By Jerry Robinson
Vladimir Putin, the Prime Minister of Russia, is intent on building a "Eurasian Union" of ex-Soviet states, according to an article in the Izvestia newspaper on Tuesday.
He outlined his first foreign policy initiative in the article, in expectation of becoming Russia's next president in the March 2012 election.
Last month, he announced that he will run and, considering his current public approval ratings, he will likely win.
An existing Customs Union of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan will remove all barriers to trade, capital, and labor movement between these countries next year. Putin said that he will build on this union to achieve an even higher integration level in the Eurasian Union. The Customs Union would expand to include Central Asian republics of Kyrgystan and Tajiskistan, Putin also said.
Trade and political disputes between Russia and its ex-Soviet neighbors, along with armed conflicts such as the 2008 war with Georgia, have resulted in problematic relationships. Speaking to the reluctance of some of Russia's neighbors to join the Customs Union because they did not want to appear to contradict their decision to forge a bond with Europe, Putin said this was a wrong choice. He explained that the Customs Union, and the future Eurasian Union, would be the European Union's partner in discussing the formation of a common economic space.
"Membership in the Eurasian Union, apart from direct economic benefits," he said, "will enable its members to integrate into Europe faster and from a much stronger position."
His initiative arrives as Russia is nearing the end of its 18-year-old negotiations to join the World Trade Organization. He made no attempt to conceal his apprehension about the global trade watchdog.
"The process of finding new post-crisis global development models is moving forward with difficulty. For example, the Doha round (of international trade talks) has practically stopped. There are objective difficulties inside the WTO," he wrote.
Russia's bid to join the WTO in 2009 was muddled when Putin said that Russia would form the Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan instead. A reason for the new initiative will have to be given to WTO members.
Russia Declares It Is Close to Joining the World Trade Organization - New York Times
Putin calls for 'Eurasian Union' of ex-Soviet republics - BBC
Putin Calls for New ‘Eurasian Union’ of Former Soviet Countries - The Moscow Times
Putin wants Soviet-style power bloc to rival EU - Indian Express
One Union under Putin? - RT