ST PETERSBURG Russia (Reuters) - Russia and Kazakhstan agreed to launch a customs union from July 1, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Friday, cutting Belarus out of the first stage of the union.
"We agreed to launch the customs regulations for the... union on a bilateral basis," Putin told reporters at a briefing in Russia's second city, St Petersburg.
The absence of Belarus at the first stage of the customs union indicates worsening ties between Moscow and Minsk, though Putin said Russia and Kazakhstan would be open to talks on Belarus joining the union at a later stage.
It was not immediately clear how the customs union with Kazakhstan would affect Russia's talks on joining the World Trade Organisation.
(Reporting by Dasha Korsunckaya, writing by Dmitry Sergeyev, editing by Guy Faulconbridge)