Eurasian Economic Union—from the idea of Nursultan Nazarbayev to emerging reality—A story of opportunities and threats
By Agha Iqrar Haroon,
Political Observer for Central Asia and Eastern Europe
Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) is a new integration association and a reality on the global map. Recent events in Eastern Europe compelled me to review the philosophy, soul and mechanism of EEU because doubts were spread by western world about the miscarriage of this initiative. In light of recent political events, the attempts by former-soviet states to declare their close ties are met with caution, including by the citizens of these countries. Without trying to delve in the diplomatic details and intricacies of the issues at hand, the opponents of integration draw a terrifying picture of soviet totalitarian resurrection with an iron curtain and gulags. Such views benefit only those who see strategic partnership as a threat to their competing interests instead of an opportunity.
I started gathering data, talking to Central Asian and Eastern Europe experts and read available material over this issue and I found that the methods of resistance to integration unions have already been placed and internal protests within the participating countries are seen as an optimal solution. The citizens are frightened by the loss of sovereignty and total dependence from Russia. Since President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev was the person who floated this idea so I concentrated on his articles, speeches and available material related to EEU and CICA—CIA is another idea floated by him in past.
He during his address to the Moscow University for the Humanities, reminded the audience of how 20 years ago the idea of Eurasian Economic Union was sounded for the first time within their walls.
“The concept was based on one simple truth, equally clear and close to heart of every citizen of our countries. Shared history, common economic bases, close cultural ties and similar national aspirations gave our people a chance to build multilateral international connections. I was and still am a strong supporter of the view that Eurasian Union is only possible if it is builds on the principles of willingness, equality, mutual benefit and consideration of pragmatic interests of each participating country. This initiative became the starting point for the new historic process that is now known as Eurasian integration”, he maintained.
Political observers of Central Asia believe that the statement already seems to strongly contradict the idea of USSR resurrection, as it indicates that the union is only possible between equally independent states. The leader of Kazakhstan has no reason to work against his country’s sovereignty.
20 years ago Nazarbayev’s initiative has not found adequate response from his colleagues in the CIS. However, subsequent years of development created numerous humanitarian, political and economic integration platforms, such as Eurasian Development Bank, Eurasian Business Council, Eurasian Media-Forum, Eurasian Universities Association and many others.
Eurasian integration has benefited the people of participating countries – the volume of trade between countries has increased, the tariff barriers lowered, joint venture companies became a possibility and cooperation in a number of areas such as education, employment and other became reality.
My research indicates that many security and economic issues have been addressed and the overall economic output of the three most active participants – Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia is $2.2tn. The cumulative industrial production of three countries is $1.5tn. By 2030 the integration related activities could contribute up to $900bn.
Today, some experts and politicians who discuss Eurasian economic union are warning the world about some mythical “reincarnation” of Soviet Union while Initiator of this idea and philosophy Nazarbayev believes that such discussions are groundless and far from the situation on the ground. The institutional base to realise soviet reintegration do not exist. That era has definitively and irrevocably gone to the pages of history. The post-soviet nations have built their own statehood. The current system of property ownership, social structures and economic realities of Central Asian societies has come far away from the archaic soviet thinking.
The next important step in Eurasian integration will be the signing of the agreement on the formation of Eurasian Economic Union. It may be done in the near future. A number of bi- and trilateral meetings between heads of states that took place in late April, and the session of Supreme Eurasian Economic Council in Minsk suggests that negotiations are conducted full-scale, at all levels.
The president of Russian Federation Vladimir Putin pointed out that in the past few years all participants had completed an enormous amount of work “to create the most advanced integration union on the post-soviet space”
“The Customs Union that we created works and brings benefits, – shares his opinion Russian leader. – This we see from the economic performance of our states. This is an obvious fact. However, we can still take another step that we agreed upon, to further our cooperation to a new level”, believed Putin.
The real, official and documental approval of the creation of Eurasian Union, in Russian leader’s opinion, will help improve the economic competitiveness and efficiency, attracting new domestic and international investment.
The most difficult and unregulated is still the issue with Belarus. In the opinion of president of Belarus Alexander Lukoshenko, the Eurasian Union must be formed on the principle of the absence of any limitations or barriers on mutual trade, including oil. Astana and Moscow do not share this view.
“A list of unresolved issues has formed, and their content is of great concern . “We are offered to leave unresolved the issues that must have been solved on a previous stage”, he observed.
On the one hand, such statements indicate that the integration process is not going as smoothly as some would hope. On the other hand, it demonstrates the absence of unquestionable Russian dictate in these procedures – all partners’ interests must first be included. Nevertheless, all sides are counting on finding a compromise on the unresolved aspects of the agreement on Eurasian Economic Union.