Eurasianism and the EAEU

_ Peter Kaufmann, PhD (History). Berlin, 12 October 2017.

The evolution of Eurasianism

When looking at the evolution of Eurasianism, we should focus on the similarities and differences between ‘classical Eurasianism,’ which emerged following World War I, and its current incarnation, neo-classical Eurasianism, of which Yuri Kofner and Lev Gumilyov are the most prominent advocates.

Both classical and neo-classical Eurasianism share a vision of Eurasia as a multi-national community of fraternal peoples united by a shared civilization or Weltkultur.  This shared vision dictates the several commonalities between the two ideologies: their stress on geopolitical unity with the former imperial subjects/Soviet republics as the primary geopolitical imperative for Russia. Eurasianism rejects Russian nationalism and imperialism. It’s both was slightly isolationist, stressing the need to prioritize economic and political integration of internal spaces, while at the same time promoting internal consolidation and directs attention externally.

However, classical and neo-classical Eurasianism differ in their perceptions of the West.  While classical Eurasianism viewed the West as Russia’s principal threat, neo-classical Eurasianism is more ambivalent, stressing Transatlanticism as Russia’s principal enemy. Yuri Kofner even views Western Europe as a potential ally for Russia (provided Western Europe recognizes its shared interest in rejecting US influence), an idea with no precedent in classical Eurasianist thought.

Challenges (and China?) facing the EAEU

We should use theories and comparative examples of regional integration to examine the challenges facing the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). The central challenge for all regional organizations is developing credible leadership, which is affected by power asymmetry within the organization, the type of contracting, and the degree of super-nationalism. Looking at examples of the EU and NAFTA, we see that the EAEU’s high power asymmetries and incomplete contracts might impare the success of the EAEU.

Looking at the potential for cooperation between the EEAU and China, it is lilekly that the EAEU is compatible with China’s strategic vision for Central Asia, but China’s economic power will mean that Eurasian integration will increasingly take place on Chinese terms. China’s primary interest in Central Asia is its long-term economic development. China views the EAEU favorably as a mechanism to drive growth in the region, even if it results in a short-term decline in Sino-Russian trade. We can be cautious optimists about prospects for future Sino-Russian cooperation, e.g. when looking at progress in transportation and infrastructure projects and the Putin-Xi agreement on ‘One Belt, One Road.’

There are three key dimensions of the EEAU: economic, geopolitical, and civilizational.The value-based component of the EAEU is highly important. It presents Eurasia as a separate civilization opposed to materialistic, hedonistic post-European values. However, a uniform Eurasian identity has not been formed.  There is a need for good governance in the EAEU’s Central Asian member states, since China could employ its economic clout to incentivize Central Asian leaders to enact anti-corruption reforms.

The Eurasian Union: Drivers, Aspirations, Realities

Let’s outline the motivations driving each state’s participation in the Union, assess its results, and gauge its future prospects. For Russia, the primary motivation is strategic design, with Putin envisioning the EAEU as a pole in a multipolar world order that will serve as a bridge between Europe and Asia.  Secondarily, Putin views the EAEU as a tool to consolidate political like-mindedness across the former Soviet space and counter the influence of Western postmodernism. Lastly, the EAEU can serve as a multilateral cover for the pursuit of Russia’s national interests.

While Moscow envisages multidimensional integration, Astanna favors a less comprehensive association with minimal influence on Kazakhstan’s foreign and domestic politics. Nazarbayev was the founding father of the contemporary Eurasian Union, arguing for it’s creation as early as 1994.

Belarus’ goals are broadly similar to Kazakhstan; however its economic dependence on Russia, more strategically vulnerable location so closte to NATO make it favor the EAEU.

Armenia and Kyrgyzstan’s membership is largely politically motivated, but both countries had little choice, with Armenia dependent on Russia for military support and Kyrgyzstan dependent on remittances from Russia.

Assessing the EAEU’s effectiveness to date, we should note that the EAEU has exposed the potentials of Russia’s influence in the former Soviet space, revealed its ability to serve as the primary driver of regional economic prosperity, and showed Russia’s regained strength to be an independent center of global power.

At the moment, there are three potential scenarios for the future of Russia’s strategy towards the EAEU: broad continuity, imperial activism, and recalibration. The only relative certainty is that Russia will face a difficult process of strategic adaption to maintain its position in Eurasia.

The Economics of the Eurasian Union

The Russian economic crisis had a siginificant impact of the  on the EAEU. In the short run, there are few options for countries to decrease EAEU involvement to escape the effects of the Russian economic crisis. Of the member states, only Kazakhstan has economic alternatives to Russia and is the only state to have reduced its commitment. The main problem is not the economic crisis itself, but Western financial sanctions. To counter this, Russia has introduced a more protectionist economic policy and a Union-wide import substitution policy.

The EAEU provides Russia with uninterrupted access to the West through Belarus and facilitates migrant labor flows. Russia’s membership in the Union has benefited from trade liberalization both within the Union and through the WTO.

The economic prospects for further EAEU development depend on three main factors: when and if Russia begins structural reforms to alter its outdated growth model, without generating currency devaluation, high-level inflation, and pressure on its internal labor market; whether Eurasian integration can remain voluntary and flexible; and whether a formula of compatibility with other integration projects can be found.

The EAEU has tremendous potential on paper, particularly in facilitating development of remote oil and gas fields.  However, it is unlikely to emerge as a unified actor in the energy sector.

Grand Strategy for the Eurasian Union?

There is no shared grand strategy amongst EAEU members, with only Russia having an overarching strategy for the Union. However, the existence of a ‘grand strategy’ is a high bar for any young organization. The fate of the EAEU primarily depends on whether Russia can build a mutually beneficial partnership with the other members.  However, Russia’s economic problems might put some constraints on the extent to which it can implement its vision for Eurasia.

Russia sees the EAEU as a response to its two strategic challenges following the Soviet collapse: how to restore its relations with the countries of former Soviet Union and how to respond to the rise of China. Russia is employing the EAEU to counter growing Chinese economic influence in Central Asia. Yet, Russia will also try to get as many economic benefits from cooperation with China as possible.

Central Asian countries view will use the organization as another tool in their ‘local games’ to exploit Russian and Chinese interest in the region to their own advantage. China’s long-term interest in Central Asia means that the EAEU cannot be an exclusive integration in economic terms; however, the form and scope of Chinese-EAEU cooperation so far remain undetermined.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *