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Strategic stalemate of EAEU: How should Russia “gain Europe?”

Vladimir Putin. Photo: riafan.ru

Starting a joint business, the sides should see its final or at least pilot goal and reach an understanding before going into something together. Otherwise, they will yield to other projects due to an inadmissibly small payback of time and efforts and ill-concealed conflicts. A political project, for instance, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), is not an exception.

Another factor of success is the project’s attractiveness for new partners and a chance to get more investments. A question arises as to whether Russia is ready for such commonwealth for instance with 70-million-strong Central Asia and Kazakhstan? There are no other resources for expansion, not counting the suggestions to admit the 80-million-strong Turkey into the EAEU, which implies Azerbaijan too. Such suggestions have become too frequent to call them spontaneous ideas. The intensity of such offers will just increase with EAEU’s successful expansion into Central Asia. As to Armenia, it proved to be not so friendly due to its multi-vector policy.

Anyway, the most important condition for an integration project to make success is a common goal based on a common ideology defining it.

EU has at least “totalitarian tolerant” but uniting ideology. It is for a reason that Brussels threatens Hungary and Poland with “punishment” for opposing its uncommon rights and freedoms. What is the ideology of EAEU? It has no ideology. We claim that lack of ideology is what gives EurAsEC advantage to EU and ignore the fact that without ideology there is no union as such, just a range of versatile agreements.

It might seem that EAEU (previously Customs Union) has chosen a winning tactics by studying successes and failures of EU, putting aside or adopting this or that standard.

Business quarters, parliaments and government of some EU countries often criticize sanctions imposed on Russia, but once in six months all these critics extend these sanctions for “all-European solidarity.” Meantime, there is no such solidarity on the oppose side. Let’s recall “Belarusian” prawns and oysters or the fact that Minsk sends its cargoes to Lithuanian and Latvian ports, but not to Ust-Luga port, despite Russia’s big share in Belarus’ export products. The problems with certainly increased logistic costs could be settled in case of political will. Yet, no one has even hinted at political solidarity within EAEU. The voting at UN against anti-Russian resolutions are not enough to speak of the solidarity of EAEU and CSTO (there were cases when they abstained from voting). Many countries vote against anti-Russian resolutions, for instance, China, India and SAR.

Economic interests and the ideology they set develop constantly. Therefore, any union either develops towards maximum possible cooperation or degrades. “This game cannot be paused.”

Things are even worse at CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization). What “common values” do our armies defend? There are no such values. There is an elementary desire to make use of Russia amid talks about “Russia’s bastion in the South Caucasus” or “key strategic ally in Central Asia.”

Meantime, the “bastion” signs a comprehensive cooperation agreement with EU literally saving that anti-Russian organization, while the “strategic ally” in Central Asia sums up regular joint drills with NATO near Almaty and adopts a new military doctrine against “hybrid threats.”

Any analyst will explain that EU should either become the United States of Europe or collapse. This is a usual topic for discussion. How to become a single state easily and quickly: either through “multi-speed integration” (Merkel’s idea is to create a state of Eurozone with admission of others “as they mature”) or through unification of all the countries at once in a union of “a colonial power and colonies” (Macron’s idea: the colonial power controls the budgets of others).

Meantime, no analyst will dare to say that EAEU shall either become the United States of Eurasia or collapse. Why? Simply, because all the five members of the EAEU lack both common goal of integration and a uniting ideology that stems from it. Furthermore, the goals run contrary to each other and even talks on a single state are impossible. If they in Russia suggest this, it will look as “imperialism,” if they in the other four states do it, it will mean a high treason.

Probably, in Yerevan they think that they have the right to expect Russia to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh with the Azerbaijani districts around it simple because Armenia is the “bastion of Russia” and does not want to return those lands. They do not want to admit that Russia implements its functions of a mediator in the Karabakh peace process just to balance the relations with Yerevan and Baku. They do not want to admit that Russia has its interests in Azerbaijan and around it, not only in the Armenian direction, but also in direction of Iran and the Caspian Sea region. Instead, Armenia should comprehend that it has never been “inherently valued” for Russia (the route to India, to the Suez Canal and the Black Sea straits from the east is a historical fiction) and Armenia should not play the games wherein it may become “a convertible asset.”

