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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- Radio Free Europe has published an article that details the violent shoot outs that recently took place in Tajikistan’s autonomous Gorno-Badakhstan province. Shootings in the region left four dead and led to protests throughout the region, and appear to be rooted in the same ethnic tension that caused deadly clashes in 2012.
- Russian police have detained ten individuals in Moscow on charges of terrorism. The suspects, all of which come from the troubled southwestern region of Dagestan, were working to assemble an improvised explosive device that was found at their residence. Authorities believe that the attack was scheduled to take place earlier this month on Russia’s Victory Day, though the details of the arrests were only recently made public.
- A deal that would have at least forestalled the cutting of Russian gas supplies to Ukraine has once again failed to be completed. Russian and Ukrainian authorities met with the goal of reaching a deal that would have seen Russian gas giant Gazprom receive payments of more than $2 billion in order to lessen existing Ukrainian debts. The European Union was expected to provide the necessary funds, though Ukrainian officials have begun to claim that, funds notwithstanding, Gazprom officials have made reaching a deal unnecessarily difficult.
- Duowei News, a popular Chinese newspaper run in the United States, has reported on the “talibanization” of Islamic separatist groups in western China. The news outlet, which operates with the blessing of the Chinese government, points to three factors to support its thesis: “strict regulation of women, discriminatory attitudes towards non-Muslims, and the banning of any perceived “western” activities. While many have labeled China’s focus on ethnic Turks in Xinjiang province an act of oppression, escalating violence and the use of suicide attacks have complicated the situation.
- Greater Kashmir’s Haseeb Drabu has published an op-ed in which he delineates how Indian policy vis-à-vis India’s region of Jammu and Kashmir should look. Closer ties with Pakistan, the creation of a ministry of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and the formalization of trade between Kashmir and Pakistan are among the measures proposed by Drabu, who advocates the confrontation of dividing issues in lieu of the continuation of strict policies that police the region and allow for the implementation of strict curfews during potentially violent times.