After three years of negotiations, Kyrgyzstan has signed up to join the Moscow-led Eurasian Union, a protectionist post-Soviet economic club that some fear will allow the Kremlin to reassert political influence in its former backyard. But in what has become a tradition, Kyrgyzstan’s actual accession will be delayed yet again.
Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev signed on the dotted line at a Moscow meeting of the Eurasian Economic Council December 23 along with his counterparts from Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia.
Atambayev was in high spirits after signing, waxing lyrical about the benefits of regional integration.
“I’d like to emphasize that today is December 23. I am a person that sometimes lends a lot of credence to things, dates, signs of destiny, lets say. Yesterday, December 22, was the shortest day and the longest night [of the year] and today, December 23 is the day when light starts to defeat night. It seems very significant. I am confident that even in these difficult times, things will be a lot easier for all of us if we are friendly with one another and help one another,” Atambayev said, to what looked, on camera, like sniggers from Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko.
More importantly, Atambayev confirmed that Kyrgyzstan would not be ready for full membership in the Eurasian Economic Union – which fellow aspirant Armenia will join on January 1 – until the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s 1945 victory over Germany on May 9. All year officials have said Kyrgyzstan will join on January 1, when the Customs Union becomes the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).
Putin, meanwhile, said that EEU membership will meet the “root national interests” of both Kyrgyzstan and Armenia and “open up broad horizons for their socio-economic development.”
Yet doubts persist that the EEU is a good fit for Kyrgyzstan. For starters, the bloc will strangle the country’s lucrative re-export trade of Chinese goods to former Soviet republics and, officials say, could double unemployment.
Back in Bishkek on December 23, Deputy Prime Minister Valery Dil, coyly extolled the benefits of entry, veering away from specifics and pouring doubt on the idea that membership will hurt the re-export trade. Entry “will not substantially impact the volume of re-exports,” he told 24.kg. “As it was, so it will be.”
In Kyrgyz society, EEU accession has been met with criticism from opposition politicians, nationalists and civil society leaders, who fear everything from a loss of national sovereignty to rising inflation associated with tariff hikes and the flood of cheap Russian pharmaceuticals onto the local market.
But whatever awaits, Kyrgyz policymakers have raced through thousands of pages of pre-accession documentation. Two parliamentary committees and Prime Minister Djoomart Otorbaev’s government hastened to endorse the membership agreement on December 22, the eve of the Moscow meeting.
Now that Atambayev has signed the treaty, it must be ratified by Kyrgyzstan’s parliament, as well as the parliaments and governments of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia. That is a formality.