In 2011 the Presidents of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan signed an agreement to create a Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and have it fully functioning by 2015. The issue is in the focus of media and experts community. Some are somewhat skeptical about the idea, especially in the USA, where the plans are met with open hostility and the government is called upon to effectively counter the initiative. Former US State Secretary Hillary Clinton is an example of politician who opposed it in no uncertain terms. Imperialism is a popular word for US think tanks describing the process. They take a dim view of the future for the Union. Is the project likely to succeed? Is it not hypocritical to oppose the process of regional integration in Eurasia while supporting it elsewhere? It’s worth to have a look at what the project is about, while setting aside for the time being mantra-like repeated accusations of imperialism just because one of the would-be members has a larger GDP than others (like if it could be otherwise)…
Lashing out against the Eurasian Union
The Heritage Foundation hosted a round table on June 27 devoted to the issue. It was also broadcast by the Voice of America’s Russian service. The views expressed by participants by and large express the general attitude of US political elite when it comes to the issue. It largely boils down to the following:
– What is in works is a Eurasian Union that evolves into a Russian sphere of influence to monopolize regional security and undermine economic and political freedom in Central Asia and beyond. Moscow promotes bilateral and regional integration to keep its neighbors in Russia’s orbit, strengthening Russian influence over their politics and constraining their ability to develop relations with outside powers;
– U.S. policy should hedge against such efforts because it hurts its national interests.
Fred Starr, Ph.D. Chairman, Central Asia and Caucasus Institute, School of Advanced International Studies, John Hopkins University, said Russia has “the hangover of Empire” and it will fail like Persia, Arab caliphates and others, who have tried to subjugate the region. As to him, security there should “come from within, not be imposed from without”. The speaker said Moscow is ignorant treating the countries of the region like figures on chessboard. They have a history of getting alone. The peoples are masters of manipulating those who tried to manipulate them. Fred Starr emphasized there is no problem justifying unification because they all could be solved within the framework of WTO. The peoples of the region “have a history of getting along, they know each other”. They are masters of manipulating those who try to manipulate them.
I think, somehow Fred Starr omitted the fact that the manipulation is the term largely applied to the Unites States policy, neither he explained what NAFTA or the EU are for in case everything can be settled thanks to WTO membership? Should the Central Asian countries face the challenges engendered by US foreign policy and military failures alone without looking for friends they have close historical ties with just because the US doesn’t like it? Let it be the “security from within” or anywhere else, what’s wrong about adding to it those who face the same threats to counter them together?
Ariel Cohen Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Kathlyn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, the Heritage Foundation said Moscow offered a too fast schedule and exerted too strong pressure. He lashed out at the project as hostile to the US, an attempt to create an empire and oppress the minor nations and a project meeting the interests of Russia only while subjugating others into something that runs contrary to what they aspire for.
Let me note that neither of the would-be EEU members is totally subjugated to Russia and is unable to say no. From time to time they do. Uzbekistan is an example of the fact the states of the region do what they find propitious, no pressure exerted from outside. But the reality is that the would-be members are very much willing to integrate further and neither the EU, which is in dire straits, or anything else can offer a real alternative.
Stephen Blank, Research Professor of National Security Affairs, US Army War College, said the project is emulating the EU, which started as a union of equals. As to him, the Eurasian Union is an imperial project and “a threat to Russia itself, because it’s an unsustainable dream, will end up in disaster”. So it’s the very same song and dance about imperialism again. It’s a long time the EU is not a union of equals, Greece is not equal to Germany. The US-EU free trade zone is not a union of equals from the very start.
It’s not just doom and gloom about the US vision of the matter. There were other opinions expressed, even if outside of the panel. John Evens, former US ambassador to Armenia, made a remark from aisles saying he sees the things differently. He emphasized the people of the region are drawn to Russia, which provides stability setting the conflict between Armenia-Azerbaijan as an example.
Before the event in question Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) spoke at the Heritage Foundation too. Back in February he identified radical Islam and nuclear Iran, not Russia and the Eurasian Union, as major threats to the United States stressing the areas, where Russia and the US have common interests. According to him, a rational US policy could evolve starting from the things that unite the countries and expand into other areas – instead of cultivating yet another enemy or threats, which do not exist.
What is actually the EEU?
The EEU’s two major documents: the Customs Code and the Codified Agreement on the Customs Union and Common Economic Space spell out the legal rules and norms for the functioning of a common market. The key institution is the Eurasian Commission launched in July 2012. It is destined to enforce rules and regulations and to implement initiatives for further integration. It is responsible for tariff and non-tariff regulation, customs and the whole specter of areas to provide for smooth functioning of the Union. The commission’s workers take no instructions from their respective member states and act in the interests of the EEU as a whole. Unlike the EU, the EEU Commission will make decisions by majority vote, not by consensus.
In October 4, 2011 Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin came out with the article called «A new integration project for Eurasia». Published by Izvestia newspaper it outlined his first foreign policy of forming a «Eurasian Union» (the EEU) bringing together some ex-Soviet Union states in 2015. The new union would build on an existing Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan which have removed all barriers to trade, capital and labor movement between the three countries. The project was described as “an ambitious task of reaching a new, higher level of integration” and creating “a powerful supranational union capable of becoming one of the poles in the modern world.” Back then Putin said his new project would not resemble the Soviet Union instead he saw the new union as a supra-national body which would coordinate «economic and currency policy» between its members. The organization would be open to new members like Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Ukraine is still is facing an option. The President emphasized that the Customs Union and in future the Eurasian Union would be the European Union's partner in talks over the creation of a common economic space, guaranteeing its members a stronger voice. «Membership in the Eurasian Union, apart from direct economic benefits, will enable its members to integrate into Europe faster and from a much stronger position», he pointed out. As to him the way out of the global crisis through a regional integration, mentioning the European Union, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as examples. «These 'bricks' can assemble into a more stable global economy», Putin wrote. By now Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have been extended memberships.
