The Return of Diplomacy?
Strengthening the EAEU: How Does Integration Help Mitigate the Consequences of the Geopolitical Crisis?

In order to preserve and enhance the achievements of Eurasian economic integration, as well as mitigate and then overcome the consequences of the growing geopolitical crisis, we will have to come to an understanding of the obvious prospects and the need to expand the range of development priorities of the EAEU beyond the boundaries of a purely economic project, writes Natalia Yurova, Head of the Department of International Economic Relations at the Belarusian State University.

A lot of speculation has appeared recently in the public space about the advantages and disadvantages of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), its development prospects, the advisability of participation or accession of new members, and how the EAEU will continue to interact with the outside world in the context of sanctions and the worsening geopolitical crisis. All these discussions confirm great interest in the EAEU as a progressive integration association in the post-Soviet sphere. The EAEU is, of course, an example of cooperation development between countries that do not want to stop or even rest on their laurels, but strive to develop in response to modern opportunities, joining forces to confront emerging geopolitical challenges.

The peculiarity of Eurasian integration is not only that its rapid development has gone „beyond the framework” of the traditional laconic long-term process of economic integration in accordance with well-known theories, but also that mutual respect for each participant is manifested in compliance with the decision-making consensus principle, despite the obvious differences between countries in terms of their national economies and mutual trade. The current “five” countries form a stable union, fuelled by common economic interests and aimed at positive economic growth with direct participation in building an integration association. The countries of the „integration core“ of the EAEU, namely Russia (87% of the EAEU’s GDP), Kazakhstan (about 9%) and Belarus (about 3%), have fairly high GDP per capita indicators, as well as Human Development Index and the Sustainable Development Goals indicators. They are a kind of image locomotive of Eurasian integration in the international arena. The remaining member states, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, each have less than one percent of the EAEU GDP and more modest development indicators.

Asia and Eurasia
Factors of Stability in Greater Eurasia
Timofei Bordachev
Greater Eurasia is under the influence of challenges and threats of both internal and external origin, therefore peace and stability there are not guaranteed. However, one should not lose sight of the objective factors that make Greater Eurasia a more stable region in modern circumstances than would be predicted by an established view of the nature of international politics in its regional dimension, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Timofei Bordachev.

Critics of Eurasian integration often argue that the union only reflects Russia’s desire to extend its influence to post-Soviet countries, and even subordinate them. However, practice shows that the factor of “force and coercion” is less effective in promoting the idea of economic integration than the policy of a “mutually beneficial partnership.” Russia, with its undisputed dominance in the economic potential of the EAEU, demonstrates and implements openness to integration partners, which entails a great interest in promoting the idea of integration among the other member states.

Unprecedented sanctions pressure from “unfriendly” countries on the most active participants in Eurasian integration — the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation, did not lead to a collapse of the EAEU economy. On the contrary, they taught them to develop their business without regard for the approval or censure of Western partners. The integration process, ahead of the large-scale sanctions against Russia within the EAEU, was mainly progressing, with partners engaged in a long-term discussion of individual barriers and opportunities for cooperation; with the tightening of sanctions pressure, a “second” wind of integration opened: there was a demand for closer, more rapid cooperation and reliance on their own strength.

We should take into account that the contribution to EAEU integration development and the effects of integration are different for all member states. It is obvious that the Republic of Belarus benefits most from participation in the integration as a country with a small open economy, which, after gaining its independence, has not lost its industrial and human potential. Thus, Belarus sends more than half of its foreign trade volume to the EAEU market. As for the remaining EAEU member states, the indicators of Kyrgyzstan (41.1%), Armenia (35.3%), Kazakhstan (26.1%) and Russia (8.9%) are more modest.

The Western sanctions had a restraining effect on the development of the Belarusian economy, significantly reducing the volume of supplies of traditional export items: oil and oil products, potash and mineral fertilizers, transport services, etc. The clear position of Belarus as a supporter of unbreakable partnership with Russia has led to the fact that many anti-Russia sanctions have been extended to the Republic of Belarus. At the same time, Russia’s strong support within the Union State and the EAEU have made it possible to minimise the negative effect of sanctions and redirect export flows to the markets of the EAEU and so-called “friendly” countries.

