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But so far the Customs Union has proved a hard sell to the former republics. Many of their leaders have seen the Customs Union as an attempt by Moscow to reconstruct a kind of ersatz Soviet Union.
Get in the zone: the many adaptations of Roadside Picnic
Even the big Slavonic republics to Russia's west, despite their close linguistic and other links, have been resistant. Belarus has up to now been at best a wayward member, and Ukraine, the country Moscow above all wants to draw into the fold, has resolutely resisted all threats and inducements to sign up. With its 45 million population, a large minority of them Russians by language and identification, and its abundant agricultural resources and big industrial base including much of the former USSR's heavy and arms industries, Ukraine would be the jewel in the crown.
But the Yanukovych administration in Kyiv, the most pro-Russian since Ukraine became independent, has repeatedly declared its preference for seeking integration with the EU.
How to Draw Christmas: Drawing Books - Comics and Cartoon Characters
Negotiations towards a free-trade and association agreements with Brussels are very well advanced, and senior EU officials have repeatedly emphasised that the agreements could be reached by the end of this year. And many of the powerful oligarchs who prop up Yanukovych's ruling Party of Regions also strongly back the EU choice. For well over a year Moscow has been pushing Kyiv to integrate its economy with Russia's, offering much-needed concessions on gas prices, and threatening to impose damaging tariffs on key Ukrainian exports to Russia if it does not join the Customs Union. Ukraine's current economic situation is dire, and to secure further tranches of IMF support it has had to undertake painful domestic reforms which have contributed to a deep slump in President Yanukovych's popularity.
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The only serious alternative to the IMF bailout, with its tough economic conditions, would be selling some more sovereignty to Russia for cheaper gas. But so far Yanukovch has stood firm, whilst pushing desperately for gas price concessions by the limited means at his disposal.
Meanwhile, however, he has been complicating his links to the EU by pursuing his domestic political adversaries through Ukraine's corrupted court system, jailing former ministers in the pro-Western government of the braided heroine of the Orange Revolution, Yulia Tymoshenko, including Tymoshenko herself. With increasing emphasis, EU officials and politicians have been making clear to Yanukovych that, while the agreements with Ukraine may be concluded very soon, if he persists with Tymoshenko's political prosecution, the agreements would be endangered and would probably not be ratified by member countries.