Armenia’s capital city, Yerevan, hosted a roundtable discussion “Eurasian Path of the Transcaucasia: Integration for Development” on December 4. The event brought together Armenian and Russian experts. One of the guests was Alexey Mukhin, Director General of the Center of Political Information.
At the Russian-Armenian (Slavonic) University, Alexey Mukhin presented his new book “Justification of the Eurasian Integration.” After the roundtable, Mukhin gave an exclusive interview to EADaily answering questions about the prospects of Armenia’s Eurasian integration and the future of the Eurasian project.
A straight and mercantile question: what dividends will Armenia gain in the Eurasian Union in both short-term and long-term outlook?
In the short-term outlook, it will have no visible dividends, as the Eurasian project is at the stage of self-regulation now. Every member is trying to find its own place in it and the advantages it may get there, negotiating with other members of the EEU to get those advantages. The freedom of every country ends where the freedom of the other starts. This applies to all the members of the union, without exception, and Russia too. It should be noted that Russia has no leading or directing role in this project. At the given stage, Russia is the guarantor of stability, mostly in the military field. In future, with the development of the Armed Forces of Belarus, Armenia and other EEU countries, this informal status of Russia will be levelled too.
Back to you question; no breakthrough should be expected in the short-term outlook. The living standards of the EEU countries will not attain a new quality immediately, as we are at the stage of self-regulation now. And it is natural. However, in the mid-term outlook, the situation will be quite different – we will become witnesses of how Armenia and other member-states will obtain a new social quality. Well, as Armenia joined the EEU, a huge – nearly three-hundred-million-strong market has opened to it. It will take time to tap such a huge market. Nothing happens at a wave of magic wand. The things are happening and we can see that Armenian products previously not known to Russian consumers have occurred at the Russian stores, and not only in Moscow. This is just the beginning of a long path.
In addition, Russia has recently added Turkey to the list of food import ban for a number of European countries, which created unique opportunities for the foodstuffs made in Armenia. Now, it is time for Armenia to catch the moment, not miss the chance. Moreover, the West’s sanctions against Russia make it more attentively listen to the needs and requests of the countries that are really friendly to it. In this sense, sanctions are a chance.
As for the long-term outlook, the establishment of a united security system is inevitable. It is of continued importance. Even economic advantages will pale into insignificance. Besides, a certain financial system will be developed that will help us avoid surcharges to the prices of the goods made in the partner-states. Now, we cannot avoid such surcharges, as, when trading, we convert the product costs into dollar, make deals, and covert the proceeds back to our national currencies and so on. Introduction of a united system of e-settlements (it is being discussed technically now) will help facilitating all these procedures for the national currencies.
There have been suggestions, including behind the scenes of the Eurasian Economic Commission, to create a single currency of the Eurasian Union. They even offered to name it ‘altyn’ and introduce it in 2022-2023.
Establishment of a single emission center in the EEU space is not discussed yet. The experience of the European Union, issue of banknotes and metal coins will create a problem like the one that existed between Russia and Belarus as part of the so-called Common State – Secretariat of the Union of Russia and Belarus, newspaper… and that’s all. There is even no parliament. Then they came across a question about where the emission center will be located. As far as I understand, the EEU weighs a common system of electronic settlements rather than a single currency. This will help making Eurasian countries less dependent on the external influence, particularly, dollar expansion.
There is no sense in issuing a single currency. It may be attacked from outside, like it is happening with euro now. The dollar vs. euro fight is open and severe. The European currency market is being ‘swallowed’ by dollar. Therefore, we should not create problems for us. Why should be throw stones on our way? Establishment of a common system of electronic settlement will help us avoid unnecessary risks, on the one hand, and will not let third parties to earn on the trade operations inside the Eurasian Union, on the other hand.
Removal of unnecessary mediators it is called…
Quite right, by the way, this will make the goods made inside the EEU much more competitive in the external markets.
