Moscow’s Eurasian Union lost significance after the crisis in Ukraine

Ukraine, Kiev, Maidan Square; General view of the square. Shoot date: 13/05/2014. (European Council Newsroom).

Ukraine, Kiev, Maidan Square; General view of the square. Shoot date: 13/05/2014. (European Council – Council of the EU, Newsroom).

Last Thursday 29 May, the Presidents of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan signed the last and most important document, the founding Treaty for their Eurasian Union, to have effect as from 1st January 2015. Four more countries Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have also expressed strong interest to adhere to this new politico-economic entity. The EaU is a brain child of Vladimir Putin, pretentiously perceived to counter the other major world economic powers that is the European Union, the US and China. The EaU is also visualized by the Russians as a political and economic volume of geopolitically significant dimensions, which can offer Moscow a loyal periphery and increase its weight on world affairs. But can it play this role? Let’s see to that.

The ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, last December had decided at the last-minute to turn down an extensively and lengthily negotiated Association Agreement with the European Union and chose instead to join this Moscow led EaU, mainly because the western democratic procedures were not to his liking. The cataclysm that followed has now turned Ukraine apart and helped to surface all the frozen for many decades divisions and opposing forces in this country. Yanukovych and Putin obviously made a grave blunder by thinking that their ‘coup d’état’ could succeed.

EaU without Ukraine

As it turned out, this Yanukovych complete U-turn aroused the opposing forces within and without Ukraine and led to a deadly civil war. As all civil conflicts this one too brings to the surface the ugliest elements of the Ukrainian society and political scenery on both sides; the east and the west. Had Putin’s and Yanukovych’s plans succeeded, Ukraine would have been the second country in a row to negotiate in details an Association Agreement with the EU, and at the very last-minute, turn to the Russian led EaU. During the summer of 2013 Armenia had done exactly that. The country’s President Serzh Sargsyan in the last hour decided to turn to the EaU, abandoning the long negotiated plans to sign an agreement with the EU.

The West’s strong reaction

Ukraine’s U-turn was rather too much for the EU to swallow. Unfortunately, the European Union proved incapable to alone reverse the Yanukovych coup. The US was called in and thus found the opportunity to land again in Europe. Washington seems not to have forgotten her plans to plant its missiles in the heart of the continent. Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states greatly helped the Americans in those plans. Of course, all those countries have the worst memories from the 45 years of the communist era and the Moscow reign through the Warsaw Pact. It’s not by accident that Poland has become now the best Western bastion neighboring Ukraine and opposing the Russian expansion in the wider region. Actually, NATO is now contemplating to strengthen its presence in Poland in order to more effectively support the pro-western forces in Ukraine.

All geopolitical changes though have more than one side. It is already evident that Western Europe is being gradually estranged from the Russian energy sources and the investment opportunities this vast country could offer. This is particularly bruising for Germany, and this is evident just by looking at the map. Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, the Baltic States and now Ukraine can block the German-Russian connections. In anticipation of such perturbations, the North Gas Corridor (pipeline) transporting Russian gas to Germany rests on the bottom of the Baltic Sea, having avoided the land route.

Dividing the EU

The other two major European powers, Britain and France, have the least interest in the opportunities the economic relations with Russia may present. That’s why they don’t care if this latter country is cut off from Western Europe, as a result of the reemergence of the American military might in the heart of the Old Continent. Many western analysts now read the Ukrainian stalemate as an opportunity to understand the threats Russia may pose to the West.

In this way they justify the return of the US in Eastern Europe, as a much-needed shield against Russian aggression. As things stand now this is not far from the truth. But still, cutting off Russia from Western Europe and more so from Germany bears a huge cost in forsaken potential economic gains. At the same time it deprives Russia from eventual large-scale German investments, which could help the vast country increase the competitiveness of its economy and stop relying so heavily on exports of energy.

Poor alternative

Unfortunately for Moscow, the Eurasian Union cannot offer an alternative to the gradually weakening relations with Western Europe and obviously is not conceived for that. The EaU is just an attempt by the Kremlin to secure a zone of client states around Russia. If the goal is to revive the USSR the results are far from target. The loss of Ukraine is a decisive blow to such plans. Even if Moscow manages at the end to acquire a grip on the south-eastern provinces of Ukraine, the rest of the country will remain invariably attached to the West and more likely to the US. In this manner Ukraine will block Russia from Western Europe, in both ways, geographically and by the worsening of relations after the civilian bloodshed.

Another and most unfortunate product of the Ukrainian crisis and the creation of the EaU is that the concomitant US – Russia all out confrontation has divided the European Union, in the sense that the axis Paris-Berlin, the power house of the Union, doesn’t seem any more as robust as it used to be; as explained above France and Britain on the one side and Germany on the other have quite differing interests and approaches in relation to Russia and the Ukrainian crisis. Paris is not any more that close to Berlin for more reasons than the above mentioned, relating also to the poor performance of France in many respects.
In conclusion, the EaU is largely deprived from its geopolitical significance due to the developments in Ukraine, which in their own account have produced a new European landscape of power relations.

 

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