Another important achievement of cohesion within the framework of Eurasian integration has been the expansion of import substitution opportunities. Thus, in Belarus, the electronic B2B format of the Belarusian Universal Trade Exchange began to be actively used to search for analogues of foreign products and expand the circle of suppliers and buyers. In general, the Republic of Belarus has been able to support Russian partners in the context of restrictions imposed by the West on many products, which is confirmed by data from increased Belarusian exports to the Russian market: in 2022, the increase amounted to $6.6 billion, and in 2023, the growth amounted to $2.8 billion. There are real prospects to achieve bilateral trade turnover of $50 billion between Belarus and Russia in 2023.

The EAEU member states not covered by Western sanctions — Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan — have all this time tried to maintain relative neutrality in order not to fall under secondary sanctions for economic support of their sanctioned integration partners. Of course, economic integration should be implemented as a partnership among countries on a mutually beneficial basis without causing economic damage to the interests of any of the participants.

Asia and Eurasia
Dilemmas of the World Majority
Timofei Bordachev
We are dealing with a rather unique example of a struggle in which the forces of the opponents are approximately comparable, although the superiority of the West is significant. We absolutely do not know how the countries of the World Majority would behave in conditions where the USA and Europe launched an offensive against a weaker adversary: for example, against Iran or another country of a comparable scale. Therefore, we cannot say to what extent the self-confidence of those countries that do not obey US orders now, would manifest itself in a different situation, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Timofei Bordachev.

Tough times call for tough decisions. The EAEU is developing, and its effects extend beyond the economic sphere of cooperation. Entering a new stage of geopolitical transformation of international relations, the EAEU confirms its intention to become an important actor in the international arena. At the meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council in St. Petersburg on December 25, 2023, the medium-term (until 2030) and long-term (until 2045) priorities for the development of Eurasian integration were outlined. It was stated that on the path of development, by 2045, the EAEU should become “a self-sufficient, harmoniously developed and attractive macro-region for all countries of the world, possessing economic, technological and intellectual leadership and maintaining a high level of well-being among the population of the member states”.

In the context of the ongoing process of formation of new macro-regions and/or informal associations of countries, such as, for example, BRICS+, the EAEU should be the most attractive association for cooperation in the post-Soviet space and beyond. At the same time, the overly pragmatic approach of some participants in Eurasian integration should not hinder its comprehensive development. It is time for broader integration goals. It is impossible to create and develop without taking into account humanitarian cooperation. It is obvious that the strength of an integration association lies in the mutual respect the member states have for each other’s sovereignty, but at the same time, in combining their economic, human, scientific, technical and other potentials. The human potential in the EAEU is enormous. The EAEU countries which are considered to have a very high level of development include Russia (52nd place in the UNDP ranking), Kazakhstan (56th place) and Belarus (60th place). Armenia (85th place) and Kyrgyzstan (118th place) lag behind, with a certain gap. By excluding the humanitarian sphere from the priorities for the development of economic integration, the limits of economic growth and further development of the entire integration association are immediately established automatically. At the same time, maintaining the declared “high level of well-being of the population of the member states” will be achievable in the future only by creating favourable conditions for the development and realisation of human potential in the EAEU, and this includes healthcare, education, science and innovation, labour, and culture.

The EAEU still has different speed dynamics in the involvement of member states in economic processes and social initiatives. It all depends on the positions of individual countries, which do not always coincide. In order to preserve and enhance the achievements of Eurasian economic integration, as well as mitigate and then overcome the consequences of the growing geopolitical crisis, we will have to come to an understanding of the obvious prospects and the need to expand the range of development priorities of the EAEU beyond the boundaries of a purely economic project.

World Economy
Special Operation in Ukraine: Consequences for the EAEU and Continental Integration
Vyacheslav Sutyrin
Russia launched its special operation in Ukraine after exhausting all diplomatic attempts to stop US/NATO military expansion. Putting aside anti-Russian propaganda, the success of Russia's special military operation is beyond a doubt, according to adequate experts. However, it must be stated that NATO assistance to Ukraine threatens the vital security interests of Russia, while those of the United States remain unaffected. The result will be a significant change in  Eurasian integration, both in terms of the EAEU and the Greater Eurasian Partnership.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.