Putin’s Eurasian Economic Union: A critical appraisal
The Eurasian Economic Union takes effect from 1 January. This project has attracted criticism, not least because it includes three states of the former USSR.
On 1 January 2015, several years’ preparations will come to fruition, as Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, together with Armenia, will form the new “Eurasian Economic Union” (EEU). It is anticipated that further central Asian states will follow. The Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC), in place since 1996, will then cease to exist. There is no doubt that Russia is thereby spreading its hegemony, a fact that, in the current period of Russian foreign involvement (for example, the Ukrainian conflict) is causing a lot of concern.
EEU: Sovietisation or transcontinental integration?
The accusation of wanting to revive the Soviet Union is constantly denied by Vladimir Putin. However, in the period of annexation of Ukrainian territories and the destabilising effect of Russia’s actions in Eastern Ukraine, ultimately to his benefit, he is open to the accusation of seeking a “vast empire à la Soviet Union”.
Many Eastern European and Central Asian states are dependent on economic integration. In the shadow of the dominant major political economies – Russia, China and the EU – they risk falling into oblivion and isolation. It suits Russia that the so-called “West” has for a long time shown little interest in the countries of Eastern Europe.
Freedom of movement of labour, the aim of a joint currency, coordination of energy, industrial and agricultural policies and the abolition of customs controls show a distinct resemblance to the EU. Despite the fears of the EU and the USA of a strengthened Eurasian global player, these states still have a legitimate right to a self-determination that meets their requirements.
Objections have been expressed that the Eurasian Union could put these democracies – some of them quite new and unstable – at risk, as exemplified by this diagnosis of the case of Kyrgyzstan by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. The way the Eurasian Union is assessed will be determined by the effect it has on the integrity and identity of the smaller states.
Russia as the target of doubtful expectations and projections
A Russian hegemony is considered a positive move by a number of different social groups, a phenomenon that must be given due consideration.
In public discussions, an interesting and involuntary alliance can be observed between the anti-American left wing, and right-wing conservatives, many of whom have religious associations. The criticism of each side is based on a different aspect of “western” culture and politics.
On the one hand, there is the group which sees the epithet “western” as embodying the institutionalisation of capitalism, global injustice and a warmongering tendency, although it is a cause for some amazement that 21st-century Russia is seen as the antithesis of this. On the other hand, in recent times the number of sympathisers with Russia in religious and conservative circles, through to extreme right circles, has grown.
Right-wing extremists in France and Germany, for example, are impressed by Putin’s strong-arm tactics and demonstration of sovereignty. The nature of their arguments is very similar to that of the above-mentioned mainly left-wing circles.
A marked difference, perceived in many areas, between the political developments in the European Union and Christian values makes Russia an ally, in the opinion of many Christians, albeit an uneasy one, and it is glorified as a rock that withstands increasing secularisation, the erosion of traditional family values, etc.
What we should expect from the Eurasian Economic Union
It can safely be assumed that the development of the EEU will be accompanied by a good deal of critical evaluation and observation. However we must be clear about the fact that, however it develops, the Eurasian entity will have many characteristics different from those which we are used to in the “European West”. What is important, affecting everyone across all borders, is the upholding of human rights and the territorial autonomy of individual states. Moreover, there is no mechanism for adopting the visions of the EU in the shaping of this political and economic integration. This is particularly true as it should not be forgotten that the present model is currently undergoing a deep identity crisis.
In many respects it would be counter-productive to ignore or prejudge the efforts of the Eurasian countries. Many potential accession candidates are suffering serious poverty and need support and aid. The fact that they are now promised growth through a Eurasian Economic Union should not be judged harshly – it would be arrogant to criticise these states against a background of decades of disinterest.
The alleviation of poverty and a stabilisation of the rule of law and democracy in the Eurasian region must be of equal interest to all involved. The latest developments in the extremities of the EU have brought to our attention the urgent importance of communicating with our neighbours on a level playing field. Such communication involves goodwill towards the other party as well as a willingness to contemplate our own issues.
Translated from the original text in German