ASTANA – The Customs Union that includes Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus, is gradually moving towards a Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). This May, the governments of these three states should prepare a plan of concrete actions to create an EEU. A year from now, agreements on joint actions should be signed so that, in 2015, the citizens of those three former Soviet republics could start living in a new economic reality.
However, overseas experts say that the future Eurasian Economic Union will be more of geopolitics than economics. The creation of a Eurasian Economic Union consisting of former Soviet republics is in the focus of close attention of specialists from many countries. It is no coincidence that it became a subject of discussions of many reputed experts at the XXI Eurasian Media Forum that was held in Astana. There were different opinions, both for cons and pros of the future union.
Foreign experts are somewhat sceptical about the new union. For example, an American political analyst from Heritage Foundation, Ariel Cohen, did not conceal his irony.
“When I think about the concept and desire to create a Eurasian Economic Union in the territory of the former Soviet Union, two or three catch phrases come to mind. One of them belongs to the well-known to everybody present here Viktor Chernomyrdin: ‘Whatever they have tried to create turned out to be CPSU!’ The second one is from Hehel: ‘First, there will be thesis, then – antithesis, and then – synthesis’. That is, the thesis was the Russian empire in the form of the USSR, then – the antithesis in the form of the disintegration of the USSR, and finally, synthesis – an EEU, which will take into account everybody’s interests and will take the best from each of them. And finally, a third thesis from Karl Marx: ‘Don’t harm,’” Cohen said.
At the same time, he said, the EEU, which in its essence should be a supranational structure, should consider that Russians will make its majority. “Because there are more Russians… They are richer in relative and absolute terms. They will hold 57% of the EEU’s registered capital. Besides, it has not been decided yet where the EEU office will be – in Moscow or in Astana,” Cohen said.
As many experts have noted, he continued, Russia cannot regard the EEU separately from its other priorities. “The main thing here is to find a way to live next door with such a ‘big neighbour’ as China. Next, there is this question ‘How to sleep next to Islam?’ The response is ‘Carefully’. That is, there should be organisations that can stop the spread of radical Islam in Central Asia and Caucuses. Therefore, the EEU is regarded in conjunction with the CSTO. That is, it is big geopolitics. For Russia, it’s rather a means, not a purpose,” Cohen said.
According to him, he has heard on many occasions from the businessmen of the countries that are invited to join the EEU about the tough “incentives” for joining.
Cohen even quoted the Russian President Vladimir Putin: “FSB should fight the extremists who will be opposing the EEU”. “That is, there are geopolitical aspects here, and it is not by chance that the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbaev said earlier that the national interests in such alliances as the EEU will be the priority,” concluded.
In response to which, deputy prime minister of Kazakhstan Kairat Kelimbetov argued that the EEU was first and foremost an economic community based on the experience of building the European Union.
“We used the experience of the EU as a guide, and we analyse closely all errors and omissions. But there is always a radical point of view in a society. The statements that the future Eurasian economic union is more of geopolitics are nothing more than geopolitical phobias,” Kelimbetov said.
He also said that the main idea of the EEU was for the republics of the post-Soviet space to preserve their economic links.
“The competition is not going anywhere, so the creation of a common market with a population of 170 million people in the framework of the EEU is good, first of all, for the business, and the business knows that,” the Kazakh vice-premier said.
According to him, all the steps that Kazakhstan is taking today to create the EEU are none other than preparation for a higher level – joining the WTO.
“Everything that we are doing in the framework of Eurasian integration is, in a way, adaptation of our three countries – Kazakhstan, Belarus and Russia – to the global competition,” Kelimbetov said.
“The EEU agreement provides for a code of laws. This includes adoption and ratification of 70 documents on the Customs Union and 17 agreements on common economic space. This is a huge set of laws that the business community of our countries will be living by. Together, all these laws will become a basis for the agreement,” he said.
Kelimbetov also talked about the May summit in Astana of the three countries – Kazakhstan, Belarus and Russia – to discuss the progress of preparation of the Eurasian Economic Union agreement.
The vice-president also outlined the conditions for the other countries of the post-Soviet space to join the existing Customs Union of Kazakhstan, Russia, and Belarus. To-date, Kyrgyzstan and Vietnam have expressed such a desire. “Very many want to join, as they understand how huge this market is and what access they can get,” Kelimbetiov said. In his opinion, it is premature to speak about the minuses of the EEU. “It is too soon to draw conclusions,” he said.