Eurasian Union is officially called an economic union, but you have made a passing mention of the future materialization of other components of the Eurasian Union too. For instance, you mentioned the military component and the political one that automatically emerges from it. Few make such long-term forecasts now. What do you think of the future of this multi-layer integration union?
Well, discussion of the political component of the Eurasian Union is restricted now, which is a conscious decision connected with external reasons. We did not forget how nettlesome topic was the Eurasian project for our European and American ‘colleagues’ who are, in fact, not our colleagues, but quite aggressive rivals. They will be plotting and intriguing against the Eurasian Economic Union. There are some internal reasons too. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, each newly established state is independent and sovereign. This nuance should not be neglected.
Yet, there is a very strong circumstance. Actually, after the collapse of the USSR, Russia undertook and redeemed the Union’s debt securities and it is now in a kind of privileged position. This is an acknowledged fact. Therefore, Russia sends the following message: the political component of the EEU is not discussed at the current stage. Furthermore, it appears to me that it will not be discussed in future either. This is what will make this new model unique: it will be a commonwealth of really independent states, not the CIS we have used to, but a normal, alive, and effective commonwealth.
It will most probably be managed by a parliament – assembly. We will sooner or later arrive this this idea, anyway.
How will that assembly be formed?
If the Union is formed on the basis of the territorial principle, Russia will naturally ‘swallow’ that Union. The same will happen if we form it basing on the population of the EEU countries. That is why these two principles should be brushed away. Otherwise, we will suffer the birth pangs that the European Union had suffered. In the case of the EEU, it will probably be special representatives of the member-states, the number of which will be proportional to the basic principle of the EEU: one country - one vote. It is fair, as we are speaking about a commonwealth of really independent states.
Besides, we will actually have to reform the Eurasian Economic Commission. It is necessary to make it more functional. Then again, it is necessary to take into account the experience of the Brussels bureaucracy and avoid their mistakes. Otherwise, we will have a situation when Russia will be seamlessly trying to dominate upon others and press them. Russia understands this perfectly and – it is very important – tries to avoid this scenario.
It is hard to learn from mistakes of others…
We have no other choice. Actually, when creating this model we chose quite a new path. That is why we are progressing not as quickly as we would like to. If we had manuals that would help us build a functional and balanced model of the Eurasian Union, it would be easier, but had not any. And it is good, because we have certainly repeated (in good sense) the development path of the Russian Empire, but in a new quality. This will help the EEU not to split under pressure of any external or internal discrepancies, but mobilize when necessary and ‘relax’ when mobilization is not a necessity.
Let’s return to the beginning of our talk. You have said that the political component of the Eurasian Union will not be actualized in the near future, haven’t you?
The emphasis will be laid on the military component that will replace the political one. For instance, a single command will be created. Otherwise, there is no sense in it. CSTO can be considered a prototype of the Eurasian military organization that has not been spread out, unfortunately. It could not be done for a number of reasons. The CSTO mechanism is aimed at the external threats, this is what makes it valuable – it cannot be used against dissidents and others. This is actually a model that was put aside after being used several times for pedagogical purposes. Like NATO. For instance, Russia-Turkey war is impossible now, because Turkey is a NATO member. Just the same, few will dare to attack the CSTO countries knowing that all the member-states will rise against it. CSTO is an analogue. Unfortunately, the Russian troops are perceived as a panacea due to the global imbalance (which is observed inside NATO too). In this light, Russia risks to face the fate of U.S. in NATO and try to dominate by all means possible.
Russia and Armenia at CSTO is like U.S. and Latvia in NATO…
Maybe so, and it is necessary to change that situation. We have examples of NATO, EU and others. We must avoid such situations.
Do you forecast liquidation of the CSTO and its replacement with a new organization meeting the needs of the Eurasian Union?
I would not call it liquidation. It will rather be ‘wrapped up.’ Instead of a political union we will get a military bloc that will settle the acute problems the Eurasian space has faced.
Eventually, we will have an “economic NATO,” won’t we?
You are quite right.
