would pull out of the deal due to costs and technical shortcomings.