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Post-Soviet Integration : The Weight of Moscow

When the USSR fell, Russian leaders did not think the collapse of their former Empire would last. They were convinced that the CIS would only be an intermediary organization between the end of the USSR and something else. If it took decades, their dream seems to come true with the creation of the EEU. Some commentators have also noticed that the EEU is part of an official Russian discourse that could be described as “reunionist”. According to traditional Russian pragmatism, it was in any case inconceivable that things would go in another direction given the continental nature of Russian power.

But this time, Russia wants to play the advantages given by an international organization for economic purposes without having to bear the burden of governing the former Soviet republics. So Russia seemed only interested in business. Anyway, that's what she was saying. Because in fact, Russia still supports national governments that are favorable to it and exports its model. If during the Soviet period the USSR aimed to export socialism in order to lead a worldwide workers' revolution (and thus in fact export its model of communist dictatorship), modern Russia supports the creation or maintenance of kleptocratic regimes built on its image, with a very strong power vertical. Thus, as we have seen during the year 2020-2021 Putin did not hesitate to financially and politically support the dictatorship of Alexander Lukachekno in Belarus. Similarly, Russia maintains close ties with the Nazarbaev clan dictatorship in Kazakhstan. This element is important for understanding Russian infiltration in some of the former Republics in order to influence their decision-making process. The control of the EEU by Russia can therefore only be facilitated.

Integration theorists (and in particular Fritz Scharpf) have often denounced intergovernmentalism as being a brake on integration because of the interests of states in refusing integration. If this statement is open to criticism in view of the European experience, the EEU can show that we can overcome institutional blockages if we negotiate downstream. Since the governments of the EEU states are more or less won over to the Russian will, they are somehow obliged to facilitate the realization of the designs of russian policy. Moreover, if some authors consider that the federal form created suboptimal results precisely because of the negotiated nature of the solutions and decisions (or even of the haggling between the actors), Russia succeeded in exporting its vertical model of federal power (because the federated regions of Russia are under the control of the Kremlin) to the whole of the EEU. Thus, and once again, despite appearances, the EEU is closer to the vertical integration system of the Russian Empire or the USSR than to the EU (even if it is less visible).

But nothing proves Russia's influence in the EEU more than its weight. Russia represents well over half of the population of the EEU (145 million inhabitants out of 173 for the whole of the EEU). Its GDP also dwarfs other players in the Region by far ($1.7 billion out of $1.9 for the entire EEU). Russia has also ensured that the hydrocarbon sector is excluded from the scope of the EEU's competences. Thus its neighbors are obliged to negotiate bilaterally with Russia for this market where Russia is the main player in the region and one of the major world players. So Russia is actually dictating its terms.

One of the reasons which pushed Russia on the path of the creation of the EEU was not only the restoration of its former sphere of influence, but also a form of resistance against other regional groups. Thus, via the EEU, Russia wants to avoid the advance of the EU's neighborhood policy in its "near abroad" as well as the imperial inclinations of China in the Far East and in particular its project of the "new silk road".

One cannot in fact conceive of the EEU without understanding how it is a manifestation of Russian foreign policy and its strategic needs. Even the moment of the creation of the organization is not insignificant: it comes after the 2008 crisis which strongly affected Russia. Negotiations have indeed started under the Medvedev presidency to bring to the Customs Union in 2012 and finally the EEU in 2014.

But the other side of the coin is of course the fact that the same causes lead to the same effects and we are now going to study the weight that Russian foreign policy has in the development of the EEU as well as the resistance posed by its States- members.


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