CENTRAL ASIA – May 2020
The uneasy integration’s process in the Eurasian Economic Union
The 19th of May, the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council (including the five Heads of state of the Eurasian Economic Union’s member countries, namely Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Belarus) decided to postpone the adoption of “The Strategy for Developing the Eurasian Economic Integration until 2025”.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic and following travel restrictions, the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council was held via video-conferencing: considering the high-relevance of this document to implement the economic integration process in the Eurasia region, the Heads of state opted to delay the ratification at the next meeting, when they could meet in person (Eurasian Economic Union, “Outcomes of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council”, May 19, 2020, http://www.eurasiancommission.org/en/nae/news/Pages/19-05-2020-6.aspx). The Strategy will contain the main guidelines aimed at further extending a common market of goods, services and workforce, removing barriers and restrictions as well as improving customs regulation: member-states will work to harmonise and synchronise the different areas of cooperation.
The ratification of this document will represent a new success for Russia’s strategy to expand its influence in Eurasia, leading the process of economic integration: as a matter of fact, in addition to EAEU, Russia was also the main promoter of the signature of the Convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea (August 2018), that allows Moscow to further bolster its position in the energy and security sphere along the Caspian basin. Moreover, one week before the meeting, Uzbekistan’s Senate approved the country’s participation in the EAEU with an observer status, endowing the Russian economic integration project with a certain political support by a country that is strategic in economic, security and geopolitical terms within the region.
However, EAEU’s Central Asian members are wary on the strategy’s adoption: Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Kemeluly Tokayev complains that a deeper integration within a supranational organisation will erode political and national sovereignty of member-states, fearing that the EAEU could lose its original (and exclusive) economic dimension moving towards a political integration (“Toqaev proposes putting brakes on Eurasian integration”, Ferghana.ru, May 20, 2020, https://en.fergana.news/news/118303/). Tokayev’s position is in line with the approach followed by former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who took into consideration the possibility to leave the EAEU if national sovereignty was threatened by Russian ambitions to promote a political integration.
The harmonisation of the integration’s initiatives with national development plans and the creation of a common energy market by 2025 appear the main challenges within the EAEU. The implementation of a coordinated energy policy will affect Kazakhstan’s multi-vector strategy based on the diversification of export routes, towards markets (EU and China) where Russia also holds relevant interests.
Fabio Indeo – PhD in Geopolitics. He is non-resident researcher at Center for Energy Governance and Security (EGS South Korea) and analyst at Observatory for Central Asia and Caspian.