There is a very popular opinion that Russia as a driving force of the Eurasian processes yields to the West when it comes to the information presence in that very Eurasian space. To be fair, this has become a commonplace. I think the problem is the unwillingness of Eurasian functionaries to speak of the Eurasian Union’s problems, which are not few: Russian-Kazakh strain over ‘electricity,’ re-exported of sanctioned goods to Russia by Belarus etc. What is the reason of that problems and how to solve them? Are these problems permanent or we are experiencing a difficult period?
If you don’t mind, I would like to comment on the theses about the information war and Russia’s positions in it, first. It was so, at some time, indeed. However, passivity of thinking holds some people from refusing that stereotype. Let’s remember 2008 when during the Russian-Georgian conflict we really did nothing (in the information field – editor’s note). Now, let’s remember 2009-2010, when the West, Europe, finally understood the Russian-Georgian conflict the way we did. It was amazing, but it took them 2-3 years to understand that. Now, it will take much less time to solve such problem. Yet everything is not that easy, as a substantial part of global media resources is controlled by the United States. It is an acknowledged fact. In Russia alone, U.S. controls at least one/third of media resources. Inside the United States, media is fully controlled by the Government. They have to live with this.
They can always blame Russia for losing the information war. Here, we need to learn the experience of the Soviet Union and avoid overstraining. We respond to such accusations in the following way: “yes, sometimes we lose, but sometimes we win.” For instance, in the Syrian conflict, we are waging the information war quite well. Sometimes, we do it so good that Europe and America alarm that they are losing the information war.
What about the problems and strain inside the EEU?
Such strain and conflict will be emerging constantly. Furthermore, they may increase, but it will help us shape the Eurasian Union and make it more flexible in future. These conflicts do not lead to a collapse of the EEU. Quite the contrary, such conflicts make it stronger, as the EEU countries learn to live together. Russia has faced sanctions. Belarus and Kazakhstan say: “We have nothing to do with it. We are suffering loses.” Russia recommended them to wait for a while. Actually, Belarus and Kazakhstan demanded compensation from Russia for their inconveniences. However, it turned out later that they are able to recompense for their losses on their own. Simply, they began to do it in an exaggerated form, which could not but affect Russia’s economy. Therefore, a second wave of problems emerged when President of Russia Vladimir Putin said conditionally: “guys, let’s temper the pressure,” as it was going beyond all moral, ethical, trade and economic norms.
There is nothing tragic in such things, as they do not split the EEU, but help it transform. The people and the countries try to find more interesting ways out from new and new situations. The Union is tempering itself against any situations and is attaining a new quality.
Well, what are the most pressing challenges? Observers mainly point at the “Islamic State” (ISIL – a terrorist organization banned in Russia – editor’s note), the military-political-economic expansion of the West, exhausting resources and others. What do think about all that challenges?
I do not think ISIL is a real threat. It is as serious a threat as the Ebola virus. ISIL is a fake state that exists mainly virtually. My intuition tells me that at the moment when ISIL stops playing the role that has been assigned to it (when migration processes to Europe are no longer needed, when the collectors in U.S. and Europe receive everything they want to collect from the region, when turbulence in the oil market is no longer needed, when the state systems in Africa and Middle East are destroyed and everyone understands that it is better to trade rather than war etc.) it will simply disappear. ISIL will face the same fate with Al Qaeda that at a particular moment disappeared turning into a local organization not interesting to anyone.
One can clearly understand that ISIL is a stimulator of processes and when these processes end, there will be no need in that stimulator. This explains the fact that ISIL has just expanded the area of its influence after the U.S.-led coalition had bombed it within a year. Russia has changed the situation within two months, as it does not need that stimulator. Everyone had to admit that Russia’s Airspace Force has greatly stabilized the situation in Syria and a kind of rehabilitation started there. However, the consequences of the downed Su-24, threats against Russia from ISIL and other factors have emerged.
If ISIL is fake and virtual, why everyone is so afraid of it?
