Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s recent article for the Russian newspaper Izvestia discussing the creation of a new Eurasian Union continues to draw reactions from media and politicians. Originally written Oct. 3, the article emphasizes Putin’s proposal for the Eurasian Union, an economic grouping focusing on integration between Russia and former Soviet republics.
The Eurasian Union has been labeled one of Moscow’s top foreign policy priorities, and its proposal coincides with Putin’s expected return to the Russian presidency in 2012
The Izvestia article is the first time Putin has elaborated on the Eurasian Union since he first mentioned the idea — almost in passing — in July. Putin wrote that the Customs Union
Putin made it a point to temper his language in the article. He noted that the Eurasian Union would collaborate with other blocs, emphasizing that it would not be a recreation of the Soviet Union — a reflection of Russia’s desire to have influence over the former Soviet countries but not be responsible for their domestic affairs. Putin wrote that he sees the union expanding cooperation with the European Union and China and binding Europe with the Asia-Pacific region. But the true focus of the Eurasian Union would not be about enhancing relations with Brussels or Beijing, but rather about Russia solidifying and institutionalizing its resurgence in its former Soviet periphery.
The emphasis of the Eurasian Union is on economic integration, but this extends into the political and even security realms. For instance, the use of a single currency and a bureaucracy to manage the economic space would by design translate into Russian domination. This also would bolster components of the existing Customs Union arrangements
Though Kazakhstan, already a member of the Customs Union, has thrown its support behind Putin’s Eurasian Union idea, not every country slated for integration is as enthusiastic about it. Ukraine, for example, has resisted joining the Customs Union and has been pursuing closer cooperation with the European Union with the aim of signing an association and free trade agreement by the end of 2011, and the head of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry’s information policy department, Oleh Voloshyn, said Ukraine’s moves to get closer to the European Union were unlikely to change. In an overt reference to Ukraine, Putin stated that some of Russia’s neighbors resist participation in integration projects because it is “allegedly contrary to their European choice.” This is unwise and should be avoided, Putin said.
Meanwhile, the firmly anti-Kremlin former Soviet state of Georgia has spoken against Putin’s Eurasian Union plan, with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili stating Oct. 5 that the project represents “the most savage idea of Russian nationalists,” adding that when Russia announces such ideas “as a rule, they try to implement them.” However, this is unlikely to stop Russia’s emphasis on continuing to build the structures of the Eurasian Union, as the proposed bloc has a deeper foundation from Russia’s resurgence in its near abroad over the past several years — including a military defeat of Georgia in 2008.
The union proposal will be supported by some countries and resisted by others, but it is sure to see a lot of movement when Putin will likely re-take the Russian presidency in 2012, serving as a major cornerstone of Russia’s foreign policy in Putin’s return to the post.