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Russian and Ukrainian prime ministers tried to find a way out of customs problems last Monday. The necessity to arrange a personal meeting in the Moscow region emerged as in August, all Ukrainian goods on the border with Russia were subject to biased inspection, the pro-government Rossiiskaya Gazeta reported.
"The Kremlin explained that the Russian Customs had taken preventive measures in connection with preparations to change the customs regulation regime in case Ukraine signed a free trade zone agreement with the European Union," the newspaper said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, too, confirmed that if Ukraine liberalized trade with the EU, the Customs Union countries - Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan - would introduce measures to protect their market.
"Moscow believes that it still has chances to reverse Kiev's aspirations towards the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. But Kiev has a completely different view of the situation," the Nezavisimaya Gazeta said.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov is confident that the talks with Moscow should run as if Ukraine were already associated with the European Union and were in the common trade zone together with the EU.
Ukraine intends to seek comfortable trade conditions with Russia, threatening litigation within the WTO framework. The Ukrainian government believes that at the talks with Moscow, Kiev should discuss not the choice between the European Union and the Customs Union, but another topic, quite advantageous to Kiev, namely the preservation of as free as possible trade with Russia.
"Our stance is that you cannot contradistinguish these two free trade zones," the spokesperson for the Ukrainian Prime Minister said.
The Ukrainian diplomats who believe that Kiev could "eat" the benefits from association with the EU and "take a ride" at the expense of keeping close trade ties with Russia were even more straightforward.
Foreign Minister Nikolai Kozhara believes that after "signing the association agreement with the EU, Ukraine may become the only country in the world which has trade with the largest economic and political association such as the EU, on the one hand, and with a huge Eurasian space of the Customs Union countries on the other." It tremendously increases the geo-political and geo-economic role of our state," the Nezavisimaya Gazeta quoted the Ukrainian minister as saying.
For his part, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev offered the Ukrainian partners to think about "the legal, organizational and economic consequences of Ukraine's signing the association agreement with the European Union, as well as the opportunities and consequences related to membership in the Customs Union and the future Eurasian Economic Union."
After the talks between the prime ministers of the two countries, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov did not rule out that Russia might introduce a single customs tariff for all categories of Ukrainian goods, with mandatory completion of all customs procedures during the crossing of the Russian border. Such measures might be required to protect the interests of the Customs Union countries /Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan/ in case Ukraine gains associate membership in the European Union. The first deputy prime minister added that he saw no prospects for further discussion of the possibility of Ukraine's simultaneous membership in the EU and the Customs Union. "I believe it makes no sense to hold further talks over the issue," he said.