The goals set before the organization envisages enhancing regional economic integration, including the introduction of a single currency and strengthening relationships between Eurasia, Europe and Asia. Potentially the organization is to control 33% of world natural gas resources.
Benefits and specific features
It’s clear the membership in the EEU can help Belarusian export to the Russian markets, and reduce the price of imported Russian gas.
Kazakhstan is very supportive of Eurasian economic and political integration as well as also security dimension. It sees Russia is a suitable partner, which will provide security guarantees against threats, such as Islamist penetration to Central Asia, especially in view the US appears to pull out of Afghanistan sooner than planned, as has been announced recently. That is, there should be organizations that can stop the spread of radical Islam in Central Asia and the Caucuses. Therefore, the EEU is regarded in conjunction with the CSTO. Unlike in case of integration with the EU, for instance, no unacceptable requirements are put forward, like demanding “democratization” of Ukraine and setting former Prime Minister Yulia Tismoshenko free – an outright interference into the country’s internal affairs, a price to pay for vague promises of some kind of iffy association.
The traditional historical ties and surviving strong links in economy and infrastructure are to be taken into account too. There is a strong possibility of further enlargement bringing in some other former Soviet Central Asian republics. There is also a belief that the EAU will not repeat the mistakes committed by the EU in its obviously too rapid enlargement, an enlargement for the very idea of enlargement, getting together the countries with different economies and interests, that doomed the European Union to failure once it stopped being a union of equals. The very same mistake is repeated by NATO, the interests of unequal states are doomed to differ making its foundation rather shaky.
If Ukraine becomes a member of the EEU, it would still mean a great benefit to both parties. The country may gain $10 billion a year, while in the case of associated agreement with the EU it will have to repay loans to the IMF. A large segment of Ukrainian political elite and grassroots prefer the Russian partner to the EU, which requires stepping on a bumpy road of making numerous concessions under the pretext of transparency and implementation of European standards.
Besides all that the idea of the EEU calls for the future establishment of free trade and other areas of economic integration between the EU and the EEU, which would encompass the territories from Lisbon to Vladivostok enhancing the capability of all actors to stand up to global challenges. «We aren't going to stop at that and are putting forward an ambitious task of reaching a new, higher level of integration with the Eurasian Union,» Putin said. «Along with other key players and regional structures, such as the European Union, the United States, China and the Asia Pacific Economic Community, it should ensure stability of global development». President Putin said in the article mentioned above. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine are negotiating Association Agreements and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements (DCFTAs) with the EU. These agreements will bring about much greater levels of political and economic association and integration between the EU and the partner states.
Eurasian integration within the Customs Union and ultimately the Eurasian Economic Union is a massive undertaking. It will to great extent change the rules of the game for the countries involved creating an independent pole in the perceived global multipolar system, consolidating the East European demographic core with the industrial and natural resources potential of Kazakhstan, opposing the Islamist expansion into Central Asia, the North Caucasus and further. Russia currently has the 201st Division (approximately 7,000 personnel) in Tajikistan, the Kant airbase in Kyrgyzstan, and the 102st Military Base (approximately 3,000 personnel) in Gyumri, Armenia. It intends to build a major counterterrorism center in Osh, Kyrgyzstan. The CSTO’s efforts are directed at reforming and integrating allied forces, including air defenses, and making them compatible and interoperable; boosting weapons sales; conducting training and exercises; and expanding its network of military bases. A major military reform program is aimed at creating well-equipped mobile brigades capable of fast response to local and regional conflicts. Astana and Moscow are in the process of integrating their common air and missile defense command with Russia’s latest S-400 “Triumph” missile defense systems deployed in Kazakhstan and they are calling for active military cooperation within the CSTO.
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The integration stands all the parties involved in good stead since they are tired of Western “lecturing” them about political freedoms and human rights since a long time ago. It’s only natural to be turning away from recession-stricken Europe and toward Asia. In 2012 China surpassed Germany as Russia’s top trading partner for the first time. The Eurasian integration is a logical and natural thing to do.
Economic integration within Eurasia has potential benefits for many regional states. As regional integration proceeds in much of the world (not just through the EU but also via NAFTA, ASEAN and Washington’s proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, among others), the post-Soviet space should not be left on the sidelines. The most significant benefits of a new Eurasian Union would be the creation of a huge single market and the lowering of barriers to the movement of goods and people. The EEU will complete the space between the EU and China.
The Eurasian Union and other recent regional initiatives such as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) and the Single Economic Space (SES) encompass a core group of states with extensive economic ties to Russia whose leadership supports – willingly or unwillingly – deeper integration. The development in the Central Asian region will strongly influence the security situation in Afghanistan after the scheduled withdrawal of major foreign forces from this country. The neighboring countries, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and also the more distant Kazakhstan and the region’s secular governments in broader terms, feel threatened by the growing influence of radical Islamist insurgents and prefer Russia as a guarantee of regional stability.
A change in this situation may appear unfavorable for the West. This is understandable, nobody needs a competitor. Though it depends on the point of view. Getting the EU, as well as other world integrated entities, and the EEU closer to each other would benefit all.