Russia's neighbors balk at Putin's 'big idea'

MOSCOW - Vladimir Putin bills it as an economic union that could rival China and the United States, stretch from the Polish frontier to Pacific shores and reunite at least part of the Soviet Union.
The Eurasian Union, according to Putin, could recoup the potential lost when the Soviet empire collapsed 20 years ago and secure a group of like-minded countries by binding them together against any meddling by the West or China.
But with details scarce and only Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus signed up so far, the project has been dismissed by critics as another "big idea" before a March presidential election which Putin may now struggle to win in the first round after facing the biggest protests since he took power.
"Even though Putin has underlined that this is not the Soviet Union, nevertheless, the idea of a great government that everyone fears and therefore respects is very popular with a large part of the electorate," said Dmitry Oreshkin, an independent political analyst.
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