Russia forms Eurasian Economic Union with Kazakhstan and Belarus

Yesterday in Astana, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his counterparts from Belarus and Kazakhstan met to initiate the formation of the Eurasian Economic Union as a successor trade and legal framework to the Customs Union. The new regulations imposed by the EEU give citizens of member states equal employment and education opportunities across all three nations, and the deal would also involve collaborative policies in energy, agriculture, transport, and defense, according to their joint statement. President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev said that the deal is “a new geoeconomic reality” and “hard-won achievement.”

Some analysts have quickly dismissed the idea of the EEU on the basis that it will have little practical impact. But others have pointed out that other member nations have already pledged to join, both within the former Soviet Union and among the states of the Caucuses. Armenia has pledged to join the Customs Union, and so has Kyrgyzstan. It is unclear to many observers and hopeful partners whether the union will be more of an economic arrangement or a political one, as the crisis in Ukraine seems to have hastened the creation of the EEU, which was originally planned for unveiling next year.

In the West, the EEU is derided as “Soviet Union lite,” as it reveals Moscow’s ambition to restart a powerful Eastern bloc. They also point out that Ukraine has no plans to join, which may have been the original goal of offering a counter proposal to Yanukovych back in November of last year that caused him to abandon the $10 billion trade agreement with the EU that kicked off the crisis. The President of Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko, agreed to as much, saying “We lost someone along the way, I mean Ukraine.” Despite the economic dividends this agreement will reap for its members, Kazakhstan firmly rejected a tighter framework proposed by Russia that included political and military unity. The lead negotiator for Kazakhstan on the issue, Bakytzhan Sagintayev, said that: “We don’t meddle into what Russia is doing politically, and they cannot tell us what foreign policy to pursue.”

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