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Second discussion within the framework of the «Expert Environment» platform

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"Integration processes within the EAEU and CIS. Development of a new policy towards Russia"


"Expert Environment" is a series of discussions with the participation of Belarusian and foreign experts, analysts, authors of researches and specialists in the sphere of foreign policy, organized by the National Anti-Crisis Management to discuss the geopolitical choice of the Belarusian people.


As part of the first discussion "Belarus in Interaction with European Subregional Unions, Groups and Neighborhood Programs", experts and analysts, authors of researches and foreign policy specialists discussed first of all the topic of the Eastern Partnership.


In the second discussion the following questions were discussed:

  1. What is the Commonwealth of Independent States?
  2. How does this format function?
  3. What is its relationship to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and other integration formats?
  4. What are the results of the functioning of the EAEU?
  5. What are the prospects for the Union State of Belarus and Russia?

Briefly:

  1. Chances for CSTO expansion are not visible. There are no Russian interests in financing military expenditures of other countries at the moment.
  2. Unsatisfactory results of the implementation of the EAEU project.
  3. Belarusian society does not fully understand what is going on in these integration associations.
  4. The principle of all post-Soviet integration processes is not quite usual: "Not to make things better, but worse".
  5. Moscow should understand that "arrogance is a poor substitute for expertise".
  6. Anyway, we all agree about the existence of the hyper dependence, where Belarus is dependent on Russia in economic, military and other aspects.
  7. The CIS closes a layer of humanitarian and cultural cooperation and helps to maintain social and humanitarian interaction within the framework of this association.
  8. The situation in which Belarus finds itself is a chance for Moscow to tie it down for good.
  9. Lukashenka is not interested in really building the Union State; his dream is to leave everything as it is.
  10. Belarusians are ready to build relations without acute conflicts with all their neighbors.

Read more:

What is the Commonwealth of Independent States? What is its connection with the CSTO and other integration formats?


Dmitry Mitskevich
Dmitry Mitskevich

Dmitry Mitskevich, analyst of the Belarus Security Blog project, journalist of Belsat TV channel:

I propose to first consider the format of military cooperation using the example of the CSTO. I note that they try to compare the CSTO to NATO, which is not quite correct. The CSTO budget as an organization is $ 4 million, and it includes six states. NATO has 30 states and its budget is $ 225 million, and the member-states must allocate 2% of the GDP to finance the military alliance. The CSTO is not even talking about this.
If you look geographically, the CSTO includes Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Russia is present in all these regions. If we analyze protocols of CSTO meetings, we will find that 80 percent of the agenda consists of issues in the Central Asian region, where there is a real military threat.
At the same time, two CSTO members are trying to use the organization to present their political messages — Belarus and Armenia. But no one in the CSTO listens to these messages, because their membership in this structure is rather symbolic, as evidenced by the assistance provided to Armenia by "allies" during the Karabakh conflict.
The chances of CSTO enlargement are not visible. At the moment there is no Russian interest in financing military expenditures of other countries.
The CSTO is a reincarnation of the Holy Alliance from the 19th century to support dictatorial regimes. Therefore, Belarus should not worry about clearly stating its position in terms of withdrawal from the CSTO, as this union is moving towards the fate of the CIS.
Without filling bilateral relations between CSTO member countries, the organization will in fact start turning into a kind of CIS. Everyone has seen what are the results of the CSTO work in stressful situations — nothing.
Therefore, it is necessary to ensure own security for everyone. And here a certain problem arises. In 2015 during the active phase of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict a survey was conducted by the most popular Internet resource in Belarus. The question "What spheres require reduction of funding?" was answered by 56% of Belarusians: "Defense and national security". It shows what place defense and security issues occupy in the perception of the Belarusian society. Two neighboring countries are at war, and we believe that it is necessary to cut the budget for the army. We have to explain to people why it is necessary to strengthen the defense capability and increase the financing of this sphere.
We can give the example of Armenia. This state is also a member of the CSTO, but it cooperates quite closely with NATO, which offers partnership programs of cooperation.

What are the results of the EAEU activities?


Valery Karbalevich
Valery Karbalevich

Valery Karbalevich, Belarusian political scientist and journalist:

The EAEU Treaty was signed in 2014, which means that we can already sum up certain results. And these results are disappointing: the process of successful implementation of this project has stalled.
There are 12 reasons why this happened:
1. The economic ties between the member countries are very weak.
The share of total trade is about 14% and it is not growing. For comparison, in the EU this figure is 65%, in NATO it is 40%.
2. Integration of different scale countries. The successes and failures of projects depend largely on one state.
3. Different economic structures: raw-materials states and energy consumers. Totally different interests.
4. Different types of economy: market and non-market.
5. Most of the member states' industries are not competitive on the global market. Systems of protective measures are instinctively created.
6. For Russia, the EAEU is a geopolitical project, not an economic one.
7. Accelerated transition to the next stages of integration without completing the initial one.
8. Integration of authoritarian regimes — history does not know of any successful examples.
9. After Crimea and Donbass, member states have concerns about Russia.
10. Impossibility of a consolidated approach to the issue of sanctions.
11. Russia has not calculated its forces, primarily in the sphere of economic expenditures.
12. The process has stalled, so there is a return of relations to the bilateral level, and the possibility of expanding the Union at the expense of Asian countries is being considered, but this is impossible.

How does the Commonwealth of Independent States function?