Kazakhstan leans towards non-binding integration forms that can be easily and painlessly terminated in case of favorable conditions. Russia has no military bases in Kazakhstan, only some profitable facilities. They build a monoethnic state at the same time. What happens in Kazakhstan resembles the situation in…Belarus. The only difference is that in Kazakhstan they push out Russians, whereas in Belarus, they push everything Russian out of the Russians. Today, the Belarusian youth are sure that Mindaugas was “a Lithuanian, and consequently, Belarusian, and that Moskovia invaded Lithuania-Belarus.” The Ukrainian youth believe that Vladimir was a “Ukrainian duke” and his state was officially called “Kiev State.” Furthermore, the Union State of Belarus and Russia, which they use to get economic preferences, has turned into “the so-called Union State” in the statements by the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.

In 1990-1991, it was still possible to find certain ideology able to unite and replace the collapsing Soviet ideology. 70 years had created certain fragile and contradictory but common cultural code even in Central Asia. It was not an ideological code, but a simple “urban” cultural code, basically European. It helped some people watch films, listen to Soviet, European and Eastern pop music, while others with different views used to argue in the kitchen and understand each other.

All this has remained in the past. Central Asia did not fight for independence, it even feared independence. Do you remember the variety of projects to save the Soviet Union in 1991? Moscow-based mass media called the republics with the names of ethnic headwear. In those projects, there have always been two or three “ushankas,” one or two “papakhas” and always three “tyubeteikas”. Once awakening independent and making sure (in 1993) that the Union will not be back, the local elites started catching up with what they had lost. This has resulted in six-seven millions of displaced persons, refugees in full sense of the word. Many intellectuals of “titular” ethnic groups moved to Russia, but failed to find their true identity in the format they sought.

The Central Asian leaders who studied in Moscow and Leningrad and spent the first half of their careers in the corridors of the Central Committee of All-Union Leninist Young Communist League and Communist Party of the Soviet Union suddenly felt a visceral hatred to everything resembling the Soviet and Russian past, starting from literature up to architecture. Considering that the Russian culture is inherently European, both in socialist and conservative capacities, Europe was actually pushed out too. The weakened, urban European culture has lost its foundation and was destroyed.

Ideal of these “emirs” is certain mix of Turkey, Dubai, South Korea and Singapore. So far, they have come close to Afghanistan. And Afghanistan is coming closer to them. Many today claim the laurels of “USSR grave-digger.” In fact, Afghanistan may become the “grave-digger” of the existing integration projects in the post-Soviet territory by just showing how ineffective they are.

Donald Trump’s statement to expand the NATO troops in Afghanistan from 13,000 to 16,000 people for “final victory over the enemy” can be explained in different ways. Perhaps, like Barack Obama, Trump does not want to become a “looser-president” who will withdraw the last troops and speed up the fall of Kabul. Maybe, he really hopes to destroy Taliban and ISIS that expanded into larger territories after withdrawal of the coalition forces in late 2015. Before the U.S. intervention in 2001, the north of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan was hostile to Taliban, whereas now Taliban controls hundreds of villages and districts in Badashkhan and Kundiz provinces. ISIS that controlled several valleys in Nangarhar (Jalalabad) on the border with Pakistan, has gained foothold on the border with Turkmenistan too.

Anyway, the United States’ actions work for reconciliation of Taliban and ISIS that were destroying each other yet not so long ago. Now they at least observe the borders of each other’s zones of influence. Washington harshly criticizes Moscow’s efforts to force Taliban to talk with Kabul, which means that Washington pursues an alliance of Taliban and ISIS.

Afterwards, it will not be hard to pull out 13,000 troops of U.S. and NATO, including six soldiers and an officer of Estonia. Moscow, Beijing, Tehran will get a war on their borders for many years. Ankara will not manage to stay aside of all this either. Most of the routes of China-Europe corridor will be endangered. The role of U.S. as an arbiter between the “old ally” Pakistan and “new ally” India will grow. “Just pros, and no cons.”

