Russia and the Eurasian Union: Mission Impossible?

By Hans-Jürgen Zahorka
Chief Editor, European Union Foreign Affairs Journal (EUFAJ)
http://www.eufaj.eu

The Russian president Putin may be a political chess player, but he will fail at the very end. He wants to restore glory for his country, and therefore he undertakes a lot:
– blaming the Americans and the Europeans for anything which does not function in his country, including a growing authoritarianism and repression of non-violent opposition, including as well the stigmatisation as „foreign agents“ of any non-governmental organisation which has contacts abroad (and all open-thinking NGOs have them), and following a media policy which is absurd and where critical journalists often have to pay with their lives and health,
– gathering a lot of compliments from most of his compatriots after the conquest of Crimea, and the intended destabilisation of Eastern Ukraine – and in both cases the troops there turned out to be Russian ones, although this has been denied by Putin, who did not say the truth to the world.

This is why Russia is now isolated more than ever. Even China did not veto the trend of a discussion in the UN Security Council on 12.4.2014.

All the efforts by Putin go in this mentioned direction. It is to be crowned by the project of the „Eurasian Union“ which is to see the light of the world in 2015. Since his article in Izvestiya some years ago, it is evident that this Eurasian Union should become a kind of counterpart to the EU. No problem with this; the EU is very much in favour of regional integration in the world. And nobody in the EU or elsewhere would have anything against the Eurasian Union. However, this Project is not about economic or political Integration only. It will never be possible as an integration in the worldwide sense, alone as the EU has been a totally voluntary integration. The same for all other integrations in the world. The Eurasian Union, however, is definitely not: its predecessor and economic centerpiece, the Eurasian Customs Union is going bonkers — even if this is not seen by the protagonists. Consisting of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan (all three beacons of democracy and human rights, as everybody knows), a lot of transborder operations go better with the help of corruption. I don’t want to mention the ranking in the Corruption Perception Index, as everybody also in Russia knows that there is still a lot of corruption in the administration. The customs tariffs are three times as high, on an average, as the import tariffs for new member countries: Armenia has either to raise its customs considerably, or get several hundred of exemptions, which makes a customs union ridiculous. Normally a customs union in economic history has always served to decrease customs, and not to increase! The Armenian government has been squeezed – under which circumstances ever – to welcome this and to tell its people that this would be a success. At the same time, newspapers write at the same page of many possible insolvencies of various sectors and drop-outs, which will lead to a continuation of the Armenian nightmare, the brain-drain by emigration. Every integration – see e.g. the accession of Spain, Portugal, Greece as well as Central and Eastern Europe to the EU – has led so far to a short to medium-term re-integration of former emigrants.

The biggest problem for Russia is her relations with Ukraine. Here every possible Eurasian Union member state can see at first hand, how they can be treated. No chance to hope that this can be changed: Russia has in all Eurasian structures since many years the absolute majority of votes. No way with a qualified majority, which in the EU can easily serve as an instrument of balancing the interests and of creating a compromise.

The result of the Crimea action has been to suspend Russia’s voting rights in the Council of Europe and to be subject of a negative assessment by the UN Assembly.

And nobody will invest at present in Russia, if he is mentally normal (except some big operators who are of strategic interest for Russia): The Moscow government had declared that it might confiscate foreign investmnt. This is against all rules, the rule of law, the rule of any international economy and above all the interests of Russia herself. Every small and medium enterprise will refrain from investing – and this in an era of positive globalization. Only a former KGB chief who never saw a company from inside can ride on such a wave. Russia is also dependent of its raw material and energy sales. The EU, including Germany, as main client are working since a while to diversify their purchases, a step which is getting momentum, and of developing alternative energy.

As the present macroeconomic trends indicate, Russia’s economy goes slowly but safely down, like the ruble currency, thus problemizing all foreign purchases which will be necessary also for domestic investment.

There are some people – like the author of these lines – who remember the hospitality, the fine humour, the philosophical discussions even with non-philosophers, the great nature, the food, the interesting history, the excellent education of Russian people. Their economy could become more and more efficient, corruption could go down, a numerous middle-class could emerge, Russians (all, not some) would go for holidays to the EU and worldwide, and will not flee their country, NGOs could form a vital civil society, art and music could thrive, and all problems could be discussed – why not controversially – and then solved in a free parliamentary vote. And the parliaments are correctly elected, and why not letting all parties admitted for this? Towards the outside, Russia could have excellent relations with its neighbours, with the EU (there are many years homework on what has been proposed and not done, like a free trade agreement etc.), with NATO, just to name some. In such a climate, NATO could become a historical structure – maybe with Russia as a member.

Instead of this, the former KGB chief in the Kremlin does not refrain from lying to the world, from attacking Crimea (at least. until tonight, 14.4.2014), and arresting many people who demonstrate against this in Moscow these days.

