The Eurasian Economic Union
This chapter examines Russia’s increased efforts, under Putin’s third term in the Presidency, to establish a Customs Union, a Single Economic Space, and eventually a Eurasian Economic Union, in the CIS area. It argues that Russia’s attempts to create a powerful economic bloc were spearheaded by the desire to counter the growing presence of the EU on the western fringes of the CIS and the rise of China as a global economic power and its increased economic penetration in Central Asia. The chapter shows that the Eurasian Union was seen by the Kremlin as an instrument of Russia’s hegemony, intended to enhance its global power by creating ‘Russia’s own regional centre of influence’ and, in this way, establish a multi-polar world. However, the chapter also argues that clear legitimate considerations that argued in favour of closer economic ties (increased internal trade and/or external trade protectionism) also lay at the heart of the project. This explains why, the project was, in certain opportunities, also supported by many of the ECU/EAEU members themselves.. However, the chapter also shows that the Kremlin did not conceal its readiness to utilise coercive methods and threats – in clear violation of international law – against those CIS countries which proved reluctant to join the organisation, such as Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia and Georgia, all of which were at the time negotiating association and free trade agreements with the EU. Russia even used hard-power instruments, including threats to end subsidies, against its all-time ally Belarus. All this showed that Russia was ready in the early- to mid-2010s to engage in coercive diplomacy to restore a ‘neo-empire’ in the former Soviet space, which kept the CIS states tightly aligned to Russia,. Furthermore, while Russia, in theory, accepted to engage in ‘legalised forms of integration’ with a binding character, it nevertheless behaved unilaterally in the commercial realm when considered necessary, to further its own national objectives – clearly displaying its hegemonic power in the EAEU/CIS space. More importantly, as the dominant economic power, Russia was able to establish an economic project very much to its liking.