Astana - The presidents of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus signed a treaty on Thursday creating a vast trading bloc which they hope will challenge the economic might of the United States, the European Union and China.
The treaty forging the Eurasian Economic Union will come into force on January 1, once it has passed the formality of being approved by the three former Soviet republics' parliaments.
“Our meeting today of course has a special and, without exaggeration, an epoch-making significance,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said shortly before the treaty was signed in the Kazakh capital, Astana.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said he saw the new union as “a bridge between the East and the West”.
Putin, whose hopes of securing a place in history with the union have been dented by Ukraine's refusal to join, denies the union is an attempt to recreate the Soviet empire which collapsed in 1991.