It is, simply speaking, ga-ga that at the beginning of the 21st century Russia, while all the others, or most of them, try to cooperate, falls back into the 19th century. If these ideas cannot convince the people (who should not behave like a flock of sheep), they feel a minority complex, manipulate the media and threaten other countries with tanks at their borders. They also are misled by this foreign activity from domestic and grave deficits. With this, the Eurasian Union will never function. It might be launched, but it will be a sick structure from the beginning – like many others who have been launched after 2001 in the former Soviet Union. There are brillant heads e.g. in the Eurasian Development Bank which is a kind of think-tank for regional integration and where many concepts for economic integration have been conceived. But in their concepts you do not read anything about the necessity of a free will of the member states to follow this integration. What their people have, the Russian government has not: sovereignty. The sovereignty to live and to let live. You should take it easy, Vladimir Vladimirowich. If you would, your people would also. But I have lost any hope that this is possible under your reign, although I am an eternal optimist. So drive your country to the beton wall, including following countries. Like the system of the USSR, this „Soviet 2.0“ system, although not under Communist auspices, will be rejected by a majority of People involved when they see the middle and Long-term results – first in the partner countries, then in Russia. By educated, young people who will see how dysfunctional their own system will be, also due to their Facebook and Twitter accounts and the Internet in general. Like the integration of the USSR, of Yugoslavia which both burst in bubbles. The result will always be smaller than the original. Because of this, perhaps for the sake of its own corruption?, the Moscow government will end up similarly, in the most positive way with four or five former and present European CIS countries in or near the EU, and Central Asia may later form a kind of integration themselves. It would, after all, need another and sympathetic leader in Moscow (not only to most of the Russians but also to the world) to break up this isolation and inefficiency.

Kazakhstan – and Free Access to Information …

Recently, at the end of November 2012, I spent a week in Kazakhstan. I wanted to write (something nice) about this country in this very blog, in https://libertasblogs.wordpress.com, from my hotel in Astana, the country’s capital. Despite several attempts, there was no access to the blog. Before the n-th attempt, I had the the idea of a Google search action. „WordPress blog Kazakhstan“ were the keywords.

And what had I to find? Evidently, this blog is blocked in Kazakhstan. Among the many thoughts flashing through my mind in this moment, there was also the memory that last year the country had the presidency of the OSCE.

Kazakhstan is considered a free country in general, taking into account the Soviet system still prevailing 20 years ago, and it has a „wise man“ as President who provided for a clever governance, in general and regarding his immediate influence. Does the country not have the sovereignty to abstain from blocking blogs?

Hans-Jürgen Zahorka
Chief Editor, European Union Foreign Affairs Journal 
 
 
Remark from 22.8.2013:
Since the appearance of this blog contribution, there seems – at least sometimes – to be some movement. Evidently, the Kazakh Government (which had so far repeatedly court sententes to refer to) has allowed the access to WordPress, at least sometimes. We had in the meantime European witnesses who were in the country and who told us they could not access to our blog, but on the other hand we have got several objective signs for access. We do not know exactly what leads to this situation – technical or political reasons.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Putin’s Euro-Asian Initiative and Armenia’s „No“

On the eve of the visit of NATO SG to Armenia

The Euro-Asian Union is an initiative proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, that many perceive as an attempt to revive the Soviet Union – a communist country removed from the world map almost two decades ago. Perhaps that’s in vain… Hardly a person once serving in Soviet KGB could have that much problems with adequate apprehension of the reality – to assume possible the recreation of the Soviet Union or any of its patterns whether in Europe or Asia. It can rather be expected from a KGB officer to use his public acts and steps as a veil for solving pragmatic tasks behind the scene, for achieving “program minimum” in course of stating about “program maximum”.

Battle for Kazakhstan

Independently of the geographical latitudes where the Russian officials state about the Euro-Asian Union, despite the quantity of continents they unite in that virtual union – marking boundaries in air – the core idea and target of Euro-Asian Union is the preservation of Kazakhstan within the orbit of Russian influence.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, once nicknamed “the purple sultan”, remarkably succeeded to lead his country to prosperity and increasing international engagement, turning Kazakhstan into a kind of powerhouse in the Central Asian region. Today one may witness the presence of Western capital and giant companies in Kazakhstan, the advancement of the Russian ground space station and cultural, scientific interrelations there, as well as the broadening influence of Far-Eastern giants’ – with China’s leading progression.

The Western presence in Kazakhstan hardly ever worried Russia much. That presence has little potential to go beyond the financial-economic sphere in the large – both by geographic and civilization affiliations. Kazakhstan lies far away from Europe. Meanwhile the increasing influence of China – involving at once financial-economic, political and migration dimensions – is obviously another opera.

If China’s financial and economic advancement in Africa is sufficient to bother the European Union, then how much worried must get Russia in face of China’s expansion in Central Asia – escorted with migration and political instruments. Such course may once end up with geographical enlargement of China – maybe reflecting in establishment of some kind of commonwealth of the Central Asian states.

