Kyrgyzstan took another halting step toward joining the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union on May 21 when President Almazbek Atambayev signed an accession treaty into law.
The other four members must still approve the impoverished Central Asian state’s membership (a process that is largely seen as a formality), and Bishkek must finish upgrading its border checkpoints to EEU standards before Kyrgyzstan becomes a formal member. But Atambayev was in a jubilant mood.
“Today is a wonderful day for us. Today [I am] signing the law ratifying international agreements on Kyrgyzstan’s accession to the Eurasian Economic Union. In this way, we complete all the internal governmental procedures for entering one of the biggest economic unions in the world,” Atambayev said on May 21 in comments carried by his website.
Kyrgyzstan first formally applied for membership two years ago and has been speaking about joining for four. Accession has dragged for so long that confusion over whether Kyrgyzstan is yet a member has reigned in recent weeks. It is still unclear how long it will take for Kyrgyzstan to upgrade its checkpoints.
In his remarks, Atambayev celebrated a “a new phase of development” for his country, while warning that the “journey will not be easy.” For years, thousands of Kyrgyzstanis have survived by re-exporting Chinese goods to other former Soviet republics. Those goods now face higher import tariffs. Kyrgyzstan’s economy must “restructure in a very short space of time,” Atambayev acknowledged.
Kyrgyzstan is a minnow compared with the other EEU members; its GDP is only 0.03 percent of the group’s total. But policymakers have argued that may not be a bad thing. Speaking to EurasiaNet.org late last year, then-Premier Djoomart Otorbaev likened his country’s position to that of the Baltic states, which benefited by joining the European Union in the early 2000s.
But doubts over the impact of Kyrgyzstan’s accession persist. Many fear it will prompt dramatic inflation.
For those interested in the highlights of Eurasian integration over more than two decades since the Soviet Union collapsed, Kyrgyz newspaper Vechernii Bishkek has published a timeline. It features a photo of a youthful-looking Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev pushing for the project back in the early 1990s in a meeting with Russia’s former President Boris Yeltsin.