The decision by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan to form the Eurasian Economic Commission [EEC] on Wednesday at the CIS leaders’ summit brings into focus the integration processes in the post-Soviet space. After several false starts through the past two decades of efforts by Moscow, a critical mass seems to be forming, finally. The turning point, in retrospect, was the Customs Union formed by the 3 countries in January last year, which eventually became operational 6 months later in July.
The 3 countries thereupon committed themselves to launch a Common Economic Space by January 2012 and transform their fledgling organization into a Eurasian Economic Union [EEU]. The EEU is an initiative by Vladimir Putin, envisaging free flow of goods, services and labour and a common currency. The formation of the EEC on Wednesday takes the EEU idea significantly forward.
Media reports say “several” CIS countries have evinced interest in the EEU — Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, in particular. Interestingly, Uzbek president Islam Karimov
who attended the CIS summit in Moscow has been quoted saying, “The Eurasian Union and everything else [in the direction of Eurasian integration] are the natural and pre-ordained development of everything happening today in the world.”
This comes close to Putin’s vision that EEU would become an influential pole in the multilateral world. Why is the idea gaining traction? First, the Customs Union framework has built up an impressive track record insofar as the 3 countries’ trade volume increased by 40% in the first half of 2011 alone and more countries, therefore, are attracted to join it.
Second, the fears regarding another wave of global economic crisis have probably had a big impact.Three, the sluggish economic performance of the CIS countries has prompted them to form a cluster. Finally, of course, the hopes of integration into the economic blocs such as the European Union have been dashed.
Most important, even as they are counting on Russia to be supportive in their struggle to cope with the global financial crisis, Moscow has also mellowed its attitudes and is willing to be a team player rather than being prescriptive, confident of its leadership role. The decisions within the Customs Union, for example, are to be based on consensus.
All the same, EEU is a long haul. How the independent states of the former Soviet Union would willingly dilute their national sovereignty while deferring to a supranational organization becomes a very sensitive issue. A common currency may seem a pipe dream and indeed it will be the litmus test. Again, the CIS countries stand at vastly different levels of development — say, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. A key factor is going to be the stance of Ukraine, which is keeping one foot inside while casting an eye still at Brussels, no matter the crisis within the eurozone.
A major impediment is going to be the conspiracies by the United States and its western allies to thwart any form of CIS integration under Russia’s leadership. Already, a concerted attempt is under way to debunk Putin’s Eurasian Union idea. Any, every, conceivable argument is being advanced to discredit the idea
, even by suggesting that Putin is secretly hoping to undercut China by proposing the Eurasian Union! The West’s worry is that if the Eurasian Union idea takes off, Moscow would immensely gain in global influence.
The idea is seen in zero-sum terms, which is understandable since both Russia and Kazakhstan are heavyweights in the world energy market and their union has huge implications for the geopolitics of energy security.
Much of the ire is also turned toward the Kazakh leader Nurusultan Nazarbayev. A propaganda war has begun by the west aimed at rattling Nazarbayev
. The recent labour unrest in the Caspian region of Aktau has been portrayed as the early signs of an ‘Arab Spring’ in Kazakhstan — which, of course, is sheer baloney. What infuriates the US is that Nazarbayev has been working closely with the Kremlin. Indeed, not many would remember that but for the disintegration of the Soviet Union, he was all set to become the Soviet premier in 1991. The west remembers, though.
India has all but negotiated a free trade agreement with Russia and will be looking for opportunities and a formal relationship with the Eurasian Union as it takes shape by 2015