By Emma Myhre
Russia has been harshly challenged on its foreign policy ambitions since the failure to make Ukraine part of its Eurasian integration project. Despite Ukraine’s turn to the West, Moscow remains assertive, and Russian integration efforts in the post-Soviet space has produced the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Established in 2015 by Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, the union has since been joined by Kyrgyzstan and Armenia. With internal struggles in the EU and previous tensions between the EU and Russia, it may be difficult to imagine close cooperation between the two unions. However, as the EAEU are keeping their ambitions high and seeing success in various sectors, there has been an increased interest in and recognition of the EAEU. Discussions on the matter are important to ensure the EU does not miss a vital opportunity before Eurasia drifts too far east and hence out of reach.
Potential future relations between the EU and the EAEU will get nowhere without a formal dialogue between them. However, to do so, a powerful global objective is needed. Perhaps the possibility of a common economic space in Eurasia is motive enough to spark this debate among negotiators. This may be especially true for Eurasia, with its aspiration to gain trade privileges within the mature system of agreements the EU has with other countries and regions. Yet such a dialogue would not be easy. Historical factors contribute to a view of Russia in the EU that may only allow for two options: competition or cooperation. The former includes urging EAEU members to turn away from Russia and develop integration projects with the EU. The latter holds an expectation of profound change in Russia bringing it back to what the EU views as an acceptable course of development.
The question of how any type of cooperation between the unions could take place still remains. The most important precondition is to overcome current problems and tension, particularly that of Ukraine. Mutual understanding around the situation in Ukraine should become a turning point in restoration of trust between the EU and Russia. Additionally, the EAEU needs to have attractive political and economic premises. The restoration of a stable economic growth as well structural reforms in Russia and Kazakhstan leading to more openness and competitiveness in the EAEU might be a place to start.
Some would agree that it is a stretch, but given the fast-changing realities on the ground, it may be time for Europe to take the EAEU seriously and even recognize the union as a partner, to hinder Eurasia in continuing to shift towards the East and increase the divide between the two regions.