Putin puts forward plan for Eurasian Union
by Daniel Mason
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has advocated the creation of a Eurasian Union based on "new values and a new political and economic foundation. But he denied the plan constituted a return to the old USSR or threatened the ambitions of some countries in Eastern Europe to strengthen ties with the European Union.
Meanwhile a think-tank, the EU-Russia Centre, has described President Dmitry Medvedev's term in office since 2007 as a "wasted effort" – partly because he failed to build his own power base and was always "beholden to his master, Mr Putin". The publication said the last few years had been a disappointment for "all those hoping for a more liberal, democratic, less corrupt Russia".
Writing in the newspaper Izvestia, Putin, who recently announced he will stand for the Russian presidency again next year, said there would be no revival of the Soviet Union but the creation of an economic and currency union. Describing his vision as a "powerful supranational association," he said it would act as a "bridge between Europe and the dynamic Asia-Pacific region".
He acknowledged a "great inheritance from the Soviet Union" but accepted that it would be "na´ve to try to emulate something that has been consigned to history". Instead he called for closer integration founded on "new values and a new political and economic foundation".
Putin's intervention came as Ukraine worked to finalise a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU. But Putin said his plan was not an attempt to thwart the European ambitions of post-Soviet states. "Some of our neighbours explain their lack of interest in joining forward-looking integration projects in the post-Soviet space by saying that these projects contradict their pro-European stance," he wrote.
"I believe that this is a false antithesis. We do not intend to cut ourselves off, nor do we plan to stand in opposition to anyone. The Eurasian Union will be based on universal integration principles as an essential part of Greater Europe united by shared values of freedom, democracy, and market laws." He said a partnership between the EU and his Eurasian Union would "prompt changes in the geo-political and geo-economic setup of the continent as a whole with a guaranteed global effect".
Blocs such as the EU, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations were the key "bricks" for building a stable economy, he said.
Kazakhstan welcomed the news; its President Nursultan Nazarbayev first floated the idea 17 years ago. His head of press told the Daily Telegraph: "Kazakhstan and President Nazarbayev personally have always stood for closer economic integration with Russia and other countries of the former USSR. The Eurasian Union that President Nazarbayev first proposed in 1994 is envisaged as a mutually beneficial union."
Kazakhstan is already a member of a customs union with Russia and Belarus which came into force this year, the starting point for Putin's ambitions. "We are creating a huge market that will encompass over 165 million consumers, with unified legislation and the free flow of capital, services and labour force," Putin wrote. He said there was scope for expanding the union to central Asian countries such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
In an analysis for the German Marshall Fund of the United States, Alina Inayeh argued that Putin's ambitions were designed to "project an image of power, assertiveness, and strategic vision" and were an attempt to distract from "Russia's increasingly dire domestic situation".
She wrote that: "It is precisely in reaction to the EU's increased reach in the region that Putin would like to offer countries in Russia's neighbourhood an alternative union to aspire to. Yet it is also a counter-move to an even more pressing problem that Russia sees looming on the horizon" – concerns about gas, with the Nabucco pipeline potentially reducing the Europe's reliance on Russian supplies.
Another report, by the Henry Jackson Society, said the idea for a Eurasian Union was "almost certainly a euphemism for Russia's use of its energy monopoly as a tool for regional bullying".
The EU and Russia are at a crossroads
Successful realignment of the EU's relations with Russia is a contemporary question of Europe's ability to act with a single voice, write Iris Kempe and Cornelius Ochmann