_ Anna Kuznetsova, Program Coordinator, Russian International Affairs Council. Moscow, 1 September 2017.
Antagonism between the EU and Russia has become the new norm. Relations between Moscow and its European neighbours have been developing towards a form of “escalated alienation”. In the meantime, it has become evident that the lack of dialogue between the EU and Russia, in addition to the unwillingness to find solutions for the normalisation of relations, has proven to be counterproductive.
On the other hand, the other challenges Russia faces are equal to or even greater than its European challenges. The main problem for Russia is to find fundamentally new sources of economic growth and a new place in the twenty-first century global economy and system of global values. At the same time, Russia is actively participating in the Eurasian integration process, which has evidently become its project of highest priority.
Moreover, it is clear that Russia and the European Union have very much in common, with many factors binding Russia and the European countries together: common history, geographical proximity, massive amounts of trade, etc. Due to the complexity of Russia-EU relations today, it is not possible to sever them completely, neither will it be in the foreseeable future. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge bipolar confrontationalism, and it is absolutely necessary to concentrate on finding new ways for mutual rapprochement.
Can Russia and the European Union cooperate within the new reality? What are the new mechanisms for EU-Russia cooperation?
A possibility for such cooperation was proposed by the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin during the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum in 2016. He proposed a new vision for economic cooperation in Eurasia: a “great Eurasian partnership”, most commonly known as “Greater Eurasia”. This would involve establishing a network of bilateral and multilateral trade agreements between the Eurasian Economic Union, China, India, Pakistan, Iran, CIS members, and other interested countries. Initially, these agreements would involve harmonising and easing regulations for scientific and technological cooperation and mutual investment, as well as for technical, phytosanitary, customs, and intellectual property regulations. Later, the agreements would involve the lowering of tariffs, and ultimately the creation of a free trade zone with more than 40 countries. He also announced that participation in this project is open for the European Union. Such cooperation can be built on the basis of open and flexible integration projects such as the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), which may become one of the centres of greater integration (Latukhina 2016).
After Putin proposed multilateral cooperation within the Greater Eurasian partnership, several questions were raised: what does this partnership mean? Who are the main stakeholders? What are the advantages and disadvantages of such cooperation? And is this cooperation even realistic? To answer these questions, it is necessary to start with analysis of existing perceptions of the Greater Eurasian partnership. Misperceptions and misunderstandings may seriously affect the real basis for further cooperation. This chapter seeks to provide interpretations of such concepts as “Greater Eurasia”, “Eurasian Economic Union” (EEU), and “EEU-SREB co-development”. In this regard, the opinions of Russian, European, and Chinese experts are closely analysed.
The chapter is organised as follows. Section II outlines Russian perceptions of the Greater Eurasia project and answers the question of whether Russian-European cooperation is possible within the framework of this project, and describes the potential challenges of this process. Section III analyses the European approach towards the Eurasian Economic Union and demonstrates possible difficulties concerning the recognition of the EEU. Section IV examines the views of Chinese experts on questions such as the interests of Russia with regard to the SREB, the interests of China, as well as the possibilities and limitations of such a partnership. The conclusions and findings are reported in Section V.
II. Greater Eurasia. Russian perspective
While proposing the dialogue within the Greater Eurasia framework it is highly important to understand what this term implies, and especially how Russia sees it.
The collected data represents the papers and comments of experts published by the main Russian think tanks, and analytical centres such as: The Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC); the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy; The Valdai Discussion Club; and the Foreign Policy Research Foundation (Russia in Global Affairs Journal).
The term “Greater Eurasia” emerged after Russia and China had come up with the concept of a Greater Eurasian partnership or community as a common space for economic, logistic, and information cooperation, and for peace and security from Shanghai to Lisbon and from New Delhi to Murmansk. Geographically, the project is likely to encompass countries that participate in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and countries involved in the integration of the Silk Road, including Turkey, Iran, Israel, and Egypt.
Sergey Karaganov, the Dean of the School of World Economics and International Relations at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, and an expert on international relations, particularly on the Eurasian integration process, sees the EAEU as follows. Organisationally, Greater Eurasia could be based on the coordination of several economic and political projects, such as the SCO, the EEU, as well as other organisations and financial institutions in Eurasia. The SCO can act as a binder in this construction, with a greater number of observer states and, most importantly, with standing committees and negotiation forums that can be created within it for the liberalisation of trade, the coordination of technical standards, and economic, financial, and security policies, including the fight against terrorism and cybercrime, as well as migration control efforts (Karaganov 2016).
