In early October 2011, then Prime Minister Putin revealed Russia’s intention to create Eurasian Union, a new inter-governmental economic and political organization, based on the European Union (EU) integration model.
The Eurasian Union, which is to be established in 2015, would comprise many of the former Soviet member states, including Belarus, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Moldova. While the project may start with this particular set of countries, Russia does not intend to place any geographical restrictions on membership.
Putin’s Union would be an expansion of some of the already existing Eurasian integration projects, such as the Customs Union between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, consisting of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
The Eurasian Union could arguably bring some economic benefits to its members. If most of the Soviet countries were to join the Union, the newly created market would stretch from the Pacific to Eastern Europe and could increase trade among the member states. At the same time, the lowering of barriers to movements of goods and people will make it easier for workers to move back and forth among the Union’s countries.
Another advantage of Putin’s project could come from the resource abundance possessed by certain potential member states, such as Kazakhstan and Ukraine. However, these potential benefits could be surpassed by the economic distress that some of the likely candidate states currently have. Moldova is, at present, the poorest country in Europe, while some Eurasian countries, such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, are also facing significant economic and political problems, which might prove a challenge to Russia when leading the Eurasian Union.
So, why would Russia risk going through all this trouble to establish the Eurasian Union?
To begin with, the Eurasian Union would likely represent a way for Russia to prevent the EU’s influence over and expansion in the countries that Russia considers to be in its sphere of influence. The EU has been intensely courting two countries, in particular, namely Moldova and Ukraine which are both situated on the EU border. Russia, on the other hand, wishes to maintain a strong influence over both these countries. Both states are partners in the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and have signed Partnership and Cooperation Agreements (PCAs), which they are striving to replace with Association Agreements, aimed at strengthening political linkages and economic integration between the two countries and the EU.
In August 2012, German Chancellor Merkel visited Moldova and reassured its leadership of the EU’s support for the country’s integration. Russia was certainly irked by the EU’s bold proposals to Moldova and strengthened its efforts to encourage the country to join the Eurasian Union, by offering it tempting incentives. On September 12th, 2012 during Moldovan Prime Minister, Vlad Filat’s two-day visit to Moscow, Russia not only invited Moldova to become part of the Eurasian Union, but offered it low-priced gas and debt relief in exchange for denouncing the protocol on entering the EU Energy Community Agreement.
Of course, the bigger stake for Russia is Ukraine, which it is also trying to bring into the Eurasian Union. Just like Moldova, Ukraine has shown an increasingly strong interest in joining the EU. In December 2011, the EU and Ukraine announced that they had finalized negotiations on the Association Agreement, which would bring the latter a step closer to EU integration. Ukraine is in many ways important for Russia, not only because it is one of the European and global leaders in natural resources and is crossed by the very important transit pipeline to Europe, but also because it carries a strong cultural significance for Russia, as it is considered the cradle of Russian culture. Ukraine has thus far refused to consider Putin’s Union, but Russia is not likely to give up.
There are other reasons why Russia wishes to create the Union. The intergovernmental body would help Russia regain some of its former Soviet might. The Eurasian Union would enable Russia to have more leverage over the former Soviet Republics’ internal and external policies, which Russia is currently trying to influence via more indirect measures, consisting mainly of soft power strategies. At the international level, the Eurasian Union would strengthen Russia’s power in institutions such as the United Nations (UN), but more importantly it would increase its authority in relation to other international players, particularly the U.S. and the EU.
While Russia might be particularly excited about the Union, it may come up against resistance from some former Soviet members, who are likely to be less than enthused by the Russian project. For one thing, some of these states have only just begun to enjoy the benefits of sovereignty. The Eurasian Union might also deprive these states of the possibility of establishing direct partnerships and relations with various international actors, as most alliances might be directed by the common Union leadership. Finally, as Moldova’s current leaders have expressed it when mentioning their disinterest in Putin’s organization, the Eurasian Union is merely a project, which may ultimately fall through. Indeed, given the economic and population disparity between Russia and the other projected members of the Eurasian Union, this could be the case. It just depends on how much Russia is prepared to invest in making the Eurasian Union a reality.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com