In Kyrgyzstan, the Eurasian Union was tested by the war in Ukraine

Finally, Vladimir Putin will attend the Eurasian Economic Union summit in Kyrgyzstan this Friday, December 9. A few days ago the local newspaper Evening in Bishkek he sowed doubt by saying he was sure “almost 100%” The fact that the Russian president will not go there – the fault of Ukraine’s surprise attacks on airfields in Saratov and Ryazan regions, deep in Russian territory. The prediction did not come true. However, it uniquely illustrates how the war in Ukraine has undermined Russia-dominated multilateral institutions in the post-Soviet space.

The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), often abbreviated as the Eurasian Union, does not have the reputation of a Brussels inspiration. Established in 2014, it unites Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia around Russia for a regulatory and customs harmonization project to create a common market. Economist Julien Vercueil explains that for EAEU members, it specifies the efforts made to overcome the economic fragmentation of these countries that were part of the USSR after the fall of the Soviet Union until 1991. But this structure also has geopolitical significance: “The CIS, along with other organizations such as the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), was created to sanctify Russia’s post-Soviet Union, which it considers itself to be. its historical sphere of influence “, explains Lucas Aubin, research director of the Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (Iris).

In Russian orbit

Since its inception, UEEA has had mixed results. Despite the increase in volume, the commercial exchange between the members of the Eurasian Union still accounts for an average of only 14.6% of the total exchange of the member countries, that is, almost zero evolution in ten years. Julien Vercueil notes that the customs union has been undermined by, among other things, the restoration of certain customs controls. It also suffers from trust that remains weak among its participants, particularly because of decisions taken by Russia on behalf of the Union without informing its members.

More fundamentally, the Eurasian Union remains orphaned by Ukraine, which turned its back on the project after the 2014 revolution and the rise of pro-European leaders to power. “The EAEU without Ukraine is a lame group, where the economic power of Russia does not match the economic power of any other country”Emil Avdaliani, research director of Georgia’s Geocase analytical center, says. According to him, the occupation of Ukraine is also related to the desire to return Kiev to the economic orbit of Russia, that is, to the EU.

Unable to achieve this, the “special military operation” that began on February 24, 2022 deepened the difficulties of the Eurasian Union. Western sanctions have indeed disrupted trade flows in the region, while prompting EU member states to take measures to avoid secondary sanctions. “The Eurasian Union will probably be of less interest to its member countries”a diplomatic source says that the occupation of Ukraine deprives them of a previously main argument for attracting foreign investment, namely easier access to the Russian market. “I don’t think that these countries will try to get out of these “orbits” of Russia, like the EU and CSTO, but they have taken into account the war in Ukraine and want to diversify their partnership. »

Russia’s loss of status

The EAEU’s challenges are compounded by those faced by other Moscow-led regional organizations. The CSTO, a regional military alliance built around Russia, has been in crisis since the summer after it failed to respond to border clashes between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Only the last of the four countries is not a member of the CSTO.

The inaction that prompted Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov to avoid the CIS summit in Astana in mid-October. This meeting will also be remembered for the strong advice of the President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon to Vladimir Putin asking Russia to show “respect” to the countries of Central Asia. “There is still no break between these countries and Moscow. Lucas Aubin observes. But we see signs of Russia’s loss of status in these events. »

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