One of the most popular perceptions of “the Greater Eurasia” is that it is a new geo-political phenomenon. Greater Eurasia represents a common space between Europe, Russia, and Asia, where Russia could play the role of a centre for integration between a rising Asia and Europe, which is still wealthy and technologically advanced, but withering in its crises. This would allow Russia to gain a new status, not that of being on the European periphery with possessions in Asia, but as an Atlantic-Pacific power committed to the future (Ibid).
Sergei Karaganov believes that it would take a great deal of effort for Russia to become such a centre, but a scenario like this is quite possible. A leading role in a new community will require Russia to pursue an active policy of economic and technological development. From the very beginning, it will have to fit into the Eurasian framework and technological patterns. In Greater Eurasia, Russia can produce and supply—together with old and new partners—a few high-tech goods, foods, water-intensive products, and a variety of raw materials processed to high levels (Ibid).
But what is more important in Sergei Karaganov’s opinion, is that the Greater Eurasia project has become a natural and logical response to rising common global threats. From the point of view of security issues, the problem of instability on the eastern border of China, the Chinese-Indian, and Indo-Pakistani conflicts remain the most essential for the Eurasian continent. Another urgent problem is the destabilised territory stretching from Afghanistan to the north and north-east of Africa, as well as the problems of immigration, climate change, drug trafficking, terrorism, religious extremism, growing economic inequality, and mass unemployment among young people. In this context, the formation of a new continental security system is more important than just a regional security system. Consequently, the Russian Federation could become the main security provider on the continent. All these problems could be solved if addressed continent-wide (Ibid).
If such scenario is to be implemented, a few conditions should be taken into account. Sergei Karaganov supposes that a partnership or community of Greater Eurasia should be based on enlightened and realistic principles. These principles could include commitment to the higher wellbeing of all member states through a gradual movement towards a pan-continental free trade area; support for a free, liberal, continental, and global economic system, and for efforts to prevent its fragmentation and politicisation; cooperation based on a positive-sum game that is beneficial for all; respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries making up the community, and the world as a whole; respect for political pluralism, the right of each nation to choose its own path for development and way of life; support for freedom from external interference; support for for cultural pluralism, faith and religious tolerance; resistance to the policies of force used to create new or revive old military-political alliances and divisions; commitment to cooperation in solving continental and global problems such as environmental pollution and climate change, using advanced—including European—practices (Ibid).
This point of view is partly shared by another Russian expert on foreign affairs, Dmitry Efremenko, acting director of the Institute for Scientific Information on Social Sciences at the Russian Academy of Sciences, who also sees the Greater Eurasia project as a complicated geo-political phenomenon. Greater Eurasia is a fundamental process of geo-political and geo-economic changes that takes place on the Eurasian continent and bordering territories, such as Africa (Efremenko 2016). It is not just a strategic partnership between Russia and China, nor is it just a territory. It is a new geo-political fact that has become realistic, essentially, because of the strengthening of peripheral and semi-peripheral states that have been catching up with developed countries. Presumably, Russia will play the role of transit country. However, Russia will not be satisfied with merely this. It is important that it has a possibility to propose to other countries not only a representative set of services and products, such as logistical centres, primary goods, agricultural goods, defense industry goods, and space technologies, but also to propose security (Ibid). Dmitry Efremenko supposes that Russia will obviously share this role with other influential stakeholders in Greater Eurasia. In this case security exports in the region could become profitable, both politically and economically.
Another perception is that some countries that are to be the main stakeholders within the Eurasian project have too many unsettled disputes and internal problems. That is why the Greater Eurasia project is too complicated to be successfully implemented in the near future (Bistritskiy, Barabanov, Timofeev, 2016).
