Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has proposed forming a "Eurasian Union" of former Soviet nations, saying the bloc could become a major global player competing for influence with the United States, the European Union and Asia.
Putin, who has lamented the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union as the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century," denied that his proposal represents an attempt to rebuild the Soviet empire.
But he said in an article published Tuesday in the daily Izvestia that the new alliance should emerge as "one of the poles of the modern world, serving as an efficient link between Europe and the dynamic Asia-Pacific region."
Putin, who is all but certain to reclaim the presidency in next March's election, has been accused of rolling back Russia's post-Soviet democratic achievements during his two terms as president in 2000-2008. He has remained Russia's de-facto leader after shifting into the premier's job due to a term limit, and his protege and successor Dmitry Medvedev proposed last month that Putin run for president.
"There is no talk about rebuilding the USSR in one way or another," Putin said. "It would be naive to try to restore or copy something that belongs to the past, but a close integration based on new values and economic and political foundation is a demand of the present time."
Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan already have formed an economic alliance that has removed customs barriers in mutual trade during the past summer. They are to introduce unified market rules and regulations starting Jan. 1. Putin said that Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan were expected to join the grouping.
Russia has long called for stronger cooperation between ex-Soviet nations, but earlier attempts at forging closer ties between them have failed due to sharp economic differences. Many former Soviet nations have looked westward and remain suspicious of Moscow's intentions.