Shahad Ismail considers what Vladimir Putin’s hope to build a Eurasian Union means for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Amidst on-going American and European sanctions against Russia, and Russian sanctions against the US and the EU, a grim reality emerges: history is repeating itself. The declining state of relations between Russia and the rest of the west is eerily reminiscent of the Cold War era.
Putin’s desire to form a Eurasian Union to rival the European Union is another example of this all too familiar tension. This new union –an economic (and possibly political) bloc currently made up of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan– began taking shape in 2010 with the creation of the Eurasian Customs Union and will officially go into effect on 1 January 2015. Similar to the European Union, the Eurasian Union will serve a market of 170 million people and boast a total GDP of nearly $3 trillion.
Although these plans have been largely ignored by the west, in the region, Putin’s hope for a Eurasian Union may only exacerbate fears of Russian aggression caused by his handling of the Ukrainian crisis.
In response to Putin’s seven-point plan for a cessation of hostilities in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian Prime Minister Yatsenyuk stated: “Putin’s real plan is the destruction of Ukraine and the re-establishment of the USSR”. Echoing Yatsenyuk’s claims, Polish President Komorowski argued that Vladmir Putin is indeed attempting to assemble a new Russian Empire. Thus, speculations have arisen that the Eurasian Union is simply a resurrection of the Soviet Union, under the pretence of a new organisation.
However, despite this speculation, Kazakhstan has maintained its desire to retain complete political independence, asserting that the union will remain solely economic. When you compare this assertion by Kazakhstan to Putin’s rhetoric on the same subject, it is clear that a common aim does not exist. This will undoubtedly undermine the creation of a shared market with free movement of resources, services and goods.
In fact, there may already be problems considering that trade between the three member states actually fell by 13% during the agreement’s first year.
Most countries previously aligned with the Soviet Union have shown little to no interest in either the Eurasian Union, or any other major agreement with Russia. Instead, they have expressed, much to Putin’s dismay, greater interest in joining the European Union. The most significant hit to the Kremlin’s everyone-with-a-Soviet-past-is-welcome-and-wanted policy is the signing of the EU Association Agreements by Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova.
Thus, it seems that what the Eurasian Union offers is spectacle without substance. Perhaps the union will permit Putin to demonstrate to the west that Russia still has some influence over its neighbours, but the re-emergence of the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact, or both, looks rather unlikely.
Image credit: Wikiedia commons.