Timofei Bordachev believes that a new integration project of Greater Eurasia ought to replace the current Greater Europe project, as the former is unlikely to become a reality in the near future. While the format of Greater Europe was aimed at Russia’s incorporation into an EU-centric Eurasia, today Eurasia is being built from the East. Moreover, the EU and its satellites are part of Pax Americana, thus an integral approach of the Greater Eurasia project hardly corresponds to the fragmentary nature of current relations (Bordachev 2016). As for the role of the European Union in Greater Eurasia, on the one hand, recognition of the Eurasian Economic Union by the EU, and the establishment of direct relations between the two organisations would settle the problem of the EEU’s international legal capacity and competence. On the other hand, the Eurasian project will have to do a lot of internal work. What is more, it could be irrational to get distracted by a full-scale dialogue with a neighbour as difficult as the EU. After all, the priority for now is an extensive dialogue between the EAEU and China (Ibid).
Apart from political uncertainty, there are a lot of economic difficulties. Firstly, it is unclear how a single major agreement can provide for the operation of the Greater Eurasia project. Evgeny Vinokurov, Director of the Center for Integration Studies at the Eurasian Development Bank, believes that such problems could be resolved by a network of agreements on specific issues. For instance, in order to address a specific issue, a number of states enter into an agreement to this effect, and other agreements are signed with other states on other matters. In order to deal with trade and investment, a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is signed (Vinokurov 2016). But it also involves some difficulties such as the different conditions of FTA implementation and the diverse levels of economic development of various countries. Moreover, these countries do not always share the same interests.
Secondly, despite the idea that a system of free trade agreements seems logical, such a situation imposes its own difficulties. For instance, the Eurasian Economic Union is multiplying its efforts to enter into an FTA with east and southeast Asian countries. The EAEU and China are negotiating a non-preferential economic cooperation agreement that does not cover and does not envisage the creation of a free trade area. The Eurasian Union is not yet ready to open its market to Chinese manufacturers, preferring to focus on investment strategies. Four rounds of talks have already taken place, with the last one devoted to the technical regulations of customs procedures.
Thirdly, apart from market access, Russia needs to be able to operate in financial markets. For instance, subsidiaries of Russian banks in China are unable to provide Yuan-denominated loans. There is a need to lift these restrictions (Ibid).
In general, free trade areas nowadays are not so much about goods, with trade in goods accounting for less than half of the total volume, as they are about favourable investment regimes. The potential agreements between the EAEU and the east and southeast Asian countries do not provide for a substantial increase in value-added exports. However, there is general interest in opening up markets and developing cross-border infrastructure. Such agreements with the EAEU could be beneficial for countries within the union, as well as for their partners (Ibid).
Another perception of the idea of Greater Eurasia is that it is vague, but still spreading. There is no understanding of what such a phenomenon means at this particular moment, and under what conditions it is worth developing, or what it will be like in the future. There are too many unsettled problems, which are both political and economic, and too many differences between countries’ political systems. The only truth is that Greater Eurasia is being born with China and Europe as two centres, with the Russian Federation between them. But it remains unclear what this process will be like in the future (Trenin 2015).
To conclude, it is worth saying that the inception of a Greater Eurasia exists, and that it is gaining momentum. There are too many engaged stakeholders in this process for its presence to be denied. Igor Ivanov, President of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), and former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation (1998–2004), says that although the outlines of Greater Eurasia are still vague and, in many ways unclear, one cannot fail to see the objective and long-term nature of the processes involved in the emergence of a new transnational economic and political structure. The Euro-Atlantic region and Eurasia are evolving into new centres of global attraction and the relations between them are emerging as the main axis of future world politics (Ivanov 2015).
What is more important, dialogue between the European Union and Eurasian Economic Union is more realistic and very desirable. The European Union cannot ignore the fact of the EEU’s existence any more. It is working, it is developing, and it is becoming stronger. The start of a dialogue between the EU and the EAEU could settle many existing problems, for instance, between Russia and the European Union. We cannot deny the fact that relations between Russia and Europe are important for both parties. Russia has too many bonds connecting it to Europe: history and geography, culture and religion, and decades of economic cooperation. It is already clear that these relations should not be held hostage to the political rhetoric and romantic expectations of the end of the previous and beginning of this century. It is necessary to develop relations on the basis of a new reality and new conditions. One such reality is the growing EEU. But why are relations between the European Union and Eurasian Economic Union still impossible? Why is the dialogue still in dead-lock? What can be done to overcome this impasse? Are there any advantages for both parties? Does it make sense, or is it just a waste of time?
