April 17, 2019

Russia Relying on Eurasia as a Basis of Power

Geopolitical Trends

Serhiy Polovyk

Leading European analysts and experts are thoroughly analyzing the materials of the recent summit of the EU, which completed its work in Brussels. If nothing else, the summit discussed the future of the European Union after the Brexit, consolidation in counteracting China's “soft power” on the European continent, problems and threats from the total spread of digital technologies and the degree of their influence on the configuration of internal and interstate relations, security policy and methods of counteracting cybercrime, etc.

The authoritative Swiss periodical, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), draws attention to the problems associated with Russia's five-year aggression against Ukraine. In the material of its correspondent Jeronim Perović, the article from April 12, entitled “Russia Relying on Eurasia as a Basis of Power”, analyzes historical reasons for Russia's aggression, the basis and course of the conflict, and forecasts its further development.

Note

Jeronim Perović, an expert in the history of Eastern Europe, Director of the Center for Eastern European Studies at the University of Zurich, which is a partner of the Center for Security Studies an der ETH Zürich.

In particular, the publication states that Russia, against the background of the conflict with Ukraine, seeks to strengthen its influence in post-Soviet territories, while positioning itself as a superpower located between Europe and Asia. It considers the post-Soviet space an area of its own interests, therefore, it tries to bind its neighboring countries as tightly as possible. The publication reminds that in October 2011, V. Putin (at that time- Prime Minister) presented an ambitious project of creation of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) in the “Izvestia” newspaper. Of course, as a counterweight to the European Union. But not in order to separate or isolate Russia from the rest of the world, but to become a significant component of the free economic zone created in such a way with the EU “from Lisbon to Vladivostok”.

Eurasian Economic Union

The Eurasian Economic Union, EAEU, was created on May 29, 2014. January 1, 2015, the agreement entered into force. It consisted of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia. January 2 it was joined by Armenia, May 14 — by Kirgizstan

That vision of “Great Europe” collapsed later, in 2014, after Ukraine turned its back on Russia. However, the Russians have not abandoned their ambitions, and instead of “Great Europe”, and now are introducing the term “Great Eurasia”, that is, the space in which Russia seeks to position itself as a factor of force between Europe and Asia. The Kremlin is well aware that this project will only succeed if Russia manages to preserve its influence on neighboring states. In view of this, points out the periodical, even without Ukraine, Russia adheres to the integration course.

 

The Boundaries of Russian power

Founded in 2015, the Eurasian Economic Union has become, in fact, the most visible geopolitical instrument of Russia's influence on its neighbors. The Alliance, which is the result of the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, also includes Armenia and Kyrgyzstan. As in the EU, member states of the Eurasian Union have committed themselves to creating a common market within which freely circulate goods, human resources, services and capital. And although the idea is far from being realized, the Eurasian Economic Union, according to the Swiss analyst, considers itself to be the most successful integration project in the post-Soviet space. At the same time, says the Swiss expert, Moscow and its partners have no desire to restore the USSR.

Members of this formation, including Russia, reluctantly renounce their sovereignty in favor of the supranational institutions of the Eurasian Economic Union. The most important decisions are made by consensus in the close circle of the leaders of the above-mentioned states.

Russia's interest in the project is compelled to be limited and justified by economic reasons, since its trade with the other four member states is only six percent of total trade. Much more attention is paid to geopolitics: Russia seeks to achieve dominant international influence in the form of regional alliances. In post-Soviet territories, it tries to assume the role of a sort of a porter, who closely monitors the processes in the sphere of its influence, and does not let anyone leave it. That is, Russia is the most serious power of the EAEU and is most influential in decision-making processes.

However, it would be wrong to assume that it is easy for the RF to ignore the interests of the project partners. The latter, fearing penal sanctions from Russia, will not dare to violate the boundaries of such a union. But, knowing what the Kremlin attaches to the project, they do not believe that their position in relations with Russia is weak. That is, they can exercise some pressure on it to achieve their national interests.

 

Strategic Trends of 2019

Swiss analysts also point out that the USA will remain the dominant power in the foreseeable future. At the same time, US President Donald Trump's dismissive attitude to international alliances, the growth of China's power and Russia's self-confident foreign policy are destroying the established world order. The Center for Security Studies an der ETH Zürich analyzes important current events and presents them in a series of materials under the general title “Strategic Trends”.

In particular, with reference to the analyst J. Perović, the NZZ points out that there is a complex of complicated relations between countries within the framework of the EAEC. In particular, the Republic of Belarus every time blackmails Russia with the intention to boycott integration projects, if it decides not to supply its cheap raw materials to the Belarusian economy. It is also noteworthy that, despite their membership in the Eurasian Economic Union, Kazakhstan and Armenia have already signed partnership agreements with the EU, while Kazakhstan keeps signing bilateral agreements with China.

