Asia and Eurasia
Trenches and Bridges of Eurasian Integration

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.

The principle of consensus in the adoption of almost all decisions was a colossal step forward on the part of Russia, a manifestation of its intention to give relations with its partners a truly fresh start against the backdrop of the historical experience that unites us.

We must admit that, in general, the model of Eurasian integration has turned out to be quite successful and has been able to gain momentum over the past seven years, especially thanks to the energy and professionalism of the employees of the main executive body of the EAEU — the Eurasian Economic Commission. The degree of mutual openness of markets is constantly increasing; significant barriers to mutual trade are being removed; it consistently shows a positive trend. Despite the fact that the EAEU countries periodically suffer internal turmoil, this did not become an obstacle to moving towards civilised forms of relations within the entire community. Now separate mechanisms of mutual trade, created within the framework of integration, allow for the resolution of the problems against the backdrop of the West’s economic war against Russia.

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.

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.

Moreover, the EAEU, due to its infrastructural and regulatory capability to absorb the consequences of the economic war against Russia and Belarus, as well as other external economic shocks, already represents a serious reserve for the future. This also allows us to consider it as a framework for the practical development of the idea of ​​the Greater Eurasian Partnership (GEP). As the US and its allies continue to disrupt globalisation, having such a trench, especially against a well-resourced Russia, could prove vital to a large group of small and medium-sized Eurasian states.

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.

Asia and Eurasia
Russia’s Turn to the East: Between Choice and Necessity
Timofei Bordachev
The coming era will require states to have a much greater degree of de facto sovereignty and, in a sense, a capacity for limited autarky. Therefore, for all the importance of ties outside the West, Russia cannot simply reorient itself from one direction to another while maintaining its historically-formed strategy of dependence on external sources of development, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Timofei Bordachev.
Expert Opinions
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.