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 union would serve as a key platform for Russia’s more assertive behavior in the international realm, a platform that stems from Moscow’s geopolitical resurgence from the preceding years.
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 of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, set to become the Single Economic Space in January 2012 , would further expand to form the Eurasian Union as the integration process continues. (No specific date was given for when the union would be launched.) Putin added that the Eurasian Union would include closer coordination of economic and monetary policy, including the use of a single currency and a bureaucracy to manage the union. It also would expand its membership to include Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and it is open to membership for other countries, particularly those from the Commonwealth of Independent States.
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 , such as joint border control. Dmitri Peskov, Putin’s press secretary, highlighted the significance of the proposed union, saying it “will be one of the key priorities of Putin’s work over the next six years.” This not only shows the importance of the Eurasian Union within Russia’s foreign policy agenda, but also serves as evidence that Putin has been planning to return to the presidency all along.
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.