Eurasian Union or EU? The tough choice facing former Soviet Countries

Since Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia signed an economic and political agreement with the EU, what has changed in Russia’s plans to establish the Eurasian Union in 2015?

On 27 June 2014, the European Union (EU) signed an economic and political association agreement with 3 former Soviet states: Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. These developments have angered Russia and provoked officials in Moscow to adopt more aggressive policies towards the aforementioned countries.

At the moment Russia is creating its own Union, namely the Eurasian Union, to include itself, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Other former Soviet countries such as Armenia and Kyrgyzstan have also expressed interest in joining the union.

Ultimately, with this Union, Russia aims to have an influence in all post-Soviet States. Putin once famously said that collapse of the Soviet Union was the ‘catastrophe of the century’ (Osborn, 2005). One of the ways to have this influence in former soviet countries is to attract them to join the Eurasian Union. Since Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine chose the path towards the European Union much has changed in Russia’s plan to establish its own Union.

Moldova

Recently the Constitutional Court of Moldova approved the removal of all pro-Russian and anti-EU parties from the upcoming parliamentary elections. This move has angered Russia and some of its officials, including Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, who began speaking with direct threats towards Moldova. (Dojdev, 2014) Russians often uses the most valuable instrument it has against Moldovans: the pro-Russian breakaway region of Transnistria.

In a recent statement Lavrov mentioned that Russia would recognize the independence of Transnistria if Moldova said no to neutrality and joined any Western political or military union (Levchenko, 2014).

Needless to say, the rhetoric of the Russian Federation has changed significantly since Moldova signed an association agreement with the EU. Russia has been using all the methods available, including threats, in an attempt to reverse the decision. Russia has even asked Moldova and the EU to wait until 2016 with the implementation of the economic aspects of the association. (Bizliga, 2014) Overall Russia still has hopes for Moldova to change its decision and join the Eurasian Union as it considers the country under its sphere of influence.

Georgia

Georgia has had for a long time the most anti-Russian and pro-Western policies of the post-Soviet Union countries (although today it could be argued that Ukraine has surpassed it). However since Mikheil Saakashvili, leader of the Democratic pro-Western Rose Revolution in 2003, lost the election to the Georgian Dream party in 2012 Georgia began to normalize its relations with Russia. The two countries still do not have diplomatic relations, but economic trade and tourism have significantly improved in recent years.

The Georgian public has also become less excited about NATO and the EU due to the fact that it has been more than 10 years since Georgia has been aspiring to join these blocks without significant achievements.

Russia also has influence over Georgia through its breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two de-facto states already recognized by Russia and its few allies (Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru). The only way through which Russia can put pressure on Georgia is by threating the country’s sovereignty or by integrating the breakaway Georgian regions into the Russian Federation.

Immediately after the current government came to power, Prime Minister Ivanishvili said that Georgia would join the Eurasian Union if it would bring back its breakaway regions and be economically beneficial (Shilov, 2013). However, such a discussion does not exist since Georgia has singed an association agreement with the EU.

Since Armenia is joining the Eurasian Union and Georgia is planning to join the EU, the two countries have agreed to protect each other’s interests in the rival institutions (Regnum, 2014).

The Russian reaction to this was predictably negative. Officials in Moscow now plan to format a joint armed force with the de-facto Republic of Abkhazia to encourage deeper relations with the breakaway Georgian regions. The Georgian government is concerned that Russia is planning to annex Abkhazia just as it annexed Crimea (Blinov, 2014).

Ukraine

Ukraine under the presidency of Viktor Yanukovich was one of the closest allies of Russia. In November 2013, Yanukovich declined the offer of an association agreement with the EU, instead opting to join the Eurasian Union. This sparked the pro-EU and pro-Democracy EuroMaidan movement, which began as a response to this decision.

By February 2014, the Euromaidan movement succeeded in ousting Yanukovich, who later fled to Russia. Russia responded by occupying and annexing the traditionally pro-Russian Crimean peninsula.

Similar to Crimea, Eastern and Southern Ukrainians have closer ties to Russia with many of their relatives residing in Russia and Russian being the dominant language in these regions. In the Donbas and Luhansk regions of Ukraine popular pro-Russian protests quickly transformed into an armed conflict with Russia allegedly supporting rebels.

Together these two de-facto republics are planning to form a new state entity called Novorossia (translates as ‘New Russia’). Russia has already punished Ukraine for its European ambitions and it can do much more. Other parts of Ukraine such as Kharkhiv Oblast and Odessa have also significant minorities that support the pro-Russian ideas of the Donbas rebels (Diuk, 2014).

 Conclusion

Overall with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova signing an association agreement with the EU, there have not been many significant changes in Russia’s plan to establish the Eurasian Union in 2015.

The establishment is still going ahead as planned, with Belarus, Kazakhstan and Armenia all on board and Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan also expressing an interest in joining.

Russia had hopes that Ukraine would be part of this Union; some officials in Moscow also believed that Moldova would be interested in Eurasian Union, but very few politicians had aspirations about Georgia’s membership.

Russia is quite concerned that the EU and NATO are moving closer to its borders and feels that it has to do something in defense. Other potential future members of the Eurasian Union could be Azerbaijan (President Ilham Aliev has chosen neutrality for now), and Uzbekistan (President Islam Kerimov has criticized the Eurasian Union and said that in case of membership Uzbekistan could lose some of its sovereignty) and Turkmenistan (expressed similar concerns over sovereignty). Another potential future member is Turkey, which has for long time aspired unsuccessfully to join the EU, with Kazakhstani President Nazarbaev inviting Turkey to join the Eurasian Union.

The Eurasian Union is a reality and one day might be a significant force that could counter the European Union. Some members of the new union have vast reserves of natural resources, huge territories and big economies.

 About the Author

Giorgi Shengelia is a graduate of University College Dublin (UCD) with a bachelor’s degree in Politics and International Relations, and a master’s degree in Geopolitics and Global Economics. He has completed an internship in the Georgian Embassy to Ireland and is currently working in the Human Rights Committee in the Parliament of Georgia. His fields of interests include Geopolitics, Human Rights, European Union and Middle East Politics. Giorgi is part of GPPW’s internship programme.

You can find him on Facebook and Linkedin 

*Cover image ‘Minsk forum on Ukraine‘ European External Action Service

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