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Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan say they intend to seek World Trade Organization membership as a single customs bloc. The move would end their membership bids to join the global trade group as individual states.
Russia has spent 16 years trying to get into the WTO
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Moscow would only join the WTO, if the three former Soviet bloc countries are accepted as a single applicant.
Putin was quoted by the ITAR-Tass news agency after a meeting of the Eurasian Economic Community in Moscow as saying that he, along with the prime ministers of Belarus and Kazakhstan would "notify the WTO of their intention to start negotiations on the accession of the tripartite customs union to the organization and the end of national negotiations."
Does the plan improve Russia's chances?
Analysts say, however, that joining as one economic bloc rather than individual countries is likely to slow accession for Russia, which has been seeking WTO membership for 16 years.
Trade negotiations at WTO headquarters in Geneva are often arduous and long
The European Union response has been cautious, but did not appear to be patently opposed to such a move.
Lutz Guellner, spokesman for European Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton, said "this could create a new situation, which we would first need to carefully analyze to determine the potential impact on Russia's WTO negotiations."
Russia and neighboring Belarus already have a formal customs union, which Kazakhstan has said it would also like to join.
Russia is the largest economy still outside the WTO. Initial membership negotiations began in 1993, but have been delayed by a number of contentious issues, such as the uncertainty of energy deliveries to the West and last year's war with Georgia.
Editor: Chuck Penfold