III. Eurasian Economic Union. EU perception
This part of the article was prepared in collaboration with L. Filippova and N. Mukhin
As has already been mentioned, the natural foundation for cooperation between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union has been developed. This foundation is based on impressive traffic flows, potential investment ties, economic security issues, an EAEU interest in European export of technologies, and cross-border infrastructure issues. Yet there are a lot of obstacles that explain why such cooperation faces difficulty in being launched: poor relations between Russia and the EU; and EAEU economic performance, which is not comparable to the EU. But one of the most salient problems is that the European Union perceives the EAEU solely as an organisation of political integration.
After having analysed the existing perceptions among Russian experts on Greater Eurasia and the possibilities of EU integration into this project, it may be interesting to analyse perceptions of the EAEU among European experts. To carry out such an analysis, the materials of the main European analytical centres and institutes have been collected: the Royal Elcano Institute; the European Leadership Network (ELN); the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs; the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (Carnegie Europe); the Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI); the Royal Institute of International Affairs Chatham House; The German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP); the Swedish Institute for European Policy Studies; The Bertelsmann Stiftung private operating foundation; the Dahrendorf Forum; the Friedrich Ebert Foundation; and the Robert Schuman Foundation.
Basically, European experts do not analyse the economic components of the Eurasian Economic Union, but only the political ones. The EAEU is scrutinised mostly because of Russian participation in the organisation. The EAEU is also of European interest because of complicated Russian-European relations, the crisis in Ukraine, and the sanctions regime. A large amount of papers and articles concern the spread of Russian political influence in the Eurasian region, the restoration of Russia’s dominant status in the Post-Soviet region, and the practicality of EAEU recognition as an equal partner to the European Union. It is worth saying that there has not been much information produced on possible or prospective ways for further cooperation.
In general, existing perceptions of the Eurasian Economic Union could be divided into several blocks:
- Recognition of the EEU: will it bring any benefits to the EU?
- Domination of political components over economic ones;
- Failure of the EAEU as an economic union.
The question of EAEU recognition as an equal partner of the EU is the most popular one among European experts. Stefan Meister, Head of The Robert Bosch Center for Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia, talked about it in his interview with the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) in September 2016. Stefan Meister doubts the recognition of the Eurasian Economic Union as an equal partner to the European Union.
The Eurasian Economic Union brings many benefits to the EU. There are a lot of contacts on a technical level, and there is also an approach to deepening these relations. But it still has not been decided if it is really beneficial to recognise the Eurasian Economic Union, which is dominated by Russia because of its economic power and size relative to the other member states. Nevertheless, there is no consensus on this issue. There are some member states which really do not want to legitimise these institutions, including Russia’s role within them. This could block EU-EEU relations in the foreseeable future (Meister 2016).
Another popular opinion in the EU declares that there is no sense in recognising the Eurasian Economic Union before the Ukrainian crisis is settled. In most European experts’ opinion, the EAEU is a politically important project for Russia. If the EU were to recognise the Eurasian Economic Union, then it would mean that the EAEU is a stable, independent, and powerful organisation. Consequently, this could stimulate the expansion of the EAEU with Russia as its leader. It could catalyse a situation of Russia progressively regaining control over the post-Soviet space (Dobbs 2015).
At the same time, there are a few experts less pessimistic in their perspectives towards EEU-EU relations. Rilka Dragneva-Lewers, a reader in Law, Development and Regional Integration at Birmingham Law School, believes it is questionable whether the EU should have no formal relations with the EAEU at all. Regardless of its geopolitical underpinnings, the EAEU has a commercial reality: EU businesses cross EAEU customs borders and interact with EAEU rules and institutions as well as Russian ones. Relations continue to be governed by an outdated framework, with disputes on ‘trade irritants’ destined for the WTO, which can be a slow and complicated process. While bilateral relations with EAEU member states need to be developed, it will be beneficial to maintain a certain minimum level of relations with the EAEU (Dragneva-Lewers 2016).
Another perception of the Eurasian Economic Union is the domination of political components over economic ones. European experts perceive the EAEU as simply a political project of the Russian Federation aimed at the restoration of Russia’s role as leader in the region. This view also says that Russia seeks to reassert its status as a superpower in a multipolar world and to return economic positions lost due to the growth of the United States of America, the People’s Republic of China, and the European Union (Gonzalo 2016).