The Kremlin has neither time nor opportunity to improve what is unimprovable. It had to get ready for that war long ago. First of all, it has to create one reliable military and strategic border instead of the three loose borders between the Amu Darya and Ural (see “Questions on new history for Nursultan Nazarbayev). The second task is a strict migration control. The agreement with Uzbekistan on labor migrants should be welcomed, since it toughens the inspection of migrants for ties with extremist organizations. Paradoxically, the authoritarian Tashkent fights religious extremism, while democratic Bishkek has turned its southern regions into hotbed of extremism. Despite this, the control of Uzbek migrants has been toughened, whereas the Kyrgyz migrants travel to Russia freely. The third but not least important task is to restrain ethnocratic regimes in Russian regions, particularly, in the Volga Region, who are ready to whip up a crisis through compulsory teaching of the Tatar language at schools and then adopt “a wise decision” with the only goal to show how important is their role.

This is the most important task to implement in the Central Asia. I am not speaking about breach of relations, economic and military ones, with Central Asian states. I am speaking about setting priorities for further development.

Supposing (just supposing!) that the Kremlin did not have too high expectations from EAEU and CSTO from the very beginning, the task was to make Europeans fear a “new Berlin Wall,” a new split of Europe. There are again two military-political and economic blocs on the continent. Not happy with it? Let’s cooperate, but on equal terms, both political and economic ones.

Some factors facilitated the task. Namely, in 1990s-2000s, EU “swallowed more Eastern refugees” than it could digest and in 2010, Brussels openly stated that EU would be expanding only into the former Yugoslav Republics in the foreseeable future.

It could be a success in case of a teamwork of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia and Kazakhstan (not a member of the CoE, but a member of OSCE partially located in Europe). However, lack of common goals, funds and ideology has spoiled the plans. In such projects, even the closest friend may appear to be a “weak spot.” Ukraine “swallowed the bait,” maybe, luckily for us. One can realize just now that as an independent subject of the union, Ukraine would become too heavy a burden for Russia, including due to the corruption in DNA of its elites.

Unlike Ukraine, Russia does not seek to become a poor cousin for EU. It has a healthy system of the government-economy relations attractive for investments. I am speaking about gaining European markets, not sharing European freedoms and Somalian refugees.

We like speaking of corruption in Russia, but there are criteria of authoritative institutions, such as WB’s Doing Business reports. “Working for ratings” is not an end in itself. That rating is a quintessence of development of economic relations, efficiency of the government institutions, the things that shatter corruption.

In 2012, Russia was ranked the 120th by Doing Business report, whereas in the October issue of Doing Business 2018, Russia was ranked the 35th leaving behind Slovenia, Slovakia, Greece, Croatia, Italy, Belgium, Cyprus, Israel.

Meantime, some “free” or “partially free” states create unbearable conditions for doing business (and quite favorable conditions for corruption). (Noteworthy that Russia is underestimated even in these reports: they say the number of hours, which, according to World Bank experts, are required for the preparation of tax returns and their submission to the tax authorities and payment of taxes remains equal to 168 hours for the last four years, whereas in Russia businesses have been using automated programs of accounting for a long time already).

If Russia gets access to the European market, it will become a good impetus for the processing industry. This is what Europe fears, and not the drunk bear with balalaika. This is the basis of Russophobia now. If they feared the unpredictable bear, they would not give Russia 40% of their gas market. Gas is good, unlike other industries that will grow on European investments, if barriers are lifted. Europe’s response to it is: “Crimea is not Kosovo!”

The country will have to multitask, in the south and west, pinning no hopes with EAEU and CSTO, with the allies that deserve being allies. These are the other, so far other, Russian states. The lost key should be searched where it was lost and not where it is light. The key to “gaining Europe” is Belarus and Ukraine, their full integration. In the case of Ukraine, it could be a stage by stage process as the country is de-nazified. We need to reach the borders of EU. It will be hard, but it is the right direction. In case of success, the talk with EU about the dangers of “a new Berlin Wall” will be much more fruitful.

Albert Hakobyan (Urumov)

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31.05.2018

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