_ Caress Schenk, assistant professor, Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev University. Astana, 13 June 2018.
– How do you think has the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) influenced the economies of its member states? In your evaluation, has the Union achieved its goals or has it been just working as a political-economic leverage for Russia?
– Certainly the EAEU creates some leverage for Russia, but it shouldn’t be seen as leverage only in one direction for Russia against the other countries in the union. Each country has their own interests in being involved and membership provides some leverage against Russia for each as well. One example from the migration sphere is that when Kyrgyzstan was negotiating to join the union, it successfully lobbied to have a number of its citizens taken of the blacklist or entry ban list, which kept them from entering Russia (i.e. going to work in Russia). Also, there are complex relationships between each of the member countries. For example, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan last year had a diplomatic scuffle that made border crossings and trade complicated despite the EAEU agreements having been in effect for several years.
– It seems that the EAEU has some special privileges when it comes to migration among the member states. What could those privileges be, and how can they effect the immigration trend? How will this situation affect the economy of Russia and Central Asian states?
– There are benefits. The EAEU is supposed to allow a free flow of labor between all five member countries. Meaning any citizen of any country can go work in any of the other countries without having to have a work permit, work visa, etc. The EAEU didn’t really change much for citizens of Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus, who already had preferential policies in place. But for migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan, who work in Russia and Kazakhstan, this is a big benefit. It doesn’t work well in practice, though. Because in order to work legally, migrants must have a labor contract with their employer. Many don’t, however, because employers don’t want to pay the taxes that would be required if they registered migrants’ work officially. Official numbers of Kyrgyz in Russia and Kazakhstan may rise (i.e. living with official status and permission to be located in the country), but their work doesn’t tend to be any more legal than before. Moreover, Kyrgyz in Russia have fallen out of the statistics because there is no standard procedures or mechanisms for registering their work (i.e. labor contracts) in a systematic way.
– In recent years, we have seen that the issue of migrant workers has been a leverage for Russia in dealing with some Central Asian states, especially Kyrgyzstan. After establishment of the EAEU, has there been any change in that Russian leverage? What has Russia done in this regard?
– Yes, there’s leverage in both directions. Why would Russia give up some control? Well, no country can have what it wants all the time on every issue. There are carrots and there are sticks, there is give and there is take. Russia needs labor. Its population is declining, and especially for low-qualified labor or workers in the service sector, the country would essentially stop working if it weren’t for migrants. So the sending countries have power too. We’ve seen this not only among countries of the EAEU but between Russia and Tajikistan, where Russia’s power is somewhat limited because of their need for migrants (i.e. there was a situation with a Russian pilot in Tajikistan a few years back, I can’t remember the details).