Ukraine`s accession to the World Trade Organization will not harm progress in trade relations with Russia, the economics minister said Friday, according to RIA Novosti.

      Ukraine`s president has set WTO membership by the end of 2006 as a government priority, but the country`s Russian-leaning prime minister, elected in early August, has said more time may be needed to study all conditions for entry.

      As well as their efforts to join the WTO, Ukraine and Russia are also committed to a long-term objective of forming a free-trade zone along with other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose confederation of ex-Soviet republics.

      Economics Minister Volodymyr Makukha said, "The differences in tariff positions [at Ukraine and Russia`s talks on entering the global trade body] from both sides should not influence the forming of free trade zones."

      In August, premier Viktor Yanukovich attended talks in southern Russia with leaders of other ex-Soviet republics, which included coordinating the countries` positions on WTO entry.

      Russia is also seeking to join the WTO by the end of year but its bid has encountered problems in negotiations with the United States.

      Ukraine "is ready for consultations and to seek mutually acceptable solutions, which will not hinder the development of trade and economic relations between Russia and Ukraine," the economics minister said.

      Ukraine is already conducting trade at an 80% level of compliance with WTO norms, which is causing certain "undesirable discrepancies in trade relations between our countries," Makukha said.

      The minister also reiterated Ukraine`s goal of joining the Common Economic Space (CES), along with Eurasian Economic Community members Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan.

      "Ukraine`s participation in the CES meets our interests, as well as the interests of our partners. We are actively working on plans for our involvement in the CES," Makukha said.

      "The CES should be an active mechanism for realizing large infrastructure projects," he said.

      In January-June, Russian-Ukrainian trade grew 8% year-on-year, reaching $12 billion, the minister said.