True, Russia tries not to turn integration into the Eurasian Union into a common economic burden. At the same time, it is interested in a successful development of the Eurasian project. That is why, the Russian leadership has to take into account the interests of its partners. Although, according to analyst J. Perović, there is still a long way to go to a full-fledged economic community. And it seems that after the initial difficulties, the EAEU has gained momentum. Namely: economic indicators are growing, trade is actively developing. Public opinion polls show that the overwhelming majority of the population of the participating countries welcomes the convergence of former Soviet republics.

 

Asia's Growing Role

At the international level, the Eurasian Economic Union also shows achievements. In 2016, a free trade agreement with Vietnam was signed. In May 2018, economic and trade agreements were signed with China and Iran. The Eurasian Commission is in talks on signing free trade agreements with India, Singapore, Serbia, Egypt and Israel. If a comprehensive free trade agreement with China starts working, the publication says, it will stimulate not only trade. For Russia, this would be a political success. Because the PRC would have to some extent recognize the RF's leading role in the region. From the economic point of view, Russia's countering the influence of China, especially in Central Asia, will remain limited.

The efficiency of the Union's development ultimately depends on the position of Europe. However, Asia also plays a prominent role, but the EU remains, as before, the main trading partner of the Eurasian Economic Union. But, interestingly, while Brussels, as part of the EU, does perceive Russia's project, it, nevertheless, avoids participation in the dialogue.

Therefore, in Asia, it is perceived as a desirable partner for cooperation. According to a Swiss analyst, if relations between Europe and Russia in the near future are not restored, it will lead to trade flows on the Eurasian continent moving further east.

Neue Zürcher Zeitung Used the material of the NZZ.

 

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As for Ukraine, in order to defend its geopolitical interests on the European continent and in the world, it is expedient for its leadership to reconsider its priorities in relations with some “problem” partners, with which there have always been contradictions and difficulties in the common understanding of further development. In particular, the countries of the former USSR. Maintaining bilateral relations with strategic partners of the EU/US/NATO, it is expedient to treat the international and regional cooperation with some countries more pragmatically. In particular, Ukraine's bilateral relations with Austria, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Belarus, Bulgaria, Serbia, etc. have long needed to be concrete and more definite. The critique of pessimists about Ukraine's economic insolvency to impose its own geopolitical conditions cannot be considered correct. The economic potential of Ukraine and the advantages of its geopolitical position in Europe allow it to formulate its own national strategy for its further development. Not excluding co-operation with China and engaging in other strategic initiatives and trends.

Given Russia's alleged falling apart in the medium term and its fragmentation into individual mini states, it is now advisable to keep this in mind and work on creating an alliance between Ukraine and Belarus. With further formation of a full Baltic-Black Sea project with the participation of Great Britain, Scandinavia, Baltic States, Poland, Visegrad Group, Turkey and the Western Balkans. In the long run, such an alliance will not only create for Europe a sound economic alternative to China's strategic initiative “The Belt and Road”, but will also eliminate the need for North Stream-1 and North Stream-2 projects for the transportation of Russian natural gas to Europe.

It is necessary to produce natural gas in Ukraine, on already explored gas fields. But to export it to European consumers by a domestic gas pipeline. To ensure such a project, it is advisable to create an international consortium with the participation of Ukraine's strategic partners in Europe. The remnants of the Russian state “gas station” will lose their competitiveness as a result of elimination of such a subject of international law as Russia, and, given the high transport costs, as compared with Ukrainian gas.

Bilateral relations with countries of promising markets for Ukrainian goods, works and services should become a separate sphere and subject to special attention of Ukraine's foreign policy. Australia, countries of Africa, Asia, South and Central America should become partners not formal but pragmatically economically feasible. It is advisable to prepare and initiate bilateral contacts and to sign mutually beneficial agreements on cooperation with regional unions and groups of countries on all continents of the world. In order to enter new, promising markets for Ukraine, it is necessary to radically change the composition of the leaders of its diplomatic corps in accreditation countries, to conduct an intergovernmental independent audit of their previous activities. In the future, to appoint responsible seniors with a pro-Ukrainian position and to determine their real goals and objectives, to provide the necessary means to achieve certain geopolitical goals.

The formulation and timely bringing to the executors of state tasks of foreign policy on the basis of received requests from end-users in the structure of ministries and departments of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, National Academy of Science of Ukraine, enterprises of the military-industrial complex, etc., should become a separate important task. Setting state tasks on timely receiving important information in the main, especially in the breakthrough spheres of science and technology, which secure Ukraine's national interests, defense capability and its military-industrial complex, becomes determinative.

A prerequisite for such a process is creating and ensuring the effective work of intelligence agencies, and the creation of a National Intelligence of Ukraine.