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Hint of deal with EU rival

New Delhi, June 18: India on Wednesday indicated it is contemplating a free-trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union of Russia and former Soviet Union states proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, a move that would trigger alarm bells in Washington.

Russia and India today agreed to set up a joint study group to evaluate the feasibility of the free-trade agreement, after a four-hour meeting between foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and Russian deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin here.

The proposed pact would make India among the first nations to embrace the Eurasian Union — formally called the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan — that Moscow views as an economic counter to the European Union.

The pulls on Ukraine —from the West, keen to get the nation into the European Union, on the one hand and from Russia to yank into the Eurasian Union — are widely viewed as a key factor that led to the crisis in that nation earlier this year.

Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan are the three founding members of the Eurasian Union established less than a month back, but Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have said they too are interested in joining the group.

Vietnam and New Zealand are the two nations that — prior to India — have begun to negotiate Free Trade Agreements with the Eurasian Union.

Sushma, in her meeting with Rogozin, also articulated India’s concerns over Russia selling fighter planes to Pakistan, foreign ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin hinted. Rogozin will on Thursday meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and defence minister Arun Jaitley.