Eurasian Integration Is A Liberal Project Opposed By Neocon Bolsheviks

My latest for VoR/US-Russia Experts panel. Hope you like the title. 🙂

The political fragmentation of the Soviet Union was one of the major contributing factors to the “hyper-depression” that afflicted not only Russia but all the other constituent republics in the 1990’s. The Soviet economy had been an integrated whole; an aircraft might have its engines sourced from Ukraine, its aluminium body from Russia, and its navigational ball-bearings from Latvia. Suddenly, border restrictions and tariffs appeared overnight – adding even more complexity and headaches to a chaotic economic situation. Although the region was in for a world of hurt either way, as economies made their screeching transitions to capitalism, disintegration only served to further accentuate the economic and social pain. In this respect, Putin was correct to call the dissolution of the Soviet Union one of the 20th century’s greatest geopolitical tragedies.

It is no longer possible – and in some cases, even desirable – to restore much of the productive capacity lost in that period. Nonetheless, renewed economic integration across the Eurasian space – with its attendant promise of less red tape (and hence lower opportunities for corruption), significantly bigger markets offering economies of scale, and the streamlining of legal and regulatory standards – is clearly a good deal for all the countries concerned from an economic perspective. There is overwhelming public support for the Common Economic Space in all member and potential member states: Kazakhstan (76%), Tajikistan (72%), Russia (70%), Kyrgyzstan (63%), Belarus (62%), and Ukraine (56%). The percentage of citizens opposed doesn’t exceed 10% in any of those countries. A solid 60%-70% of Ukrainians consistently approve of open borders with Russia, without tariffs or visas, while a further 20% want their countries to unite outright; incidentally, both figures are lower in Russia itself, making a mockery of widespread claims that Russians harbor imperialistic, “neo-Soviet,” and revanchist feelings towards “their” erstwhile domains.

This I suppose brings us to Ariel Cohen, neocon think-tanks, Hillary “Putin has no soul” Clinton, and John “I see the letters KGB in Putin’s eyes” McCain. They studiously ignore the fact that the Eurasian Union is primarily an economic association, and not even one that insists on being exclusionary to the EU. They prefer not to mention that the integration project has strong support in all the countries involved, with Russia not even being the most enthusiastic about it – which is quite understandable, considering that as its richest member it would also be expected to provide the lion’s bulk of any transfer payments. In this respect, it is the direct opposite of the way the Soviet Union was built – through military occupation, and against the will of the vast majority of the Russian Empire’s inhabitants. Though expecting someone like McCain, who one suspects views the “Tsars” and Stalin and Putin as matryoshka dolls nestled within each other, to appreciate any of that is unrealistic and a waste of time.

Enough with entertaining the senile ramblings from those quarters. Integration makes patent economic sense; it enjoys broad popular support throughout the CIS; and there are no global opponents to it – official China, for instance, is supportive – barring a small clique of prevaricating, anti-democratic, and perennially Russophobic ideologues centered in the US and Britain. Neither the West nor any other bloc has any business dictating how the sovereign nations of Eurasia choose to coordinate their economic and political activities.


  1. Fedia Kriukov says:

    Well, do you think Clinton was expressing her personal opinion when she said something along the lines that the US will do everything in its power to prevent any kind of integration in the post-Soviet space? She was in her official capacity is the secretary of state at the time. Even if you discount it as a personal opinion, as some have tried, I believe it’s very indicative of the overall mood in Washington. Even if they don’t say it officially, they will still do what they can to undermine any union they don’t control.

    • I think a more productive way of looking at US politics (just like Russian ones) is that it has several ideological/political clans.

      The “Clinton clan” is a powerful one and “liberal interventionism” against non-US allied regimes is one of their main planks. The Obama/Kerry grouping, however, is more practical. They would like normal relations with Russia, even if it possibly is only because they expect Russia to collapse of its own accord.

      Basically while few in DC would be thrilled to see even the most benign and exclusively economically-orientated Eurasian Union coming into being, there are some (McCain, Hillary) who would pathologically resist it while others will more or less roll with it (Obama, and maybe even most of the Republicans who are not McCain).

  2. Agreed. Hard to imagine how this could be bad for anyone. A richer Eurasia will buy more western and Chinese products and add to the technological stock of humanity at a faster pace. The policy of those tired old mummies in DC seems to be to hobble Russia at every turn, for reasons which escape me.

