The Eurasian Union (EAU) is a proposed economic and political union of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan and other Eurasian countries, in particular the post-Soviet states. The idea, based on the European Union's integration, was brought to attention in October 2011 by the Prime Minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin, but was first proposed as a concept by the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev in 1994.
The Eurasian Union is said to be a continuation of the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, which has already brought partial economic unity between the three states.
On 18 November 2011, the presidents of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia signed an agreement, setting a target of establishing the Eurasian Union by 2015.The agreement included the roadmap for the future integration and established the: (i) Eurasian Commission (modelled on the European Commission) and (ii) the Eurasian Economic Space, which started work on 1 January 2012.
The Eurasian Union is said to be the brainchild of Vladimir Putin in the wake of his planned third term as the President of Russia. If realised, it would comprise a number of states which were part of the formerSoviet Union. However critics claim that this drive towards integration aims to restore the Soviet Empire.
Eurasian Commission: The Eurasian Economic Commission is the supranational governing body of the Eurasian Economic Space, which started work on 1 January 2012.
The headquarters of the commission will be in Moscow, and the expenses of the infrastructure and accommodation of commission workers will be financed by Russia, while in general the commission budget will be financed by all three countries and dependent on taxation shares received from the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia.
The Eurasian Commission will be eligible to make decisions with regard to:customs policies, macroeconomics, regulation of economic competition, energy policy, and financial policy. The Commission will also be involved in government procurement and labour migration control.The agreement on the Commission contains stringent anti-corruption regulations. 1
The Eurasian concept has dual intent: (a) to underline that it is different from the existing EU but also, (b) to demonstrate that it is based on similar organisational principles.
Importance of Ukraine: It becomes clear that in fact it (Eurasian Union) has nothing to do with Eurasia and has everything to do with a single country, which, incidentally, is situated in Europe of all places: Ukraine. Its key task is to draw Kiev into the integration project. Getting Kiev on board would give the organisation, ie, the existing Customs Union, a totally different format. If Ukraine, with its vast market and a potentially strong and diversified economy, joins it, it will become a serious structure that everyone else will have to take into account.
Central Asia: It would seem that the Eurasian space per se – Central Asia, that is – is only marginally on the project proponents’ minds. This is hardly surprising, since, from the economic point of view, the most likely candidates (Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) will bring at least as many problems as they will benefits.
Kazakhastan: So, for a long time to come, the Eurasian dimension is likely to be confined to the capable and resource-rich Kazakhstan.
A Eurasian Union growing out of the Customs Union is a utilitarian undertaking. Its objective is to expand markets and rebuild some of the manufacturing chains destroyed by the collapse of the Soviet Union, all by reproducing on this territory the European integration principles dating back to the second half of the 20th century. Its catalyst is the deep crisis within the European Union, which is bound to be dealing exclusively with its own internal problems for the foreseeable future and not paying much attention to neighbouring countries. So, Russia has been given a lucky chance to reduce the level of competition. Plus, the idea itself is totally reasonable and might have a future.
This, however, marks the beginning of yet another misconception or, to be more precise, the lack of any clear vision by the project’s architects. The proponents of the Eurasian Union lack the right language to describe this structure in modern and futuristic terms. A holistic picture is lacking, be it shared values or common geopolitical interests of the partners, the argumentation tends to slip back into the usual reminiscences of how great life used to be back in the day. Other former Union republics do not quite share Russia’s fascination with nostalgia for the common Soviet past. While Russia mourns the loss of her might, the others celebrate the birth of their sovereignty.
Meanwhile, Eurasian integration is special in that it is based, to an even greater extent than European integration, on agreements between leaders, which means that spooking regal partners with the spectre of the erstwhile “centre–periphery” system of relations is hardly a good idea. What is more, if Moscow had, indeed, aspired to recreate some sort of a Soviet Union, this rhetoric would have at least made some sense. But nobody is actually trying to do this and the corresponding set of emotions and arguments is exactly that: a haphazard filling of the vacuum with whatever comes to hand.
The proposed Eurasian Union is not what it appears to be at first glance. It is not a political embodiment of the “great steppe”; nor is it a reincarnation of the USSR, and it is only marginally an alternative to the European Union.
If the project continues – and the political will to promote it is very strong – its shell is likely to become filled with some more tangible content, while the potential benefits will encourage its participants to find an ideological framework.
Until then, the Eurasian Union will be yet another brilliant illustration of the transitory state of the Russian mindset, which has clearly started drifting away from its former imperial matrix, but still cannot (and does not want to) admit as much.2
What does a Eurasian Union mean for the West?
If the US and the EU do not develop a more concerted strategy towards Russia, this could lead to the emergence of new polarities and alignments in post-Soviet Eurasia, where the CIS region would be not only a privileged but, primarily, a defining sphere of action for Russia.
'Some states may decide that Russia is not necessarily their main threat, and instead view Moscow as a natural ally against domestic and external threats.’
In the coming years Russia is most unlikely to challenge the US and the EU at a global level. What is more likely is that Russia will present a growing direct challenge to American and European interests in its own immediate neighborhood. Future engagement in the Arab world and the Middle East could easily push the CIS region to the margins of European and American strategy, leaving Russia to act as main security arbiter. This could result in a new cycle of tensions with Western democracies, and a renewal of strained relations between the West and Russia could easily contribute to the future isolation and insecurity of the CIS region.
The most important question here is whether the wider public in post-Soviet countries where opposition to Russian domination, and a sense of grievance and injustice, remain strong, will passively accept such a scenario. Memories of the seven-decade experiment in totalitarianism that was imposed on them are bound to resurface, as all these states seek to establish themselves as viable independent and democratic nations. 3