Doors to Eurasian Economic Union open to all comers
The summit of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) member-countries in Sochi culminated in the adoption of the program for the coming year, which will be chaired by Russia. Among its priorities, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin, are establishing unified goods and services markets, promoting trade and investment ties and strengthening production and technology cooperation. The meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council was attended by the presidents of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, as well as the Prime Minister of Armenia. Moldova received an observer status in the EEU.
"The main goal of the Russian chairmanship is to strengthen our union and give an additional boost to bringing the five economies closer together, and, what is more important, to comprehensively develop our states," Putin said. However, the "five economies" are gradually becoming the "six economies". Moldova gained an observer status in the integration association. But the doors of the EEU are open to all comers. In particular, the organization is waiting for Tajikistan, which is not yet ready to join it and has been studying the pros and cons of integration for three years. " We are ready to consider applications from other interested countries, primarily our CIS neighbors," Putin said at an expanded meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council in Sochi.
According to experts, there will be more problems in the organization. Shortly before the summit, Russian Prosecutor General Yury Chaika in his annual report to the Federation Council accused Belarus and Kazakhstan of allegedly being the main sources of penetration of sanctions products into the Russian market in 2017. This is not the first time that we have heard such accusations. "This is a good cover for introducing non-tariff barriers to protect the domestic Russian market from its EEU partners," Kazakh political scientist and director of the Group of Risk Assessment, Dosym Satpayev, told Vestnik Kavkaza. According to him, the issue of the feasibility of the republic's presence in the EEU is increasingly discussed in Kazakhstan. This is due to the fact that most of this project's participants do not yet see economic efficiency from the EEU. The economies of Kazakhstan and Russia are of the same type - they have a strong dependence on the sale of raw materials. "The problem that arose after 2014 - the war on re-exports - is facing us every year. It is likely that this trend will continue in the coming years and will complicate relations between Moscow and Astana, as well as Moscow and Minsk, as the sanctions war between Russia and the West has entered a long phase, and we are not expecting any improvement. There is a clash with the interests of Kazakhstan in this issue. Its economic policy is based on multi-vector and in close interaction with various participants in trade relations, including with the West, while the EU remains the largest trading partner of Kazakhstan and ranks first in foreign trade turnover," Satpayev noted.
Relations between Russia and the West create many unpleasant moments for Kazakhstan and Belarus. Two years ago, Belarusian Prime Minister Andrei Kobyakov said: "Working in the Russian market has become increasingly complex... The difficult economic situation forces Russia to protect its market, its producers." In this regard, the Belarusian Prime Minister called for the reorientation of Belarusian exports from the Russian market to other promising areas. And last month, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko once again called upon the government to find new markets for Belarusian products within a year and gradually diversify the country's participation in the EEU. As far as one can understand, China is capable of being such a market for Belarus.
"It is not ruled out that the Chinese issue was raised during the bilateral meeting of the presidents of Russia and Kazakhstan. President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev is going to meet with Chairman of the People's Republic of China Xi Jinping this June. Several years ago, Vladimir Putin already proposed to strengthen cooperation between the EEU and the Chinese initiative 'Silk Road Economic Belt'. As it was announced, the EEU members and China can cooperate in the sphere of construction, extraction of resources, energy and high technologies. However, Beijing has already been actively drawing three EEU members - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Belarus - into the sphere of its economic influence in all these areas. While Moscow is drawing its allied states into this geopolitical project, promoting free trade with Iran or Vietnam," Satpayev believes. The expert noted that it is difficult to stimulate the work of the organization if there is no trust between its members. This means that the split and the crisis will continue worsening.
The situation in Armenia is also raising a lot of problems and of great interest in Kazakhstan. Nursultan Nazarbayev was initially against Armenia's admission to the EEU. The official reason was the unsettled Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. However, Moscow insisted on it, and Yerevan became the fifth participant of the integration association. "What was the economic effect of the EEU expansion at the expense of Armenia and Kyrgyzstan? As can be seen, this enlargement was more political in nature than economically feasible. Today, Moscow urges Moldova and Tajikistan to join the organization as observers. Therefore, there will be more problems," Satpayev believes.
Member of the «Iran-East» (Iran) Central Asian and Afghan Studies Institute's Scientific Council, political scientist Igor Pankratenko, also believes that the creation of the EEU was based on politics. "The problem is that the basis for the world integration trend are specific economic or cross-border logistics projects, interests and business plans of producers, entrepreneurs, corporations. The EEU was based on policy. This is not the most reliable foundation for integration, especially if one of the its main initiators - Moscow - starts to pursue a fairly unbalanced foreign policy against the backdrop of serious problems in its own economy," the expert believes. Nevertheless, the EEU was formed. This is evidenced by the growth of trade within the union, the emergence of national goods in the markets of other member countries, the elimination of certain administrative barriers, as well as softer regulation of labor migration.