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Ex-Soviet nations seal new alliance

Russia and four other ex-Soviet nations have completed the creation of an ambitious new alliance intended to bolster their economic integration.

The Eurasian Economic Union, which includes Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, comes into existence on January 1.

In addition to free trade, it aims to co-ordinate the members' financial systems and regulate industrial and agricultural policies along with labour markets and transportation networks.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the new union will have a combined economic output of 4.5 trillion US dollars (£2.9 trillion) and bring together 170 million people.

Russia tried to encourage Ukraine to join the alliance, but Kiev's former pro-Moscow president was ousted in February following months of protests.

Russia then annexed Ukraine's Black Sea Crimean peninsula, and a pro-Russia mutiny has engulfed eastern Ukraine.

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