It is mainly Americans and Europeans who are afraid of it, as they do not understand what they are dealing with. ISIL is an idea, while in the West there are no ideas now. Crisis of ideas is one of the side effects of the consumer society. What has happened to the American dream? It no longer exists. It has absorbed itself. Even Americans admit that.
Doesn’t Russia experience a crisis of ideas? Has it an idea to put on a wider international agenda?
Sure, the idea Russia is promoting at the UN Security Council and General Assembly and everywhere in general is justice and observation of the International Law. This works. Just compare the UNGA five years ago and now. The difference is big. Previously, U.S. used it the way it wanted, pressed and forced it to adopt decisions it wanted. Now, the situation is different.
Yet, no everything is that smooth here either. There are pros and cons. There is a danger of overexcitement with hegemony – U.S. is actively and successfully pushing Russia towards it. This is fraught with Russia becoming “a copy” of the United States, the more so as the Russian establishment shows certain features of chauvinism, looking down on the ‘junior brothers’ etc. It is dangerous. Russia must stop in time not to turn into a second center of influence. Otherwise, they will blame us for everything like it happened to the Soviet Union.
There are pros too: the current world system is built on the basis on two centers. There were capitalistic and communistic systems that have been developing in the fight. The communistic system disappeared as it was a little defective from the very beginning. The capitalistic system lost its partner and stopped developing shifting to a phase of degradation. That is why “ISILs” and “Ukraines” emerge, the International Law is neglected amid legal nihilism, and the one who is stronger and ‘sharp-toothed’ wins the others. The world plunges into chaos that changes the system and makes it revive.
The situation with ISIL is clear. What about other threats?
I think the most serious threat is the exhausting resources. Yet, I see no reasons for pessimisms. It is clear that we will have to change the technological system throughout the Eurasian space to improve it and increase the efficiency coefficient of production and decrease the consumption of resources. This threat has a positive side too. It increases the adaptability to the streamline manufacture. In this context, possible exhausting of resources makes these resources more valuable. Eventually, we will return to high oil prices etc.
Along with the abovementioned threats, there is also a threat of disintegration. That threat is relevant for the entire Eurasian space. The ancient Roman principle divide et impera has been widely applied in the post-Soviet area. We must understand it and fight it, for instance by banning all the destructive non-commercial organizations. We have banned destructive religious sects. Why can’t we ban the destructive organizations too? The system of fight against the threat of disintegration is very simple and does not require any special knowledge, just political will.
You have mentioned a threat of disintegration of the post-Soviet area, while it is disintegrated already. Armenia is a EEU member, Georgia strives for NATO that the Baltics had joined earlier, Turkmenistan ‘has got lost on the map’, Azerbaijan is drifting in storm. How can we fight this?
When someone crawls somewhere, it crawls as long as it can. Unfortunately, Ukraine has crawled off farther than others did, as it has more resources. It burnt those resources on the Maidan. However, the more resources you spend on “crawling” to the wrong direction, the more painful the awakening will be. Some countries have been evidently caught by the virus of color revolution. It is not just a political word, but a real term that describes the technologies disease of the political system that disables it fully. Similar revolutions happened in Libya, Iraq. Afghanistan. These revolutions ruin national states. Similar processes happened in Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and to some-extent in Kyrgyzstan. The intensity of those processes was different, but those processes were based on similar models that incredibly resemble what was happening in the USSR in late 1980s: political decay.
The countries I have mentioned pass through the same processes but within their local systems. Strange as it may seem, Kyrgyzstan was the first to come to senses. I don’t know if it was the intuition of the local elites or the pride yielded to good sense, but they somehow understood that it was a path to nowhere. Eventually, experiencing all the charm of the color revolution, Kyrgyzstan jointed the EEU. I think the “Kyrgyz episode” is a good opportunity to discuss the problem of color revolutions and disintegration processes with Georgia, Ukraine and other countries that had suffered from that virus. They will arrive at this finally. So far, they are crawling away from the EEU and the farther they crawl, the harder their way back will be.