Kamil Klysinski
Kamil Klysinski

Kamil Klysinski, Senior Fellow, Center for Eastern Studies (OSW):

I would like to add the context of Russian foreign policy and the Kremlin’s understanding of it. Russia sees only one way — gathering of lands. Russia presses various buttons, and various initiatives and projects are created: the CIS, the Union State, the EAEU, etc.
The CIS is the most failed project. How did the CIS summit end? Nothing. The EAEU is more successful, but it limps on two legs.
In fact, we overestimate the quality of Russian experts and analysts, and do not take into account the "arrogant" approach to foreign policy issues. Because Russia believes that, for example, Belarus will not go anywhere, the attractiveness of integration proposals is reduced.

How does Belarusian society assess integration processes in relation to Russia?


Peter Rudkovsky
Peter Rudkovsky

Peter Rudkovsky, Philosopher, Academic Director of BISS:

Belarusian society does not fully understand what is going on in these integration associations. Nevertheless, for a number of reasons, first of all psychological and value-based, there are fears about the integration aspirations associated with the EU. During the first years of independence, the Belarusans had a more positive attitude to the format of the Eurasian integration, but recently there has been a shift towards the EU. This is, incidentally, the second time (the first one was in 2010−2011). There is a chance that in the near future the idea of aspiring to have a closer cooperation with the EU will prevail, despite the contradictions in the issues of minorities, etc. But there is still wariness about the West.

What is the main problem of all associations in post-Soviet space?


Anatoly Kotov
Anatoly Kotov

Anatoly Kotov, political analyst, former worker of the Belarus President Administration:

The problem of all associations in the post-Soviet space is that for Russia these are political projects, an attempt to keep in the sphere of its influence those countries that Russia considers "its own": Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. And the principle of all these integration processes is not quite usual: "Not to make it better, but not to make it worse". "If you do not join our associations, you lose access to the Russian market on privileged terms". Countries are forced to agree to some restrictions now in order to get some benefits in the future. And the perspective is not always tangible and clear.

What do these integration processes look like at this stage?


Vadim Mozheiko
Vadim Mozheiko

Vadim Mozheiko, Analyst, Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS):

Moscow should understand that "arrogance is a poor substitute for expertise".
The relations between Belarus and Russia resemble those between some states in the Middle Ages, the so-called payment of symbolic tribute. On the one hand, one state sells to the other the idea that it is in the orbit of its interests — something Lukashenka is now actively promoting. On the other hand, there is an understanding that there cannot be a real takeover, even if someone in Moscow has such dreams.
An example of such a symbolic tribute is Belarus' support for Russian resolutions at the UN. Such symbolic relations suit both Putin and Lukashenka. The situation looks more and more like the CIS, which in fact has no serious results, but still exists. And in this form, "nothing" is still "something".

How should Belarus act in conditions of dependence on Russia?


Grigory Astapenia
Grigory Astapenia

Grigory Astapenia, Chatham House Expert, Director of Research at the Center for New Ideas:

One way or another, we all agree that Belarus is hyper dependent on Russia in economic, military and other aspects. We are in a situation where we recognize that it is impossible to sail away. And if we state publicly that Belarus wants to change course, it may, on the contrary, lead to an inadequate response and the opposite result. But we also understand that we can’t increase the level of dependence, because it is already so high that it threatens the sovereignty of the state. Right now, this dependence continues to increase.

One does not choose one’s neighbors?


Dmitry Bolkunets
Dmitry Bolkunets

Dmitry Bolkunets, political scientist, expert in the sphere of Russian-Belarusian relations:

The CIS closes a layer of humanitarian and cultural cooperation and helps maintain social and humanitarian interaction within this association.
The EAEU at the moment concerns only the economy, despite the fact that the very idea was certainly a political one. So far, the Kazakhs have managed to keep this union in a truly economic framework. And there are opportunities for this, because the Eurasian Union has no decisions that are mandatory for all participants, unlike the EU.
Each of the five countries of the Eurasian Economic Union sees its own benefit in this union in the form of economic preferences, including the energy sector.
Belarus must have better relations both with Moscow and Europe; no need to build walls. One does not choose one’s neighbors.

What are the prospects for the Union State of Russia and Belarus?


Dmitry Bolkunets & Kamil Klysinski
Dmitry Bolkunets & Kamil Klysinski

Dmitry Bolkunets

The situation in which Belarus finds itself is a chance for Moscow to bind it finally. It is worth noting that in matters of economic integration the EAEU has gone much further than the Union State, so now there is an attempt to catch up with this process in the bilateral format.
Hence the programs aimed at harmonizing legislation, but their implementation requires time, even if the parliament is manual.
In general, it’s worth noting that in the Russian expert community there was a question about the Union State: what to do about it? Different opinions were voiced, but in essence this Union State is considered as an attempt of Russia’s politicians to demonstrate an example of positive cooperation. And the main enemy of the Union State at that time was Lukashenka. Now he was put before a choice: either to go to the Hague, or do something historical, good just for Russia. The Kremlin’s plans to complete this process by 2024 are, in my opinion, utopia.

Kamil Klysinski:

Yes, Lukashenka is really not interested in the real construction of the Union State, his dream is to leave everything as it is. But now he has little room for maneuvering. To this is added the cooling of relations with China. And we can observe a situation in which the language of the CIS is beginning to be used in the Union State as well. But there is a real threat: Russia is betting on military presence, and this is a real lever of control.

How can Belarus build up relations with its neighbors?


Peter Rudkovsky
Peter Rudkovsky

Peter Rudkovsky, Philosopher, Academic Director of BISS:

Sociology suggests that for Belarusians there is no contradiction in the fact that it is possible to get closer to both the EU and Russia. Belarusians are ready to build relations without acute conflicts. And the possible option now can be the denunciation of the Union State and the development of relations within the framework of the EAEU. But initial conditions are necessary: change of the situation in Belarus and reforming Russia in the future.


The next discussion of the "Expert Environment":

"Prospects for building partnership relations with the EU in the short and long term"

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