Ulrich Speck, Visiting Scholar Carnegie Europe, says that Moscow does not want only to restore its positions in the region. It seeks domination, as in the Soviet times, when Warsaw Pact countries were only satellites who could neither choose their foreign policy orientation, nor decide on their internal organisation (Speck 2015). The experts at the Royal Institute of International Affairs Chatham House share this point of view. The authors of the Chatham House report “The Russian Challenge”, which was published in June 2015, mention the inefficiency of the Eurasian Economic Union. The Eurasian Union is intended to be more than a legal framework for dominion over ‘wayward’ one-time dependencies—it is designed to be a new geopolitical force capable of standing up to all competitors on the world stage. Eurasianism provides the ideological glue, and Russia, of course, is the self-appointed head of the Eurasian civilisation. The concept of Novorossiya is an ideological extension and historical justification of this project (Giles, Hanson, Lyne, Nixey, Sherr, and Wood 2015).
Experts from the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI) believe that the Eurasian Economic Union project is a crucial part of Russia’s ambitions to re-establish its own sphere of influence in the region, securing internal legitimacy and a certain weight on the international political scene as a regional leader, which seeks to be recognised internationally (Shendrikova 2015). In addition to that, all members have their pragmatic reasons for joining the union, taking advantage of the economic and military benefits that integration brings, without threatening their regimes or imposing democratic reforms (Ibid).
The opinion of the experts of the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs are worth taking into consideration. They believe that the EAEU is a response to the policies of Western countries. It is an attempt to restrict European influence on the countries of the post-Soviet space. The EAEU is as much a response of its members to the global crisis of 2008 as an attempt by Russia to change its peripheral position in relation to the EU and China, with the underlying idea that Moscow leads one of the poles that will shape the emerging multipolar order. The EAEU is, as a result, strategic in nature for the Kremlin, and the inclusion of Ukraine is crucial. (Pedro and Viilup 2015).
These opinions show that nowadays the Eurasian Economic Union is not perceived as an economic organisation by the European community. There is little analysis of its economic components. They are analysed only in the context of the complicated economic situation in Russia. Russia’s economic downturn and the wider regional fallout have significantly eroded the EEU’s attractiveness as a motor for economic integration, believes Sijbren de Jong, a Strategic Analyst at HCSS and lecturer in Geo-Economics at Leiden University (Jong 2016). Another point of contention among EAEU members are the sanctions Moscow imposed on the EU after Brussels placed sanctions on Russia, owing to the country’s annexation of Crimea and the stoking of conflict in eastern Ukraine. The fact that the Kremlin chose not to notify the member states of its intention to impose counter-sanctions did not sit well with the other members of the EAEU (Jarosiewicz, Fischer, 2015). Such friction with Moscow, in Sijbren de Jong’s opinion, makes the Eurasian Economic Union even less attractive for the EU.
Moreover, there is no comparative economic analysis of the two organisations that confirms the non-admission of the EAEU as an economic union. The analysis is based mostly on superficial criteria. Thus, to compare the two organisations, Swedish experts compared values, human rights definitions, foreign affairs ambitions, and decision making processes (Yeliseyeu 2015).
In the eyes of most Europeans, the EAEU is a flawed project. However, there a few experts who suppose that the EAEU may be the EU’s best chance to shift the competition between Russia and the West back onto an economic field rather than a military one. The EAEU is certainly not the answer to everything. But it could be a start towards negotiating a new European institutional order to fill the vacuum left by broken institutions that have been rejected by Moscow (Leonard and Krastev 2014).
To conclude, the European perceptions of the Eurasian Economic Union are not influenced by economic projects, but by the internal and foreign policies of one country—Russia. The Russian economic situation implies the inefficiency of the whole EEU, while the recognition of the EAEU is not possible until the Ukrainian crisis is settled. Meanwhile, the level of objective knowledge that supplies European perceptions about the EAEU is considerably low.
IV. Greater Eurasia: EAEU and SREB. Perceptions from China.
The Eurasian Economic Union should not be underestimated. In May 2015, Russia and China made a joint statement on a massive Sino-Russian political project: linking the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB).
This declaration was the result of a reasonable compromise—Moscow accepted China’s active role in Eurasia, and Beijing agreed to treat the EAEU as an equal negotiating party. In fact, the agreement worked equally well for Moscow and Beijing, as their grand projects gained the support of a large and powerful partner, which is essential for a big project at the initial stage (Denisov 2015).
