Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday the final pieces were in place for the 2015 launch of an economic union with Belarus and Kazakhstan that Moscow hopes can also be joined by Ukraine.
Putin promised following talks with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko that the so-called Eurasian Economic Union would turn into a new source of growth for all involved.
The alliance would replace a much looser Eurasian Customs Union that Russia formed with the two ex-Soviet nations in an effort to build up a free trade rival to the 28-nation EU bloc.
"Government representatives of the troika (Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus) ... have developed the draft of the institutional part of the Eurasian Economic Union agreement," Putin said in televised remarks.
"This document determines the international legal status, organisational frameworks, the objectives and mechanisms of how the union will operate starting on January 1, 2015," Putin said.
Putin has made the creation of a post-Soviet economic union that could one day even be joined by nations such as Turkey and India the keystone project of his third Kremlin term.
Russia has put immense pressure on Ukraine to join the alliance and threatened economic sanctions against Kiev when it was on the verge of signing a landmark trade and political association deal with Brussels last month.
Kiev's decision to spurn the EU pact sparked the biggest protests since the 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution and exposed the deep cultural rifts running between the nationalist west of Ukraine and its more Russified eastern parts.
But the size of those rallies began to ebb when Ukraine agreed a $15-billion bailout package with Russia that also included a one-third cut in the price Moscow charges its neighbour for natural gas.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said during talks in Moscow with his counterpart Dmitry Medvedev that Kiev had just received the first $3.0-billion tranche of the Russian rescue plan.
"This is a stabilising factor for us," the Ukrainian government website quoted Azarov as saying before he joined Putin at the Eurasian meeting.
"Thanks to the reached agreements, our ratings went up. We came out of the zone that we were in," Azarov said.
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara added that Kiev and Moscow intended to continue to "coordinate (their) foreign policies."
"I am especially asking my Russian colleague Sergei Lavrov to support Ukraine's efforts to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council," ITAR-TASS quoted Ukraine's top diplomat as saying.
Russia's rescue -- announced following talks in Moscow between Putin and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych -- involves the purchase of new eurobonds Kiev began to issue on the Irish stock exchange.
The package helped to tamp down the soaring yield on Ukrainian government obligations and made it easier for Kiev to issue new debt to cover its yawning fiscal black hole.
The three nations on Tuesday also agreed on a "road map" paving the way for the membership in their union of Armenia -- a tiny ex-Soviet Caucasus nation that had also been expected to sign an initial agreement with Brussels last month.
Putin rewarded Armenia's reversal by slashing the price of its natural gas imports from Russia to $189 from $270 per 1,000 cubic metres.
Russia's First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said it should take "about half a year" for Armenia to formally join the existing Moscow-led customs pact.
Putin added that the impoverished Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan was also conducting initial membership talks.
Kyrgyzstan's participation has been held up by Russia's worries over its inability to plug its porous border with China.