The successive transference of Kazakhstan into the zone of China’s influence is still the partial misfortune of Russia. The full misfortune is that Russia is a material empire without spiritual impetus and the peoples inhabiting the Russian Siberia – with their small and large autonomies – glance not only at Moscow. The Chinese influence in Kazakhstan sooner or later will have projection on Russian Siberia.

Life is what we think of it

At some point in future the NATO initiative of a defense shield “from Vancouver to Vladivostok” may factually turn into guarantee of Russia’s territorial integrity. Still what is noticeable for the moment is the repetition of the story. Just alike to the first decade of the new millennium when Russia almost walked out of Europe and the advancing NATO established itself along the Russia’s entire European border, a decade later Russia seemingly gets to depart from the Central Asia and the Far-Eastern giants will further expand their influence along the Russia’s southern border.

Likewise a decade ago Mr. Putin succeeded to award the Russians an imitative sense of powerfulness, thanks to the Chechnya war and the permanent loss of influence in Europe passed relatively unnoticeable for the Russians, now the same scenario is under examination: the initiative of the Euro-Asian Union and the imitative developments around it will allow Russia to fight its interests in Central Asia and in case of failure at least to step back painlessly and imperceptibly for the Russian society. Mr. Putin obviously succeeds to neutralize the essence of events through their staged appearance.

Remarkably realizing the game, Kazakhstan herself erects the main obstacle and complexity on the way of formation of the Euro-Asian Union. President Nazarbayev declared with full clarity that the Euro-Asian Union is a format of economic cooperation only that can’t and doesn’t pursue a goal of political uniting. The formation created in sake of involving Kazakhstan hardly can disregard or oppose Kazakhstan’s stance.

NATO Secretary General’s visit instead of Euro-Asian Union developments

Kazakhstan’s discord to political unification marks almost a fiasco to Russian aspirations of Euro-Asian political union. Here Russia hardly nourishes illusions; now she rather disseminates illusions to achieve some psychological pression and effect in the countries she’d like to get in that union.

Seemingly the last was the aim of Russian propaganda throughout July-August 2012 when primarily several high-ranking Russian political emissaries arrived to Armenia and made statements about the Euro-Asian Union, then on the eve of the Armenian President’s visit to Russia scheduled on 8th August 2012, the Russian mass-media endlessly and persistently reported about Armenia’s principal consent to join the Euro-Asian Union that had to be declared on the meeting of the Armenian and Russian Presidents.

Armenia doesn’t possess a common border with any member of the Euro-Asian Customs Union (Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan), therefore Armenia’s involvement into this customs club – claiming to transform into Euro-Asian Union – would de facto attach political appearance to economic formation, balancing at surface the Kazakhstan’s “no” to the political union.

The visit of the Armenian President to Moscow planned for August 8, surely took place. The Kremlin and the Presidential Palace of Armenia issued press releases, even a joint press conference was held… still as it should be expected despite all the noise raised by mass media the Euro-Asian Union wasn’t even mentioned. Furthermore it didn’t become even clear what was the topic touched at the meeting of Presidents or not.

If the theme was discussed then obviously Armenia hadn’t obeyed to summons and pressure of Russia to join the Euro-Asian Union, like in 2008 when Armenia dismissed the Russian demands to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia after the Russia-Georgian military confrontation. Then Armenia argued that she hasn’t recognized even the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh – the Armenian enclave separated from Azerbaijan and declared independent some 20 years ago. Now Armenia argues that she doesn’t possess any common border with any country of Euro-Asian Customs Union, intending to transform into Euro-Asian Union.

The arguments are interpretation of reality but they are rather reflection of will. Probably that will was demonstrated by Armenia and thanks to that the noise around Armenia’s possible joining to Mr. Putin’s Euro-Asian initiative calmed down. Moreover still in the beginning of summer there was announcement that Mr. Putin will pay an official visit to Armenia in September. But the September arrived with another news – the Secretary General of NATO is paying visit to Armenia on September 5-6 – some symbolism that speaks for itself.

Lusine Petrosyan*

* Lusine Petrosyan is an Armenian journalist. In 2012 she was nominated for UNESCO Guillermo Cano Prize by Thomson Foundation (UK). The nomination was made to mark the efforts she made in legal confrontation with the former President of Armenia R. Kocharyan, after the President personally filed a lawsuit against her article in 2011. After Lusine’s year long fight engaging the EU, OSCE officials and the Armenian Ombudsman new commentaries on the Armenian defamation law were issued by the country’s Constitutional Court that obliged even the former President to refrain from monetary demands and offer conciliation. In February 2012 Lusine moved into politics and joined the Heritage party.  In June 2012 she became a Board member of the Party, and presently takes the position of the Coordinator of Party Headquarters (Heritage is an oppositional Parliamentary party, one of three Armenian parties having joined the European Peoples‘ Party – EPP).