The treaty establishing the EAEU marks its fifth anniversary in 2019. The Eurasian Intergovernmental Council held its first meeting of the year in Almaty, bringing together the prime ministers of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia, as well as the deputy prime minister of Armenia and the chairman of the board of the Eurasian Economic Commission.
On the one hand, this specific feature can be viewed as an advantage. It can be argued that EAEU countries inherited their potential for integration and unification from the USSR, especially if the metropole plays a central role. On the other hand, the EAEU is like a rimless wheel: there is nothing to connect the rods radiating from the wheel’s center. It is the relations with Russia, its market, economic potential and geography that matter for every EAEU country. Otherwise, these countries have little appetite for interacting with one another. What could make Belarus interested in Armenia or Armenia in Kyrgyzstan? This has to be taken into consideration, including efforts to offset any fears member countries may have. Ideally, the EAEU could use its specific nature to its advantage. This calls for programs to promote integration across the EAEU, and Russia is the only country that can finance initiatives of this kind. Given the current lack of long-term and low-rate borrowing, the declining oil prices, and Western sanctions against Russia, it would be hard for Russia to attract investors even when these projects promise hefty returns. For example, simply creating a system for electronic processing of shipping documents across the EAEU can bring billions of dollars in returns. However, so far the prospects of programs of this kind materializing are not clear, since the EAEU sets its agenda and goals as it goes along, just as was the case at the Almaty meeting. The next meeting of the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council will take place in Yerevan in late spring.