After years of discussions Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus have launched a customs union as a first step towards forming a broader EU-type economic alliance of former Soviet states.
Meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan on Monday, the leaders of the three nations signed a declaration stating that the customs union comes into effect on July 6. The meeting was held on the sidelines of a summit of the Eurasian Economic Community (Eurasec), a looser alliance that also includes Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Ukraine.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the three ex-Soviet states would now move on to a monetary union.
"We are on the threshold of achieving a very high level of integration. Today we have a customs union; next we will set up a common economic space; ultimately I think we will have a single-currency union," Mr. Medvedev said addressing a joint press conference.
The customs union was to go into effect on July 1, but was delayed over Belarus' objections to export taxes Russia charged for its oil supplies. Moscow said the oil tax would be waived on January 2012, when the three countries establish a full-fledged common economic space.
Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev said the customs union created a common market of 170 million people with a $2-trillion economy, $900-billion trade and 90 billion barrels of oil reserves.
The new President of Kyrgyzstan, Roza Otunbayeva, and the President of Tajikistan, Imomali Rakhmov, said their countries were keen to join the customs union.