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Eurasian Economic Union Upheld as a Tranquil Force in a Turbulent Environment

The East’s counterpart to the European Union, the Russia-dominated Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), seems determined to avoid political pitfalls and focus exclusively on economics. At the May 25 summit in Moscow, leaders of its member states agreed to speed up the block’s consolidation rather than seek swift expansion.

Eurasian Economic Union Upheld as a Tranquil Force in a Turbulent Environment

Image: kremlin.ru

The EAEU’s fully-fledged members, along with Russia, are Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. Moreover, Moldova, Uzbekistan, and Cuba have observer status. Free trade agreements have been concluded with Vietnam, Serbia, Singapore, and Iran, while negotiations are ongoing with China, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Indonesia, Israel, Mongolia, and others. 

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The EAEU describes itself as an “international organization for regional economic integration” with an “international legal personality.” It aims to provide “free movement of goods, services, capital, and labour” as part of a harmonized system to “comprehensively upgrade, raise the competitiveness of and cooperation between the national economies” of member states and promote stable development and higher living standards. 

That’s certainly needed—in macroeconomic terms, the EAEU still shows significant discrepancies between member countries. According to IMF calculations, Kyrgyzstan’s gross domestic product only narrowly tops the equivalent of $1,000 per capita. In Armenia, the figure swirls around $4,500 and Kazakhstan’s is around $7,500, while in both Russia and Belarus, it tops $10,000.

EAEU Structure & Summit Meeting

The EAEU is governed by the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council, which consists of the heads of state of the five member countries. In reality, this body supervises the work of the executive branch, the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC), members of which are delegates from all member states and bear the title of minister. All measures decided by the EEC are sent to the member states’ parliaments, which after ratification, are included in their countries’ respective legislation.

The Supreme Council met at the recent summit on May 25. Several resolutions were adopted to remove trade barriers between member states, create a common export duty regime, and harmonize member states’ socioeconomic protection regimes. 

At the summit, Kazakhstan’s President Kassim-Jomart Tokayev described Kazakhstan’s vision of the Union’s development as “consistently building up the potential of our countries. That is, projects, technologies, working places, taxes” to “take the Eurasian Economic Union to a higher level.” He stressed the maintenance of macroeconomic stability and the increasing pace of growth and mutual trade, noting that Kazakhstan’s trade with fellow EAEU member countries had risen by 74%, with exports increasing by 98%.

Image: rt.com

Tokayev’s counterpart from Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, stated a belief that more than a quarter of the industrial goods imported into the Union (about $70 billion a year) could be “replaced by the products of national manufacturers” but underlined that member states “have to trust each other. We have to be together; we have to be closer. This is what the Eurasian Economic Union was created for.” Avoiding the proverbial Ukrainian elephant in the room, he insisted, “We are developing integration not for the purpose of any confrontation. We want to create a multipolar, equal and safe space for life.”

As for Uzbekistan, its current observer status is widely considered to be a springboard for full future membership. Uzbek President Shavkat Mirzoyev reported that his country already actively participates in multilateral EAEU projects aimed at developing mutually beneficial trade and economic cooperation, noting a 23% growth in its trade turnover with the group in 2022. He noted a three-year Joint Action Plan through which “over 200 events have been held to harmonize legislation with international standards, exchange regulatory experiences, and remove barriers that hinder the development of mutually beneficial cooperation in trade, economic, and transport-communication spheres.”  

Apple of Discord

The cautious determination to focus on economics rather than politics is understandable from a historical perspective. In 2014, before the EAEU was launched, the Guardian[1] predicted it would be “the most advanced organization for regional cooperation the former Soviet bloc has seen, an achievement preceded by many false starts.” 

Ukraine initially decided to join the new grouping and thus dumped its planned association treaty with the EU. That decision likely was one of the triggers that led to the clashes known as “Euro Maidan,” supported if not entirely provoked by the U.S. and EU. The ultimate result was the toppling of the then-Ukrainian government, replaced by a pro-Western regime. While seen from an EU/U.S. perspective as a victory for democracy, this was anathema to Moscow and eventually led to the division of Ukraine: according to one’s geopolitical perspective, Crimea and parts of Donetsk and Luhansk/Lugansk regions breaking away or being occupied in 2014. 

Widening the Goalposts

While persuading the West that a Russia-dominated EAEU can be ‘neutral’ given the ongoing warfare in Ukraine, the grouping nonetheless aims to find an important place amongst other often overlapping blocs, notably BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), SCO (the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation), and ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations). Last week, China welcomed the idea of stronger side-by-side cooperation suggesting that the blend of caution and determination appears to be the EAEU’s best trump cards.

A May 24 press release quoting Mikhail Myasnikovich, Board Chairman of the Eurasian Economic Commission, said, “A number of the world’s major economies are oriented towards separate development” and noted that in 2022, foreign trade between EAEU States and the SCO and BRICS groupings “rose by more than 40% with a 1.6-fold increase in the Union export.”

The idea was also floated of forming a single transport and logistics framework for the Eurasian macroregion with “seven corridors in order to ensure the seamless movement of goods across the territory of our States,” adding that these need to be extended to ASEAN and SCO countries “and, of course, ensure access to Europe.”



By Charles van der Leeuw, co-founder of Caspian Business News (Baku https://www.info-clipper.com/en/company/azerbaijan/caspian-business-news-newspaper-publisher.azd9xoa1s.html) and author of Cold War II: Cries in the desert – or how to counterbalance NATO’s propaganda from Ukraine to Central Asia (2015).

[1] October 28, 2014