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Will Russia create or destroy the Eurasian zone?
The goal that was voiced during the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEC) is quite ambitious - to enable the lagging countries of Central Asia to actively interact with the rich economies of Europe and East Asia
The estimated coverage area is 35% of the Earth's surface, and 65% of the world population live on its territory; Here are Russia and the growing powers of the 21-th century - India and China.
The idea of the EAEC was in the air for about twenty years, but to implement the project in practice it was not the best time chosen - not least because a very small number of countries at the moment want to join the union. Now it includes five participants - Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and joined in Kyrgyzstan in May.
Partly modeled on the model of the European Union, the EAEU plans to create an international court with headquarters in Belarus and financial regulatory authorities in Kazakhstan. Executive and political bodies of the Eurasian Economic Commission and the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council based in Moscow. There is also a stumbling block.
Many Western countries view the EAEU as a clumsy attempt to recreate the Soviet empire. “Russia considers the creation of the union not only opening up opportunities for economic development, but also as a way of expanding its influence in the region,” notes Stephen Piefer, a former US ambassador to Ukraine, now working at the Brookings Society, a think tank in Washington.
Lilia Shevtsova, the author of the book "Russia of Putin" agrees with him: "The Eurasian project is a mirage of a kind of post-Soviet archipelago, where authoritarian leaders use their neighbors to maintain their power."
Obstacles to success
Of course, it is still too early to assess the success of creating an organization in the long term. It happens that global organizations are rooted for decades, and their strength comes from overcoming obstacles to successful functioning. For example, the European Union was born as an attempt to prevent a new clash between two of the most powerful forces of continental Western Europe - France and Germany.
The foundation of the organization was laid in the 1951 year when the European coal and steel association was formed, consisting of six members, in whose first declaration it was said that the war should become "not only unthinkable, but materially impossible." Few people assumed that the association would grow into a European Union consisting of 28 member countries, 19 of which have the same currency. Many members of the organization are former opponents of the West in the Cold War, since they were members of the Warsaw Treaty Organization or the USSR.
In 1967, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Thailand created the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as a pro-Western Cold War bloc and economic union. Despite the disunity at the beginning of its existence, ASEAN then absorbed its communist neighbors and former enemies - Laos and Vietnam, as well as Brunei, Cambodia and Myanmar, where the organization contributed to the change of the militaristic regime.
The two organizations, together with others, embarrassed skeptics and critics who claimed the ineffectiveness of international associations. However, it is still not clear whether the EAEU will be able to follow a successful example.
The organization was conceived in 1994 by the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev as an economic project. At that time, the Soviet republics became independent, and Russia's actions against the background of the defeat in the Cold War were indecisive and ineffective. "Stability and prosperity throughout Central Asia is in the interests of our country and the international community," said President Nazarbayev. "Economic interests, and not abstract geopolitical ideas, are the main engine of integration."
Like the EU, the EAEU had several incarnations. In 2000, the Eurasian Economic Community was created, which included Kazakhstan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan as members. Uzbekistan joined the organization in 2006. The customs union between Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine dates its history from 2010 onwards.
The EAEC received additional support from Armenia, but neither Tajikistan nor Uzbekistan joined it. Worse, Ukraine was a large economy, which Russia really wanted to see among the members of the organization. This will not happen, not least because Russia does not stand aside from the conflict in the Ukrainian east.
Moscow's adventures also prompted Kazakhstan and Belarus to warn Russian President Vladimir Putin that interference in their internal affairs is unacceptable. If Kazakhstan leaves the EAEC, then the project will come to an end, so the organization may prove useful for restraining clumsy Russian diplomacy. Even if the union continues to exist, the concept of Russia as a leader has failed, but only if it does not succeed in attracting new members to it.
The EAEC represents a challenge of a new type for the democratic states of the West: this organization is in the initial stage of its development, and with proper management can be formed in their interests. The Eurasian Union is built on the image of the EU, and Russia made an official request for the earliest possible start of contacts between these organizations.
"Common sense tells us to take advantage of the possibility of creating a single economic space in the Eurasian region," emphasizes Vladimir Chizhov, Russia's representative to the EU. This will not happen instantly, however, after several years, the benefits of a close partnership with a prosperous EAEC can become immense for the European Union.
First, the former Soviet republics, such as Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, lost part of their territories in favor of Russia during the so-called “frozen conflicts”. Relations between countries are hostile, but the dialogue between the EU and the EAEU can weaken this confrontation.
Secondly, China needs a broader organizational base for its economic expansion to the West. The Chinese project of the “new Silk Road” includes gas pipelines, roads and other infrastructure stretching from Beijing to Greece, where the Chinese company rented half of the Athens port of Piraeus. China needs to be shown that it does not pursue purely political gain. The EEU can give Beijing this opportunity.
Third, Beijing's plans for a breakthrough in the West are intertwined with the problem of separatism in the western province of Xinjiang, which must be addressed. Successful functioning of the EAEC can help China to reassure the province by allocating resources and sensing the residents with a sense of justice. An alternative scenario is that Xinjiang will follow the bloody example of neighboring Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Fourthly, India, tormented by Islamic and other uprisings, whose economy does not look powerful against the background of China, is increasingly leaning toward the West, but is still keen to strengthen its relations with Russia. The EAEC can also help inject new life into the Association for Regional Cooperation of South Asia, a regional association of eight states that has been virtually paralyzed due to India's huge size and its tense relationship with Pakistan.
However, to achieve any of this, Russia needs:
- get rid of the effect of crumbling oil and other export prices on their economies;
- abandon the traditional policy, which includes threats, protection of individual countries and cheap energy supplies;
- to develop new ways of interaction with neighboring countries.
An example of tiny Moldova, a former Soviet republic, sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania, shows how difficult it will be. In 2006, Moscow established a trade embargo in order to contain pro-European sentiment in Moldova. However, its former satellite simply changed its main export direction. Now Moldova exports more goods to Australia than to Russia.
In November last year, parliamentary elections did not reveal a winner: the supporters of integration with Russia, as well as supporters of EU accession, gaining strength, received about 50% of votes. The new government of the country believes that over time more and more people will stick to the orientation towards Europe.
Despite the fact that Moldova is the poorest country in Europe, its average wages are higher than the average wages in Russia. “For us, the EAEU is useless,” said Liliana Vitu, Speaker of Parliament. - We have made a decision. We will join the European Union. We just want Russia to leave us alone. ”
The EAEC appeared at the peak of its own destruction and for its survival it will require very competent management. The creators of the organization have bold dreams, and it can become a real home for small countries that are tired of choosing sides in the rivalry of global geopolitical forces.
However, this will happen only if the EAEC is managed in accordance with the original concept, as a bridge between East and West, developing countries of Central Asia, and if the union will cooperate with the EU, taking advantage of its experience and advice. It will not be able to function, based on traditional Russian methods of coercion. These days have passed. If Moscow uses the EAEC as an anti-Western, anti-democratic bloc, it will simply fall apart.