The session of the Valdai Discussion Club, titled “Greater Eurasia: From Political Idea to Step-by-Step Implementation,” was held on 7 February 2018 in Moscow the framework of the Russian Business Week 2018. The event was attended by laboratory assistant of the Eurasian sector, CCEIS, Higher School of Economics Nadezhda Tynnikova and correspondent, analytical portal “Eurasian Studies” Peter Brusnitsyn.
Opening the discussion, Timofei Bordachev, Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club, Director of the Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, said that the idea of Greater Eurasia, proposed by Russian experts, is of big interest. For example, the Chinese colleagues consider it as an attempt to formulate a proper image of the future, rather than to borrow it from the outside. One of the main conclusions of the session was that Russia should not make a choice between Europe and Asia, it is necessary to balance the system of its partnerships in the West and in the East. The participants also agreed, that the concept of the Great Eurasian Partnership is under discussion and it is early to talk about the applied nature of the initiative.
Tatyana Valovaya, Member of the Board – Minister, Development of Integration and Macroeconomics, Eurasian Economic Commission (ECE), explained that the concept, used to be called “Greater Europe”, has now become “Greater Eurasia”. Their main difference is the assembly point. Previously, according to the minister, the assembly point was the European Union, which standards were planned to be used for integration development. Now the assembly point could become the EAEU. Russia and the EAEU need, on the one hand, to pursue actively their own integration, and on the other, to build a network of flexible partnerships with other states. The result will be the formation of a universal economic model, when we can talk about global governance. Thus, the idea of Greater Eurasia is the construction of a common space, Valovaya stressed.
At the same time, there are a number of challenges facing Greater Eurasia, including the need to involve business in the activities of integration groups, such as the Eurasian Economic Union, the SCO, BRICS. Alexander Shokhin, president of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP), urged the authorities to show the attractiveness of the Greater Eurasian partnership with emphasis on the fact, that it is not about zones of influence or interests. For example, the Eurasian Economic Union is a project of integration of interested parties, and not the re-creation of the Soviet Union. He also named important factors such as the formation of a common economic space with clear and predictable rules of the game, as well as guarantees for the development of the market environment. For example, in case of long-term projects, the conditions for doing business should be maintained for the entire period of their implementation.
Moreover, Shokhin drew attention to the fact that despite the turn of Russia to the East, which lasts for many years, the European Union remains the country’s main trade and investment partner. However, Valovaya argued, that the Russian importers have already turned to the East – imports from Asia became more extensive than from Europe.
Yaroslav Lissovolik, Programme director of the Valdai Discussion Club, chief economist with the Eurasian Development Bank, noted, that the scale of projects in the Eurasian space is becoming increasingly significant. At the same time, the expert is sure that the “construction material” for Greater Eurasia should be the regional blocs that most countries are guided by.
At the same time he pointed to the lack of interaction and cooperation between regional integration blocs. To solve this problem, according to Lissovolik, the development banks could play an important role.
Speaking about the development institutions, Shokhin lamented about the weak role of Russia there. For example, Russia’s share in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is less than that of the UK.
The participants in the discussion agreed that in order to overcome the territorial remoteness on the vast expanses of Eurasia, it is necessary to develop infrastructure, primarily the transport infrastructure. Transport is interesting to all parties. Moreover, as Valovaya emphasized, it is not only about railways or simply road transport, but also about digital highways.
Another important task to avoid the gaps in the Eurasian space, is the development of the communication environment. Andrey Bystritskiy, Chairman of the Board of the Foundation for the Development and Support of the Valdai Discussion Club, pointed to the low level of mutual knowledge and communication problems between Russia and the Asian countries, which also hampers integration despite clearly expressed political will, opportunities and resources.
Pavel Kabat, Director General and Chief Executive Officer, International Institute for Applied System Analysis (IIASA), called for the Eurasian idea discussion on a balanced platform with the participation of Europe, including energy, infrastructure, digitalization.