The merging of two projects could bring significant synergistic effect. Could such a co-development cause the balance of power in the region to change? The following section of the chapter seeks to provide answers to a number of research questions. What are the interests of Russia with regard to the SREB? What are the interests of China? What are the possibilities and limitations of such a partnership? How do Chinese experts perceive the Greater Eurasian project?
First of all, it is important to understand what the interests of China and the EAEU are, in terms of co-development. To start with, Russia’s key objective in participating in the Belt Initiative is to leverage China’s investment capacity to develop the infrastructure network in Eurasia. That would make the region more competitive and capable of intermediating trade and investment flows between Asia and Europe. Secondly, it could help the Eurasian Economic Union to make economic alliances with other countries and regional blocks. Thirdly, the EEU-SREB co-development could favour intra-national development: China could develop its western regions and integrate them into the Eurasian continental economic process, while Russia is interested in developing its border regions via intensification of regional economic cooperation (Lissovolik, Timofeev, Filippova 2017).
At the same time, there could be some potential risks for Sino-Russian cooperation regarding the formation of the Belt Initiative. The key priority for China is the development of an East-West transport corridor (Vinokurov and Lissovolik 2016), while Russia seeks to develop infrastructure along the North-South meridian trajectories.
Another problem is the diversification of China’s economic policy. The SREB-EEU co-development cannot guarantee that China will always consider Russian interests, and will obviously not prevent China from bilateral economic interaction (Bordachev 2015; Uyanaev 2016). China will always seek to reserve a role for collaboration with Russia and the EEU’s competitors (Boradachev 2015).
The structural divergence of the EAEU and the Belt Initiative may also affect the co-development of the EEU-SREB. The EAEU has become a huge institution in terms of structure, norms, and regulation, while the Belt Initiative is a strategic idea without a clear framework for coordinating its policies and actions with other states and institutions (Lissovolik, Timofeev, Filippova 2017). Gaps in the economic policy coordination of EAEU economies, and competition between EAEU economies for attracting investment and trade flows, do not strengthen the position of EAEU and to a certain degree question the successfulness of EEU-SREB linkage.
However, the opinion of Chinese experts on the future of the EEU-SREB is not always pessimistic.
The subject of EEU-SREB linkage is widespread in Chinese academic journals, for example: Eurasian Economics; Scientific Newsletter Russia; the Journal of Xinjiang University; The Northeast Asia Economic Forum; NEAEF; and Science China, the academic journal of Chinese Academy of Sciences (中国社会科学院俄罗斯东欧中亚研究所). A lot of think tanks are also analysing SREB-EEU linkage opportunities. Among them are: The Institute of Russia, East Europe, and Central Asia; the China Institute of International Studies, CIIS (中国国际问题研究院); Russian Institute of Heilongjiang University (黑龙江大学俄罗斯研究院); Shanghai University (上海大学); and Jilin University (吉林大学).
One of the most popular perceptions of the EAEU is that the Union represents a new economic integration organisation, but with a geo-political orientation. The launch of the project was initiated by the Russian Federation, seeking to make the EAEU the main new centre on the territory of the post-Soviet space (Li Jianmin et al. 2015). The EAEU is an opportunity to overcome Western political pressure on Russia. Of course, this point of view is shared in Europe. However, there is a difference. Chinese experts do not always perceive such changes in a negative way. Chen Baorong, Director for the Center for Eurasian Research of the China Institute of International Studies, believes that Russia, which is playing the leading role in the Union, could bring a lot of benefits to other members of the EEU. Russia has a robust economy and relatively developed transport infrastructure (Ibid).
Some Chinese experts say that the EAEU has become a logical continuation of Russia’s Soviet past. Russia, being a legal successor of the USSR, accomplishes its political mission. While Japan and the USA are trying to share spheres of interest in post-Soviet space, Russia proposes a defense mechanism and does not want external players to intervene in Eurasian internal processes (Ibid). The EEU’s strategic aim is to reinforce the system of a multipolar word.
