Countries push ahead with EEU despite Russia’s role in conflict Ukraine

Wed 15 Oct 2014

Countries push ahead with EEU despite Russia’s role in conflict Ukraine
Last Friday, on 10 October, Armenia’s President Serzh Sarkisian signed an agreement to join the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) at a meeting of regional heads of state in Minsk, Belarus. Armenia thereby became the fourth country – after Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan – set to join the EEU when it comes into force on 1 January 2015. Despite Moscow’s active role in worsening the conflict in Ukraine between the government in Kyiv and the pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country, and the Kremlin’s annexation of the Crimea, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Armenia push ahead with what many experts deem is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s number one foreign policy flagship. Kyrgyzstan also intends to join the EEU as soon as possible, and Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon is currently analysing the Union’s legal documents and does not rule out that his country might join. 

Eurasian Economic Union (EEU)

The EEU was established in Astana (Kazakhstan) on 29 May 2014 by way of the signature of a treaty between the leaders of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia. It is both a political and economic union which will enter into force on 1 January 2015. The EEU will create a single economic market of 171 million people and will have an estimated gross domestic product of 3 trillion United States (US) dollars. President Putin, his Belarusian colleague Alexander Lukashenko and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev in the past two weeks all signed a law on the ratification of the EEU, the last legal step required before the Union can officially enter into force at the beginning of next year. At the 10 October Minsk conference, Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian signed an agreement to join the EEU and Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev brought his country closer to EEU membership by agreeing to a roadmap for Kyrgyz accession to the group’s predecessor, the Common Economic Space of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia.

Fear of Russian domination

Especially since the Ukraine crisis and the Western sanctions that followed, Russia has been pressuring former Soviet republics to join the EEU. Bringing together the former Soviet countries in a powerful (mainly) economic union that is capable of rivaling the European Union (EU), has been one of Putin’s most prominent foreign policy goals. Moscow’s long-time partners Belarus and Kazakhstan however, have been alarmed by the Kremlin’s policies in and towards neighbouring Ukraine - in the past a by Putin much wanted candidate for the EEU project - , having large Russian(-speaking) minorities themselves

On 5 October Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenko flatly condemned Russia's bid to redraw international borders in Europe. He added that once the process of rearranging borders according to historical claims begins, there is no end to it. Putin recently also received angry reactions in Astana when he claimed that “the Kazakhs never had their own state” and that modern Kazakhstan was “created” by the current Kazak President Nazarbaev. 

At the same time, however, Belarus and Kazakhstan push ahead with “Putin’s” EEU. In the process, they have constantly reiterated the need for enshrining the principle of consensus and the right to veto in the EEU’ documents, out of fear of Russian domination. Furthermore, despite his condemnation of Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, yesterday Lukashenko firmly repeated Belarus’ closeness to Russia: “we don't see ourselves in isolation from the Russian Federation. Only together, only in cooperation. Only if we stand together to face any challenges, we will be able to survive and live,” the dictator said. “Events in the neighboring country testify to that. Who could have thought that such things are possible at all?,” he said. 

Also in Armenia the mood is complex. While President Sarkisian was signing the EEU agreement in Minsk on 10 October, thousands of Armenians took to the streets of his country’s capital Yerevan to take part in an anti-government protest. Demonstrators demanded the resignation of the government and in addition to largely socio-economic complaints, some also expressed their discontent with Sarkisian’s decision to join the EEU, which they fear will effectively turn their country away from the EU. They also blame the government for the country’s slow economic growth and high level of corruption. The protest on Yerevan’s central Freedom Square was organised by the country’s three main opposition parties – Prosperous Armenia, Heritage and the Armenian National Congress.

Sources: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (1), (2), (3), (4), Charter 97,
Belta Belarusian News (1), (2)