MOSCOW, Russia -- There are no real legal obstacles to prevent Ukraine from joining the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Friday.
"We think that this issue should be considered very closely," Andrei Nesterenko said.
"The Russian side doesn't see any legal obstacles to Ukraine's entry into the Customs Union, which began operating on January 1."
"Of course, this will need the consent of the EurAsEC member-states at the first stage and of the Customs Union member-states at the second stage," he added.
The statement comes after reports that new Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is willing to start talks on the country's entry into the Customs Union.
The possibility of joining the group drew criticism from Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, Yanukovych's defeated opponent in the February 7 presidential runoff, who has not recognized the president's victory in the election.
Yanukovych has said his administration would not continue with former President Viktor Yushchenko's bid to take Ukraine into NATO, and would prioritize long-established relations with Russia and other CIS countries.
Many experts believe Ukraine's accession to the Customs Union would trigger a massive slump in exports, aggravating the country's difficult economic situation still further.
Furthermore, Ukraine's bid is likely to complicate Moscow's position at talks on energy issues inside the union, as Russia and Belarus entered a bitter dispute at the start of the year over duty-free oil supplies to Belarus that threatened crude deliveries to Europe.
Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus signed in late November 2009 an agreement to create a customs union, paving the way for a single economic space. The agreement came into force on January 1, when the three countries introduced common foreign trade tariffs.
Ukraine's accession to the union could be further complicated by its membership of the World Trade Organization.
In June 2009, Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus notified the WTO of their intention to join the world trade club as a customs union, but four months later the three former Soviet republics announced they would resume talks on accession separately, but working from synchronized positions.