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Post-Soviet Integration : Nostalgia of Empire

Deeply traumatized by the fall of the USSR and nostalgic for its lost superpower status, the Russian population and elite seem to be desperate to cling to the desire to reestablish what they call “Great Russia” (synonymous in reality with “Empire”). And it would not be wrong indeed to note that the fall of the USSR is the collapse of an Empire, perhaps even of the last colonial Empire. But as said before, it is easier for Russia to re-establish its sphere of influence than it is for the former European colonial powers. This is where a paradox lies : Europe chooses to build something that has never existed, to create integration at the level of the European Union between formerly enemy states, while Russia uses the example of the EU to restore her own lost Empire.

But if this is the Russian point of view, it is not the point of view of the other member states of the EEU and more so of their populations. What to think, for example, of the fact that the common tariff of the Customs Union was imposed by Russia on its partners? Or the fact that hydrocarbons are excluded from the scope of the EEU, thereby giving considerable strategic leverage to Russia?

Indeed, the tensions between Russia and Belarus between 2018-2020 concerned the change in the taxation system of the Russian energy sector, which would have greatly impacted the income of Belarus, which is a country of transit for these energies. If the rules of the EEU would have been applied, Russia would have had to seek consensus with its partners to maintain the cohesion of the common energy market. But this was not the case and Belarus alone had very few means of pressure on Russia apart from diplomatic distancing and rapprochement with the EU. While this example was ultimately short-lived because of the Belarusian Revolution and Lukashenko's rapprochement with Putin, it perfectly illustrates not only Russia's bad faith in wanting to play the game of integration but also the mistrust of its partners in its presumed hegemony.

Elements of economic analysis also show that Russian domination has harmful effects on the growth of the whole. If there is no consensus on the issue, some consider that the EEU has helped to curb the fall in trade between member states. But one trend is clear: the UEE, despite its ambitions, fails to stimulate economic exchanges within the zone (although this is the only objective it has!). The main reason for this state of affairs is of course the application of the economic theory of comparative advantages. If Russia dominates certain local markets, it cannot compete with American or European investments or with Chinese products. Even technologically, Russia cannot offer products of sufficient quality to be attractive to other exporters. So even if trade liberalization rules are applicable in a space, this does not mean that trade will increase.

But what are the reasons? A plausible explanation is simply the fact that to have a dynamic economy, one must have a free political system or at least an active civil society. Russia, which exported its kleptocratic model, did not build a model sufficiently favorable to individual initiative, nor to the growth of capital and therefore of technological progress. Its economic weight is therefore counterproductive as long as Russia's internal institutional reforms have not taken place. The direct result of this state of affairs is that the member states of the EEU are increasingly attracted to other geopolitical organisations on their borders.


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