Vladmir Putin once called the collapse of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” But in Central Asia and Eastern Europe, a new economic union, aimed at collecting the scattered pieces of the Russian Empire, is growing. Should Putin’s Eurasian Union succeed by incorporating all of Central Asia and Eastern Europe minus the Baltic States and Balkans, Russia will effectively hold sway over some of the largest concentrations of natural gas, oil, and uranium in the world.
Kazakhstan, Russia, and Belarus are the inaugural signatories to this union, which has been rolling out incrementally since 2010. The union aims to hold all the perks of European Union membership by 2015, complete with a Schengen-style arrangement for visas and close military cooperation. If executed well, the union has the opportunity to bolster struggling Central Asian states by attaching them to the rising Russian economy.
In exchange for significant financial aid, Russia receives privileged access to natural resources (Russia’s Gazprom recently purchased Kyrgyzstan’s entire gas network for $1) and significant political sway. Moscow has been courting the smaller, impoverished Central Asian states with debt forgiveness and military investments, leaving them little choice but to join. Last year, Russia forgave $500 million in Kyrgyz debt in exchange for the expulsion of the United States from the Manas air base.
The Eurasian Union holds great promise, and could effectively transform the economic and political landscape of Western Asia. With a rotating center of power, the union could elevate the economies of impoverished developing states in Central Asia and better situate them to trade with the neighboring European Union, with each member retaining sovereignty. Alternatively, and far more likely, the intended supranational body will become an agent for one of many authoritarian leaders to throw their weight around, and democratization and human rights efforts will suffer.
Full article: Inside Putin’s Plan to Dominate the World’s Oil and Gas Markets (policymic)