Russia eyes ‘Greater Eurasia’

June 20, 2016 1:33 AM (UTC+8)

 

President Vladimir Putin’s new vision, which comes ahead of the enlargement plans of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, is expected to unite major Asian states and also mend fences with the European Union

MOSCOW–The Kremlin outlined an ambitious vision of a new global integration grouping on top of already existing economic and political unions in Eurasia. Yet there is a lack of clarity over how the proposed entity could be reconciled with the existing regional organizations and agreements.

President Vladimir Putin speaks at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg
President Vladimir Putin speaks at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg

The Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) can become part of a larger integration entity, a “Greater Eurasia,” President Vladimir Putin announced. This Greater Eurasian partnership could also include China, India, Pakistan and Iran, former Soviet states and other interested parties, he said.

Addressing an economic forum in St. Petersburg on June 17, Putin said that the Greater Eurasian partnership would aim at developing trade, reducing and eventually removing tariff barriers between participating countries. More than 40 countries indicated interest in forging free trade agreements (FTAs) with the EEU, he said.

The Russia-led EEU already moved to forge FTAs with Asian groupings. In May 2016, it was announced during the Sochi summit that ASEAN would consider FTA with the EEU. Possible closer economic ties between EEU, ASEAN and the SCO were also discussed.

However, the Kremlin apparently did not intend the “Greater Eurasia” plan to sound as a spat of anti-West rhetoric. Furthermore, Moscow invited the European nations to participate. The “Greater Eurasia” project is surely open for Europe too, and it can be mutually beneficial, Putin said.

Not surprisingly, Russia’s closest ally Kazakhstan strongly supported the idea of the Greater Eurasian partnership. Kazakhstan has long prioritized efforts to become a major trade link and transit route between Asia and Europe.

On June 17, President Nursultan Nazarbayev also advocated increased integration between the EEU and the European Union (EU) so as to develop the “Greater Eurasia.” The EEU is interested in stable European Union, he said.

Later this month, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) finalizes entry of India and Pakistan into the SCO, Nazarbayev noted. Therefore, the total population of the SCO member states would reach three billion people, hence the organization becomes a great power, he argued.

It was hardly a coincidence that the “Greater Eurasia” rhetoric surfaced ahead of the summit meeting of the SCO in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on June 23-24. The organization — that currently includes Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan — is due accept major South Asian nations.

Last year, for the first time in its 15-year history, the SCO made a decision on its enlargement. On July 10, 2015, the SCO summit meeting in Ufa, Russia, approved entry of India and Pakistan into the SCO.

Moscow has long argued that the SCO expansion would serve to strengthen the international status of the organization. But now Russia apparently moved to suggest a kind of supra-SCO economic grouping.

The upcoming entry of India and Pakistan is expected to change the balance of power in the SCO, the organization previously dominated by China, both economically and politically. The expected entry of other new members from South-East Asia and the Middle East is supposed to turn the SCO into a truly global player.

Yet before official materialization of the SCO enlargement plans, Russia came up with the even more ambitious “Greater Eurasia” vision. The new entity is supposed not only to unite major Asian states, but also to mend fences with the European Union.

Therefore, the “Greater Eurasia” grouping is supposed to become a major global power. However, it is far from certain how the proposed grouping could be reconciled with the existing multilateral organizations and agreements in Eurasia. It remains to be seen whether the “Greater Eurasia” vision have chances to materialize any time soon.

Sergei Blagov is a Moscow-based independent journalist and researcher. In the past three decades, he has been covering Asian affairs from Moscow, Russia, as well as Hanoi, Vietnam and Vientiane, Laos. He is the author of non-fiction books on Vietnam, and a contributor of a handbook for reporters.

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