  3. AK: Okay, I hate putting my boot down, but this has to stop. Was Snowden mentioned even once in this article? Was Gordievsky? Was TIME magazine? No, I don’t believe so. Please comment on topic or not at all.

  4. My own personal take on US criticism of the Eurasian Union project is that it is the best possible indicator that the project is advancing successfully. When the Customs Union was first set up it attracted almost no interest in the western media or political world. I remember at the time I thought that interesting and a clear sign that even as an idea the Customs Union and eventually the Eurasian Union that would grow out of it was one too horrible for the US and its fellow travellers to contemplate. The fact that they are now not merely contemplating it but furiously denouncing it is the clearest possible sign that it has progressed to the point when denial of its existence is simply not an option.

    For the rest, in what possible way is it democratically objectionable if countries come peacefully together to trade more closely with each other, to open up their borders to each other and yes, if that is the democratic wish of their people, to form a political union with each other of whatever sort they deem fit? Surely far from something that one should object to it is something one ought to welcome? Unless of course one’s true objective is not the promotion of peace, democracy and social and economic progress but the extension of one’s hegemony through the old imperialist tactic of divide and rule.

    In other words, US hostility to the Eurasian Union tells us as much about the true nature of US policy as it does about the Eurasian Union itself.

  5. Excellent article and I fully agree.

    For now the West will probably oppose Eurasian integration and attempt to stymie it (for example, leading Ukraine on with the hope of EU membership while warning that EU membership and Eurasian Union membership are not compatible).

    However in the long run as Russia gains in per capita wealth (probably surpassing France before 2030 and maybe even moving within the realm of Switzerland) then Eurasian Union membership will look increasingly attractive to Ukrainians and other nationalities of the former Soviet Union. I would expect that coupled with long term disappointment at being kept at arms-length by the EU, Ukrainian support for EU membership will begin to fade (as it did in Turkey a few years ago) and support for Eurasian Union membership will increase (especially as by that time Russia’s wealth will make the EU interested in an extensive free-trade agreement with the Eurasian Union).

    European opposition to the Eurasian Union will turn into EU interest in working out a free trade deal. Such a deal would probably come as part of an overhaul of EU relations with other non-EEA states (such as Switzerland). Such a deal is likely to be a formalized organization/treaty rather like the EEA treaty but only covering the free movement of goods, services and capital but not people (except insofar as a visa-free regime will exist in the deal). This European-Eurasian Common Space (EEaCS) would probably cover all the aspects of the EU-Russia Common Spaces now as well as additional areas (such as those covered under the EU-Swiss deal, some of the areas covered by the EEA deal and by the Economic Partnership Agreements the EU has been concluding with other regions). So by 2030-2050 the Europe/Eurasia space would probably look something like this:

    – EU including Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia. Most members would use the euro.

    – EFTA including the UK (which probably exits the EU in favour of EFTA/EEA membership at some point), an independent Greenland and an independent Faroe Islands

    – EEA covering the EU and all EFTA states except Switzerland

    – the Schengen zone which would include Switzerland but nor Ireland or the UK.

    – Eurasian Union covering Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Moldova (which would enjoy the best of both worlds as it’s citizens would be eligible for Romanian and thus EU citizenship while their country was also in the Eurasian Union), Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and most probably Armenia. More remotely possible members would be Southh Ossetia, Abkhazia, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Georgia. A common currency (the evraz) would probably be implemented either alongside national currencies or replacing them.

    – European-Eurasian Common Space covering the EU, EFTA and Eurasian Union in a single market (for goods, services and capital), reciprocal visa-free access and a common legal, health, security, patents, research and education space.

  6. donnyess says:

    Perhaps EU / US energy independence and abundance are a myth. Perhaps the war on terror is really a war of terror for resourses. Support tyrant dictators, get the oil and gas, let the people there starve and freeze to death. Well…it’s one way to give the people of Eurasia “enduring freedom”.

  7. Putin’s speeches at the time he started promoting the EEU noted that the EU had a strict set of rules for new entrants and he said, quoting from memory “Russia was not going to join on the same terms as Bulgaria”. Early in the project, the EEU was a vehicle for Russia to join the EU on more variable terms than it could alone. I don’t see that’s changed. Russia is never going to get a vote on how China conducts its economy. It could get a whole bundle of votes in the EU.