Closer cooperation between Moscow, Minsk and Astana will mean that a supranational parliament, the Eurasian Assembly, will be established says Armen Oganesyan, editor-in-chief of the Russian policy magazine Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn.
The immediate reason for the creation of the Assembly is, ostensibly, that Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan are currently preparing to launch the Eurasian Economic Union in 2015 – with Kyrgyzstan and Armenia also exploring membership – according to a recent report by the Voice of Russia.
According to a separate report by BelTA (Belarusian Telegraph Agency), President of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, has said that his country will allow Kazakhstan and Russia to “decide first whether we will have a parliament or not.”
Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan have already established a Single Economic Space with a Customs Union. However, it seems implausible that the Assembly and the Union are being created for solely economic purposes. Russian identity, greatness and prestige – sometimes conceived as a “Greater Russia” – lies behind the project that will see at least some former states of the USSR brought once again into a union, with Russia at its center.
According to BelTA, Lukashenko acknowledged that the project has been explored since Boris Yeltsin’s Presidency of Russia (which ended in 1999): “Together with Yeltsin and his team we were overcoming the difficulties. We were making arrangements with young Putin, during his first arrival however hard it may be. Now the Eurasian Economic Union should go through all that.”
As far back as 2001, a law enabling foreign states to be “accepted into the Russian Federation as a new federal entity” was enacted. It required the foreign state to petition for membership, at which point the procedure for enabling the incorporation of the state, in part or whole, into the Russian Federation, would be outlined. In 2003, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov authorized the use of force to protect Russian citizens abroad. A process of simplifying the citizenship procedure for ethnic Russians living abroad was announced the following year.
Belarus and Kazakhstan have remained orientated toward Moscow since the collapse of the USSR, partly because of the historic ties and partly due to the large number of ethnic Russians living in those countries.
In 1994, Alexander Solzhenitsyn spoke in the Duma, suggesting that although the breakup of the Soviet Union had been inevitable, it was nonetheless deeply regrettable that “the breakup occurred mechanically along false Leninist borders, usurping from us entire Russian provinces.” As Solzhenitsyn noted, in a matter of days, Russia had “lost 25 million ethnic Russians,” or 18 percent of the nation. His proposal was to create a “Union of the three Slavic Republics and Kazakhstan.” (See Herman Pirchner, Jr., Reviving Greater Russia? The Future of Russia’s Borders with Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, and Ukraine, University press of America, Inc., pp.2-3.)
However, although little known in the West, perhaps the major thinker behind the notion of an Eurasian Empire has been Aleksandr Dugin, a prolific author, a frequent guest and geopolitical commentator on Russian television, and an influence on the Kremlin.
Dugin believes that the world divides naturally into four “great spaces”, which correspond to four civilizational zones: the American, Afro-European, Asian-Pacific, and the Eurasian. According to Dugin’s theory, Russia will be at the heart of the Eurasian zone. It will bring the Baltic nations, as well as those of the former Soviet bloc, and, eventually, Manchuria, Xingjian, Tibet, and Mongolia, under its wing. It will also align itself with Germany, Japan, and Iran, each of which will act as the center of their surrounding nations. Iran, for example, will draw together the Arab states, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, while Germany will dominate central Europe.
These “great spaces” will be led by the Eurasian bloc, which itself will constitute a counterweight to an “Atlanticist” bloc: the US and its allies. And Europe will eventually come under the influence of the Eurasian bloc.
“When we are talking about the Eurasian Union we immediately start comparing it with the EU,” Yevgeny Panteleev, deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department of Information and Press has said, according to the Voice of Russia, “We must take into account successes and failures of the EU in order not to repeat its mistakes, of course… Nevertheless, there is a myth that the Eurasian Union and the European Union are some sort of antonyms or opposite poles in world politics. This is an absolutely wrong perception. They are together but not rivals.”
We cannot of course predict with any certainty whether the Eurasian Assembly and the European Union will regard themselves as “rivals” in the future. But we can be certain that, with the former keen to revive the prestige of Russia and the Russian people, its worldview will be entirely different to that of the bureaucrats of the EU, and that, in the end, it will look very different from the European Union.