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Putin says former Soviet neighbors must unite despite previous failures
July 25, 2003

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that integration between former Soviet republics was inevitable despite a myriad of economic and diplomatic disputes now strangling their relations.

But some of his partners in the loose economic union disagreed, saying too little had been done over the years to make the neighbors trust each other enough to build a free-trade zone, much less an informal diplomatic union.

"It is far more difficult to build things than break them apart," Putin argued before representatives from Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, all attending another in a series of summits aimed at forging a single economic community between the nations.

"The commission has held its session and it has been difficult to find agreement on both political and administrative issues," Putin admitted.

"Our economies have been interdependent since the Soviet days... But our discussion has shown that we have different approaches" as to how any economic union can be achieved, Putin said.

Putin's economic representative, Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko, seemed more upbeat, saying that a "single economic space can be created in five or seven years" between the four nations.

"It took 30 years for Europe to unite, while we have 70 years of the Soviet Union behind us," Khristenko explained.

Russia has struggled to find a common economic and diplomatic language with its neighbors from the former Soviet Union, many of whose leaders look on at Moscow with mistrust after decades of Communist-era domination.

The representative from Belarus, a small and economically struggling nation that has fought a losing battle to forge a formal union with Russia, was perhaps the most bitter in assessing the past and current economic summits' results.

"There is a certain pessimism on our part," said Belarus Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Kobyakov.

"We have been unable to agree on an economic policy. Belarus will take part in creating a single economic space, but we are fearful that what happened to the CIS will just repeat itself," he said.

Moscow tried to forge the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a union that excluded the three rebellious Baltic states, in a bid to retain control over former Soviet territory.

The CIS leaders have bickered at most of their meetings about issues ranging from tariffs to military rights. One analyst recently called the CIS a "divorce court" for the former Soviet Union.

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