On the one hand, the economic potential of the EAEU is also highly appreciated. One of the most important economic advantages for China is the ability to negotiate with the Union in the future, not with different countries (Ibid). Such a union could be more influential and competitive than separate economies. Thus, the EAEU has already successfully signed a Free Trade Agreement with Vietnam (Li Ziguo 2016). Moreover, high rates of trade between Russia and China, and Belarus and Kazakhstan provide favourable conditions and prospects for further cooperation with the EAEU (Zhou 2016). What is more, another positive aspect is the possibility for other potential members to enter the EEU, representing a difference between the EAEU and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and at the same time a similarity with the SREB. (Li Jianmin et al. 2015). However, participation in the EAEU does require some sovereignty concessions, while the SREB is just aimed at mutual economic benefit (Ibid).
On the other hand, there is some anxiety. The appearance of two integration projects in the Eurasian region, the EAEU and the SREB, has caused a heated discussion about the potential competition and contradictions between them. So initially, the launch of the SREB put Russia on the alert. Later, after China supported the EEU, Russian doubts were dispelled. This recognition created a real background for a further widening of Russian-Chinese cooperation in the Eurasian region (Pang 2016). Russia and China have different interests in the region; consequently, any contradictions are unlikely (Liu 2015). On the contrary, the two projects even complement each other. The EEU-SREB linkage opens an opportunity for China to internationalise the Chinese Yuan as the EAEU members tend to renounce the dollar and euro in mutual settlements and pay in their native currencies.
However, there are also other opinions on the future of the linkage of the EEU-SREB. Some Chinese experts believe that the functions of the Eurasian Economic Union and Silk Road Economic Belt duplicate each other, which could cause a clash of interests (Yuan 2014). Some experts point out the possibility of a conflict between the EAEU and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). One of the organisations could expand while the other could end up being marginalised. It is even probable that one of the organisations would be absorbed by the other one. EEU-SCO coexistence is only possible under the condition of close Sino-Russian cooperation (Li Jianmin et. al. 2015). In other words, the EAEU could slow down the SCO’s integration process (Lu 2015).
As for EEU-EU relations, Chinese experts suppose that the creation of a FTA area between the two Unions could help not only to settle economic and trade problems, but to prevent the USA from intervening in domestic EU affairs. Moreover, such cooperation would probably boost political dialogue and regular contacts in the defence sphere between Russia and the EU. Comparing the EAEU to the EU, Chinese experts note that Eurasian integration processes are developing too fast. From 2010 (Eurasian Customs Union) to 2015 (Eurasian Economic Union), the EAEU made the same transition that the EU took 36 years to accomplish. Of course, such a fast pace testifies to Russia’s speedy progress, but it does not guarantee positive effects for stimulation and trade diversification. Russia is not economically strong enough to be a driver within the Union. The organisational form does not correlate with its content, while political interests still dominate over economic ones. Therefore, the EEU’s prospects will depend on world order, the cost of energy, and Russia’s competence in overcoming the consequences of the sanctions regime (Li Jianmin et al. 2015).
To conclude, Chinese experts perceive the Eurasian Economic Union mostly as a Russian geo-political initiative, a project aimed at replacing the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and restoring the leading role of Russia to how it was in time of the USSR. They also see several economic opportunities in EEU-SREB linkage. However, Chinese experts prefer not to propose concrete recommendations on further cooperation, but to wait for EAEU initiatives.
Summarising the above, the differences in perceptions between the relative parties have been revealed.
Perceptions from Russia are characterised by optimism towards Europe. Most experts from Russia believe that EEU-EU partnership is possible in the future. Moreover, this partnership will be the key to the stabilisation and amelioration of relations between Russia and the European Union that have been in a deadlock for the last few years. Russia could play not only the role of a centre for integration between Asia and Europe, but could also even become the main security provider in the Eurasian region. However, in order for this scenario to become a reality, Russia will have to pursue an active policy of economic and technological development.
Pessimism is peculiar to the EU. Few experts believe that a EEU-EU partnership is even possible. The European community does not perceive the EAEU as an economic organisation. It pays much attention to the internal and foreign policies of Russia, and little to objective achievements in the economic sphere. The European opinions are highly politicised.
Meanwhile, pragmatism and goal orientation are inherent to the Chinese expert community. Chinese experts also perceive the Eurasian Economic Union mostly as a Russian geo-political initiative. However, they also see several economic opportunities in the linkage of the EEU-SREB. The success of Russia-China collaboration in Eurasia will essentially depend on the future progress of Eurasian integration, as well as on the ability to provide an agreement to co-develop the EAEU and the Belt Initiative with concrete and mutually beneficial projects.
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