Moscow welcomed the readiness shown by the European Union (EU) to create in the future a free trade zone between the EU and Moscow-led Customs Union, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday. Commenting on an article by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton on local Kommersant business daily, Lavrov said that Ashton had made clear that the free trade zone was a shared goal, though she did not mention the year 2020 by which Russia has proposed to establish it at the latest EU-Russia summit. "She has just written that with time we would be ready to establish a free trade area, and this is a progress already, a step forward, I welcome this," Lavrov said. Meanwhile, Moscow welcomed "open and honest conversation" over the Eastern Partnership as well as energy dialogue with the EU, which he said was the cornerstone of Russia-EU strategic partnership. Moscow, he said, supported gradual, step-by-step movement toward liberalizing trade between Russia and the EU, noting that Russia and its Customs Union's partners needed to increase the competitiveness of their goods first. Earlier in February, Lavrov said the Eastern Partnership program has become increasingly confrontational, coercing Ukraine into facing a choice between Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States on one side, and the EU on the other.