MOSNEWS.COM, From Reuters story, Moscow, Russia, April 21, 2004
MOSCOW - Russia and Ukraine ratified membership of an economic union on
Tuesday, the Reuters news agency reports. The move came despite protests in
Ukraine where the opposition says the deal is an attempt by Moscow to
reassert its former imperial power.
The union, creating a common tax code and a customs union ending trade
tariffs, is also intended to include Belarus and Kazakhstan, which have yet
to ratify the arrangements.
In the Ukrainian parliament, the opposition boycotted the vote but
ratification still passed easily; 265 lawmakers in the 450-seat chamber
voting in favour.
Action of protest in Ukraine / Frame from NTV Television
(Click on image to enlarge it)
In the Russian Duma, where President Vladimir Putin's supporters have a big
majority of the 450 seats, support was overwhelming; 408 voted in favour.
The plan was signed by the presidents of the four former Soviet republics
last year. Kazakhstan will vote on Wednesday. Belarus says its parliament,
which rarely contradicts President Alexander Lukashenko, plans to consider
The four have a combined population of about 225 million - nearly 150
million of them in Russia and 50 million in Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials said the union was key to sustaining economic growth
once the European Union expands to Ukraine's western borders on May 1,
raising new barriers to its exports.
"The main aim of a common economic space is to make Ukraine's economy more
competitive," Finance Minister Mykola Azarov said as he presented the
The opposition criticised the document as an attempt to weaken the
independence Ukraine won from Moscow in 1991.
"We are betraying the Ukrainian people," Oleh Tyagnybok, a member of
parliament from the opposition party Our Ukraine, said. "Russia, whether it
was under the tsars or under the soviets, has always tried to suppress
About 3,000 people rallied outside parliament during the vote, waving
Ukraine's blue and yellow flag and nationalist banners reading "No to Union,
No to the Return of the USSR".
The neighbours have a long history of rivalry.
In Moscow, opposition Communists and the Motherland faction staged a walkout
after ratification when the Duma voted to ratify two border agreements with
Ukraine. They accused Kiev of discriminating against Ukraine's millions of
There have been several attempts to form economic unions among former Soviet
states struggling to boost their economies and win new markets after a
regional financial crisis in 1998. Significant results, however, are hard to
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