Russian President Vladimir Putin made a new attempt to woo Ukraine on Thursday after the European Union and United States stepped up efforts to pull Kiev out of its former Soviet master's orbit.
A day after European and U.S. officials held talks with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich in Kiev, Putin used a state of the nation address to tout the economic benefits of joining a customs union that he wants Ukraine to be part of.
Yanukovich - who is seeking the best possible deal for his country of 46 million as it tries to stave off bankruptcy - provoked street protests in Kiev by spurning the chance to sign a free-trade pact with the EU last month and saying he wanted to revive ties with Russia instead.
But he has hedged his bets by making no commitment to join the Moscow-led customs union and holding out the possibility that Kiev could still sign an association agreement that would deepen cooperation with the EU.
"Our integration project is based on equal rights and real economic interests," Putin said of the customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan, which he wants to turn into a political and trading bloc to match the United States and China.
"I'm sure achieving Eurasian integration will only increase interest (in it) from our other neighbors, including from our Ukrainian partners."