Eurasian economic integration can become, in a sense, a “trench” — a relatively safe and resource-rich zone, within which countries could solve some of the most important tasks for preserving development. However, the trenches need “bridges” among themselves — various trans-regional partnerships based on a system of maximally flexible agreements, linking various regional groupings, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Timofei Bordachev.
Eurasian economic integration, which has manifested itself institutionally as the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), was created with the aim of solving three tasks, one of which is no longer relevant; the second and third need at least serious rethinking. First, by the time the EAEU was established, all its member states understood that it would be much easier for them to integrate into the dominant model of globalisation. Second, after the inability of the United States to fulfil the tasks of distributing benefits within the entire world economy became obvious, many countries opted for moderate regionalism — the creation of small integration associations that allowed them to solve some of the problems of their development “closer to the ground”. And, third, Russia’s neighbours, and indeed Russia itself, needed a civilised way of organising a common space in a way which took into account the dominant role and scale of the largest CIS power.
Is it necessary to look for a new meaning for the EAEU amid these dramatically changed circumstances? Every day, this question acquires not only theoretical but also practical significance. In fact, the actual task of the countries participating in the integration is not just “keeping the fire going” in the hopes that the conditions for the project will someday become more favourable. There must be an understanding that globalisation as we knew it and the US-led liberal world order are over. The conditions under which the EAEU was created will never return, even if the destruction of the monopoly of the West and its neo-colonial system does not turn out to be universal. Therefore, it would be wise for Russia and its partners in Eurasian integration to think about how cooperation can help them resolve issues not only today, but tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. This will mean a new meaning for the EAEU, which, as we would like, should appear in connection with such large-scale transformations in the international landscape.
In this regard, it will be sad if Russia and the rest of the EAEU countries spend the coming years not on creating the prerequisites for their joint development in the future, but simply on bargaining for tactical concessions. In the latter case, in a few years they will still have to answer important questions, but amid much more difficult circumstances. The disintegration of a relatively integrated world economy and political system, which the West is no longer able to restrain with its forceful pressure, will lead to the formation of regional systems of mutual dependence. And now it depends on Russia and the rest of the EAEU countries on what principles such a system will be based within a significant part of Eurasia.
Honestly speaking, an important goal of Russia in Eurasian integration, even if it was articulated publicly, has always been to place its neighbours in geopolitical conditions where they feel comfortable. At the same time, the format, institutions and legal framework of Eurasian integration, somewhat clumsily borrowed from the European experience of the second half of the 20th century, made it possible to make mutual adjustments most comfortable for the smaller economies and populations of the EAEU.
But something else is even more important — for Russia itself, participation in the EAEU is now becoming more of a necessity than an experimental choice. Mutual openness within the framework of the alliance can indeed contribute to the solution of the tasks that Moscow has set for itself under the influence of the military-political crisis in Europe. Moreover, not only Russia, but also Belarus is now cut off from those areas of globalisation where a monopoly belongs to the West. This means that the whole community is facing the challenge of economic warfare, and it would be frivolous to think that anyone can avoid its consequences.
However, we cannot only talk about defence and the desire to ride out the global storm. The trenches need “bridges” among themselves — various trans-regional partnerships based on a system of maximally flexible agreements, linking various regional groupings. In this regard, there are financial, trade, economic, institutional, transport and logistics opportunities. These are associated with the development of integration and the common market. However, the continued participation of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia in the institutions of globalisation, from which the United States and Europe are trying to split Russia and Belarus, acquire new significance for the EAEU. It should be taken into account that some of the crisis phenomena in the global economy that we are currently witnessing have a positive impact on Russia’s major competitive advantages: the availability of key natural resources and leading positions in the export of energy products, grain crops and mineral fertilisers.
In particular, we can count on the fact that conditions will be created within the framework of the EAEU for the formation of common energy and food markets. This is in the interest of Russia, as a major exporter of energy resources and agricultural products, and it will provide an opportunity for the other countries of the union to gain new benefits in the form of platforms for promoting Russian products there. Lower energy prices within the EAEU may encourage FDI from friendly countries. Financial integration will become necessary, and especially the use of national currencies in mutual settlements. The latter, in principle, corresponds to the most important, and irreversible, trend of the modern world — the rejection of the widespread orientation towards the dollar and the euro.