Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s stated intention to create a “Eurasian Union”, made up of Russia and other post-Soviet states, has triggered a flurry of reactions ranging from enthusiasm to outright rejection in Russia and the countries concerned.
In an article published by the daily Izvestia, Putin, who is also expected to become his country’s President next year (see background), appears to outline his geopolitical ambitions for the years to come.
As a departure point, Putin calls a “historic milestone” the kick off on 1 January, 2012 of the Common Economic Space of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan (CES).
Putin writes that after having achieved on 1 July 2011 a Customs Union, now the three countries were moving to a Common Economic Space.
“We are creating a huge market that will encompass over 165 million consumers, with unified legislation and the free flow of capital, services and labour force,” he writes.
But Putin stresses that this union remains open for other members. “By building the Customs Union and Common Economic Space, we are laying the foundation for a prospective Eurasian economic union. At the same time, the Customs Union and CES will expand by involving Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan,” he writes.
Back in the USSR?
On the one hand, Putin appears to reject suspicions that he will be willing to resuscitate a smaller version of the former USSR.
“None of this entails any kind of revival of the Soviet Union. It would be naïve to try to revive or emulate something that has been consigned to history. But these times call for close integration based on new values and a new political and economic foundation,” he points out.
But he also pays tribute to the former Soviet Union: “We have a great inheritance from the Soviet Union. We inherited an infrastructure, specialised production facilities, and a common linguistic, scientific and cultural space. It is in our joint interests to use this resource for our development,” he writes.
“We suggest a powerful supranational association capable of becoming one of the poles in the modern world and serving as an efficient bridge between Europe and the dynamic Asia-Pacific region. This project also implies transitioning to closer coordination in economic and currency policies in the Customs Union and [the Community of Independent States] CES and establishing a full-fledged economic union,” he reveals.
Clearly referring to Ukraine and Moldova, Putin stressed that membership of his new project would not harm ambitions to develop deeper integration with the EU.
“Some of our neighbours explain their lack of interest in joining forward-looking integration projects in the post-Soviet space by saying that these projects contradict their pro-European stance. I believe that this is a false antithesis. We do not intend to cut ourselves off, nor do we plan to stand in opposition to anyone. The Eurasian Union will be based on universal integration principles as an essential part of Greater Europe united by shared values of freedom, democracy, and market laws,” he pointed out.
He even appeared to convey to Ukraine and Moldova that their position inside the Eurasian Union would make their case stronger vis-à-vis the EU.
“Soon the Customs Union, and later the Eurasian Union, will join the dialogue with the EU. As a result, apart from bringing direct economic benefits, accession to the Eurasian Union will also help countries integrate into Europe sooner and from a stronger position,” he writes.
Putin also appeared to convey the message to the EU that its eventual future relations with the Eurasian Union would help it preserve its role of a global player.
“A partnership between the Eurasian Union and EU that is economically consistent and balanced will prompt changes in the geo-political and geo-economic setup of the continent as a whole with a guaranteed global effect,” he pointed out.
Putin’s article triggered a flurry of reactions (see Positions). Punchy headlines within Russia, including “Back to the USSR” or “Putin invented USSR 2.0”, suggested that the Kremlin is seeking to invoke its Cold War period grandeur.
In Ukraine many experts considered that Putin’s article was chiefly targeted at Kyiv, as it appeared at a critical moment when the country’s authorities are finalising a milestone association agreement with the EU to put in place a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA).