Past and Current Features of the Eurasian Integration

_ Angela Di Gregorio, professor, University of Milan. Milan, 2017. Published for debate.

The strengtheningof the integration processes in the former Soviet region during the last six years has attracted the attention of the countries and institutions in the Euro-Atlantic region as well as of academics. Assessments are mostly critical for two different reasons.

First, because specialists do not believe in the real viability of this new integration format as they clearly remember past failed attempts.[1] Second, because these phenomena are mainly seen as an obvious tactic by Russia to reinforce its geopolitical influence in the region with the aim of countering a similar increase in the domain of influence from the Euro-Atlantic side.[2]

Despite the slowdown of the progress of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) owing mainly to the economic crisis (i.e. the fall in the price of raw materials and the sanctions against Russia) and the fact that the truly supranational elements are struggling to make headway and in some ways have decreased since the transition from the Eurasian Economic Community (the competences of the Court, for example[3]), the phenomenon continues to arouse interest as evidenced by the increasing number of publications dedicated to this subject.[4]

Considering that research works of the matter are mainly focused on geopolitical aspects (which are relevant in every kind of regional integration), it is extremely important to also have a historical and legal outlook. In addition, the integration in the Eurasian space – which is not confined to the Eurasian Economic Union – deserves some comment from the perspective of regional and supranational dynamics.[5]

As for the cultural profile, Eurasianism is a ‘theory’ that dates back to the 1920s and 1930s[6] and which has recently been reinvigorated. The so-called neo-Eurasianism[7] was developed in the 1990s and is reflected today in Russia in the programs of some ultranationalist political forces. However, the concept of Eurasianism, albeit in its more moderate and pragmatic forms, has featured in the foreign policy rhetoric of post-Soviet leadership for several years both in Russia and in Kazakhstan.[8]

A milestone of this new approachis the well-known and much quoted article publishedby Putin in the newspaper Izvestiia on the third of October 2011(‘A new integration project for Eurasia: The future which is being born today’). In it, Putin accurately describes the intentions and the stages of the project making a comparison with the European integration process. Given the language and tone of the article one can easily perceive the practical nature of the integrative project that Putin envisaged would take place ini ncremental stages, ultimately resulting in a political ‘Eurasian Union’. Whilst the integration was not intended to be perceivedas being opposed to the European political approach to the countries of the Eastern Partnership, it was actually developed to counter them (given that the article was published about a week after the Warsaw summit of the EU and the countries of the Eastern Partnership).The tone of the rhetoric was peaceful and aimed at the integration of a very wide spectrum of those same Eurasian countries and the EU.[9] Asthe article states,

“It is not, primarily, to rebuild the USSR in one way or another. It is naive to attempt to restore or copy what belongs to the past but closer integration on the basis of new political and economic values is a productof the times”.[10]

As noted by K.Wolczuk and R. Dragneva,[11] the Eurasian economic integration was a top-down initiative and achieved with remarkable speed over a few years, starting with the Customs Union, which came into operation on 1 June 2011, and eventually transitioned into the Eurasian Economic Union, which commenced formal operations on1 January 2015 while continuing to develop its design of enlargement and of deepening the integration.[12]

The promoters of the project Russia and Kazakhstan, see in the birth of the Eurasian Economic Union the culmination of a path started about 20 years earlier by Nazarbaev’s famous speech at Moscow University in 1994 (for Putin this initiative has an even earlier start date going back to the founding of the Commonwealth of Independent States), and characterized by a series of milestones for increasing integration. However, it is above all since the implementation of the Customs Union that a true supranational integrativepathbegan to make some headway (in 2011 Putin stressed that “…The main feature of the Customs Union and the Single Economic Space is the presence of supranational [nadgosudarstvennye] structures”).[13]

It was, essentially, the product of an agreement between leaders. However, from an economic point of view, as well as geopolitical and cultural ones, such integration has its own reason originating from very specific roots. First, the member states of the Eurasian Economic Union share close and historic ties. They were originally part of the Tsarist Empire in a centralized state and following a brief interlude of unstable national independence found themselves back as part of an empire, this time a Soviet one, legally defined as a federal state but centralized according to the logic of communist ideology. The disintegration of the USSR was followed by the birth of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) as a simulacrum of integration between countries now sovereign and fiercely determined to keep this sovereignty. The CIS is basically an association of sovereign states (coordinating interstate association)[14] with few ties and little integration coupled with a variable geometry in which bilateral relations prevail under the strong hegemonic influence of Russia. With the crises of Georgia (2008) and Crimea (2014), its role has been further marginalized. The main reason for this lack of effectiveness comes from the fact that once they had obtained their independence, often thanks to strong national movements in favor of sovereignty (not just in the Baltic countries but also evident in Ukraine and other Western Republics of the USSR), none of the successor countries of the USSR was willing to encourage strong links with Russia. Moreover, at least until 2000, Russia was a country in deep economic, social, ideological, and even identity crises, threatened by internal disintegration and unable to advocate closer ties with countries of the ‘outer belt’, despite the attempt to create a confederal union with Belarus.

This internal weakness was mirrored by an external weakness as the internal resurgence had been followed by external manifestations. But the strengthening of Russia (thanks to the favorable economic situation and Putin’s strong leadership) was accompanied by a similar strengthening of national (sometimes multinational) identity of the countries of the so-called ‘near abroad’ (this term is being gradually substituted with the adjective ‘Eurasian’[15]). These would no longer accept a significant limitation of their sovereignty, already undermined in some cases by internal secessionist tendencies. This accounts for why the renewed aggregative project would have necessarily played a purely economic role and included, at least initially, only a limited number of countries, not coincidentally the three most closely linked – at the leadership level – from the earliest post-Soviet years.[16]

Culturally and ethnically a renewed pact between the former Soviet Republics has many common roots such as the distribution of a Russian-speaking population in all these countries, a common language, infrastructure, history, etc.Eurasian integration in that region has therefore always existed; indeed, it is inherent in the very DNA of these countries, in their dual nature particularly evident in the case of Russia, albeit with ups and downs depending on the historical period. However, the reference to the common past is likely to have a negative role today, for this reason it is preferable to use the adjective ‘Eurasian’ instead of ‘post-Soviet’.[17]

As an inevitable consequence of the size of Russia it is clearly not a pact between equals. Yet, the resurgence of Russia as a Eurasian power was accompanied by a series of rather ambiguous pieces of internal legislation, such as the act “On the incorporation of a new subject in the Russian Federation and the establishment in it of a new subject of the Federation” (17 December 2001), which was clearly prepared with an eye to Belarus and even to Serbia (at the time of the NATO bombing), and was subsequently swiftly revised to justify the ‘incorporation’ of the Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol.[18]


[1] F. Garces De Los Fayos, The Signature of the Eurasian Union Treaty: A Difficult Birth, an Uncertain Future, Directorate-General for External Policies, Policy Department, Bruxelles, 2014; K. Boguslavska, ‘The First Steps of the Eurasian Economic Union: Disputes, Initiatives and Results’, Russian Analytical Digest, No. 170, 2015, available at: <>; G. Chufrin, ‘Eurasian Economic Union: Undergoing a Durability Test’, Russian Analytical Digest, No. 170, 2015, available at: <>.

[2] On the competition between Russia and the EU in order to attract Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in their own sphere of influence, see, among others, A. Skriba, ‘Challenges of Eurasian Integration After the Ukrainian Crisis’, International Organizations Research Journal, Vol. 9(3), 2014. See also L. Delcour, ‘Between the Eastern Partnership and Eurasian Integration: Explaining Post-Soviet Countries’ Engagement in (Competing) Region-Building Projects’, Problems of Post-Communism, Vol. 62, 2015.

[3] On this point please refer to A.S. Ispolinov, ‘Evraziiskoe pravosudie: ot suda soobshchestva k sudu soiuza’(Eurasian Justice: From the Community Court to the Union Court), Gosudarstvo i pravo, No. 1, 2015.

[4] For example: J. Linn & D. Tiomkin, ‘The New Impetus towards Economic Integration between Europe and Asia’, Asia Europe Journal, No. 4, 2006; A. Gleason, ‘Eurasia: What Is It? Is It?’, Journal of Eurasian Studies, Vol. 1(1), 2010; E.T. Bail’dinov, ‘Osobennosti sovremennogo evraziiskogo integratsionnogo pravoporiadka’ (Features of the Modern Eurasian Integration Law), Evraziiskii Iuridicheskii Zhurnal, No. 10, 2012; A. Libman, ‘Studies of Regional Integration in the CIS and in Central Asia: A Literature Survey’, EDB Centre for Integration Studies, Report No. 2, 2012; A. Libman & E. Vinokurov, ‘Regional Integration and Economic Convergence in the Post-Soviet Space: Experience of the Decade of Growth’, Journal of Common Market Studies, Vol. 50(1), 2012; A. Libman & E. Vinokurov, Holding Together Regionalism: Twenty Years of Post-Soviet Integration, Palgrave Macmillan, UK, 2012; K.A. Bekiashev & E.G. Moiseev, Pravo Evraziiskogo ekonomicheskogo soiuza (The Law of the Eurasian Economic Union), Prospekt, Moskva, 2015; S.Iu. Kashkin (Ed.), Integratsionnoe pravo v sovremennom mire: sravnitel’no-pravovoe issledovanie (Integration Law in the Modern World: Comparative Law Research), Prospekt, Moskva, 2015; R.A. Kurbanov, ‘Evraziiskoe pravo: protsessy formirovaniia’(Eurasian Law: The Processes of Formation), Gosudarstvo i pravo, No. 9, 2015.

[5] Please refer to Zh. Kembaev, Legal Aspects of the Regional Integration Processes in the Post-Soviet Area, Springer-Verlag, Berlin Heidelberg, 2009; J. Roessler, ‘Eurasia: Reemergence of Two World Regions – the Effects of Interregionalism on Regional Integration’, Asia Europe Journal, Vol. 7(2), 2009; E. Vinokurov & A. Libman, Eurasian Integration: Challenges of Transcontinental Regionalism, Palgrave Macmillan, UK, 2012; N. Wirminghaus, ‘Ephemeral Regionalism: The Proliferation of (Failed) Regional Integration Initiatives in Post-Soviet Eurasia’, in T. Boerzel, L. Goltermann, M. Lohaus & K. Striebinger (Eds.), Roads to Regionalism: Genesis, Design, and Effects of Regional Organisations, Ashgate, Aldershot, 2012; T. Risse, ‘The Diffusion of Regionalism, Regional Institutions, Regional Governance’, in T. Risse & T. Börzel (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Comparative Regionalism, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2016.

[6] We refer to the works of well-known scholars (linguists, geographers, ethnographers, historians, lawyers, economists, philosophers, anthropologists and scholars of religions) such as N.S. Trubetskoi, P.S. Savitskii, G.V. Vernadskii, N.N. Alekseev, L.N. Gumilev.

[7]It is a kind of cultural synthesis between Westernism and Slavophilism. A. Ferrari, ‘La Russia e i progetti di integrazione eurasiatici’, available at: <> (accessed on 9 January 2017); Ju.I. Skuratov, ‘Evraziiskaia paradigma Rossii i nekotorye problemy integratsii na prostranstve sodruzhestva nezavisimykh gosudarstv’ (Eurasian Paradigm of Russia and Some Problems of Integration in the Commonwealth of Independent States’ Space), Gosudarstvo i pravo, No. 2, 2015. See also M. Laruelle, ‘Eurasia, Eurasianism, Eurasian Union: Terminological Gaps and Overlaps’, PONARS Eurasia, available at: <>.

[8] As for other presidents, see A.G. Lukashenko, ‘O sudbakh nashei integratsii’(On the Fate of Our Integration), Evraziiskoe ekonomicheskoe soobshchestvo, available at: <>; N.A. Nazarbaev, ‘Evraziiskii Soiuz: ot idei k istorii budushego’(Eurasian Union: From the Idea to the History of the Future), Izvestiia, 25 October 2011, available at: <> (accessed on 9 January 2017).See also G. Mostafa, ‘The Concept of ‘Eurasia’: Kazakhstan’s Eurasian Policy and Its Implications’, Journal of Eurasian Studies, Vol. 4(2), 2013.

[9]See also the speech delivered by Putin on the occasion of his inauguration as President on 8 May 2012.

[10] “…We set ourselves an ambitious project: to proceed to the next, higher level of integration, the Eurasian Union (Evraziiskii Soiuz) […]. We propose a model of a powerful supranational community (nadnatsionalnoe obedinenie), capable of becoming one of the poles of the modern world and for that playing an effective role as ‘glue’ between Europe and the dynamic Asia-Pacific region […]. In the development of this idea we suggest the Europeans to think together to create a harmonious community of economies that goes from Lisbon to Vladivostok, a free trade zone and even more interconnected forms of integration”.

[11] R. Dragneva & K. Wolczuk, ‘Eurasian Economic Integration: Institutions, Promises and Faultlines’, available at: <> (accessed on 9 January 2017). See also R. Dragneva & K. Wolczuk (Eds.), Eurasian Economic Integration.Law, Policy and Politics, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, 2013.

[12] To compare the different stages, see the report ‘Eurasian Economic Integration: Facts and Figures’, on the website of the Eurasian Economic Commission, available at: <> (accessed on 9 January 2017). In Italian please refer to M. Ganino & C. Filippini, Dall’URSS alla Comunità di Stati Indipendenti, CUESP, Milano, 1992; C. Filippini, ‘Dalla Comunità economica eurasiatica all’Unione economica eurasiatica: un’evoluzione complessa a più velocità’, Federalismi, No. 18, 2014. As for Russian literature please refer to V.P. Zharkov, A.O. Zhuk, D.E. Letniakov, V.S. Malakhov & M.E. Simon, Politicheskie protsessy na postsovetskom prostranstve (Political Processes in the Post-Soviet Space), Rossiiskaia Akademiia narodnogo khoziaistva i gosudarstvennoi sluzhby pri Prezidente Rossiiskoi Federatsii, Moskva, 2015, pp. 22-26. The next most likely members could be Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which were already members of the Eurasian Economic Community (Uzbekistan later went out). But the target is even more ambitious: Turkey (before the crisis due to the Syrian War), Azerbaijzan and some Balkan countries (Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece). This is the thesis of V. Balytnikov & D. Boklan, ‘Evraziiskii ekonomicheskii Soiuz: predposylki sozdania, problemi formirovaniia, perspektivi razvitiia’(Eurasian Economic Union: Formation Conditions, Building’s Problems, Development Perspectives), Sravnitelnoe konstitutsionnoe obozrenie, Vol. 3(106), 2015.

[13] However, only the Eurasian Economic Union will be officially called “International Economic Organization” (Art. 1, Para. 2 “The Union shall be an international organization of regional economic integration and shall have international legal personality”). The EurAsEC Treaty of 10 October 2000 called this an “International Organization” (Art. 1).

[14] The initial Agreement (Soglashenie o sozdanii Sodruzhestva nezavisimykh gosudarstv) signed on 8 December 1991, did not even give a definition of the type of organization, providing only that “The High Contracting Parties constitute the Commonwealth of Independent States” (Art. 1). The CIS Charter adopted on 22 January 1993 underlined rather what the CIS was not and emphasized the sovereignty of the states: “The Commonwealth shall be based on sovereign equality of its members. The member states shall be independent and equal subjects of international law […]. The Commonwealth shall not be a state and shall not be supranational” (Art. 1). The institutional version of the CIS, considerably strengthened by the adoption of the Charter, along with a number of common features differs slightly from traditional intergovernmental organizations: this testifies the legal and institutional incompleteness of the Commonwealth. According to S.A. Voitovich, ‘The Commonwealth of Independent States: An Emerging Institutional Model’, European Journal of International Law, No. 4, 1993, pp. 403-417, “CIS can be considered an intergovernmental organization which may act as an international legal person in the field of its competence on the basis of appropriate decisions of the supreme organ”. The Art. 1.1. of the “Conception of the further development of the CIS”, approved on 5 October 2007, states that “Commonwealth of Independent States − is a form of cooperation between equal independent states which the international community recognizes as a regional intergovernmental organization”.

[15] Zharkovet al. 2015, p. 24. The Treaty of 8 December 1991 was addressed not only to the former members of the USSR but also to other states “which share the principles and objectives” of the agreement. Following Ganino & Filippini 1992, p. 4, “The initial absence of the Asian Republics suggests a more Eurocentric project that could attract other former socialist states”.

[16]The transition to thefirst realstepof integration, namely theCustoms Union, was made possibleprecisely because thecountries of the formerUSSRhad managedin the meantimeto consolidate their sovereignty andindependence. However, Kazakhstan has sought to promote the Eurasian integration since Eltsin’s time for two main reasons: to maintain political influence inside the country (like Belarus) and to facilitate its entry into the WTO. Cf. N. Kassenova, Kazakhstan and Eurasian Economic Integration: Quick Start, Mixed Results and Uncertain Future, IFRI, Centre Russie Nei Reports, Paris, No. 14, 2012, available at: <>; S.B. Biriukov & E.L. Riabova, Evraziiskaia integratsiia: Respublika Kazakhstan kak primer gosudarstvennogo stroitel’stva i uchastiia v integratsionnykh protsessakh (Eurasian Integration: The Republic of Kazakhstan as a Model of State Building and Participation to the Integration Processes), Etnosotsium, Moskva, 2015.

[17]See E. Vinokurov, ‘O evraziiskoi lingvistike’(About Eurasian Linguistic), Evraziiskaia ekonomicheskaia integratsiia, No. 4(13), 2011, available at: <> (accessed on 9 January 2017); E. Vinokurov & A. Libman, ‘Eurasia and Eurasian Integration: Beyond the Post-Soviet Borders’, Eurasian Integration Yearbook, 2012, available at:< EDB> (accessed on 9 January 2017).

[18]See the critical opinion of the Venice Commission on the draft law on the amendment, available at: <> (accessed on 9 January 2017).

Leave a Reply

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