Has Putin Delayed the Eurasian Union by Pushing Too Hard and Too Soon?

May 6, 2014

Staunton, May 6 – When Ukraine and Moldova declared their intention to sign association agreements with the European Union, Vladimir Putin reacted by speeding up his timetable for the creation of his own Eurasian Union, but that change in schedule may have the unexpected result of delaying or even undermining the formation of that Moscow-led group.

Initially, Viktoriya Panfilova, a Nezavisimaya Gazeta commentator, writes in Novoye Vostochnoye Obozreniye, Putin had planned to have the founding document signed in the fall, then he moved it up to June, and now he has advanced the date again to later this month.

That change in schedule has had at least two serious results, both of which are likely to make Putin’s way forward on this project more difficult. On the one hand, it has given Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka the whip hand, allowing him to demand concessions that he might not have been able to advance.

That is simply good politics on his part. Because he knows Putin wants this accord so much and so quickly, Lukashenka has clearly concluded that there will be no better time to issue ultimatums. And because such ultimatums highlight his independence, they play to his own population and send a message to the West that Belarus is not simply tagging along with anything the Kremlin wants.

And on the other, this speeding up has sparked a discussion in the Russian expert community that is highlighting the many ways in which Putin’s Eurasian Community will not be at all like the European Union and that power politics rather than economics will be the driving factors.

Panfilova surveys some of this opinion in her article, but other studies of the contrast between the two projects are even more detailed and damning. One of the most thoughtful is provided by Sergey Ermak in a 2400-word article posted on the Expert-Urals portal.

He explains why Putin’s Eurasian Economic Union is in no way like the European Community and cannot be because “the interests of the former Soviet republics are too varied” and “the economic links among them are too weak” as well. Consequently, this project will be political rather than economic, whatever anyone says.

Ermak provides a variety of evidence for that, and his words and those of others writing on this subject now because of the hurry-up schedule are certain to have an impact, causing some countries that may sign to demand concessions up front and leading others to hold back from signing given what the Putin Union is all about.

While the Kremlin leader has gotten a boost in the public opinion polls from his actions in Ukraine, the fact that he has had to change his timetable for the Eurasian Union is just one more example of how the Ukrainian events are complicating or even undermining his strategy elsewhere.

Given that public opinion is likely to be fickle once the costs of what Putin is doing become clearer, these other consequences will loom larger and in this particular case may mean that the too- hasty creation of a Eurasian Union like the overly-hasty creation of the CIS 20 years ago will mean that the new body will have no more meaning than the one it is to replace.