“Integration processes within the EAEU and the CIS. Developing a new policy towards Russia” is the topic of the second expert discussion at Expert Environment
Expert Environment is a series of discussions with Belarusian and foreign experts, analysts, authors of studies and specialists in the field of foreign policy, organized by the National Anti-Crisis Management to discuss the geopolitical choice of the Belarusians.
In the first discussion “Belarus in cooperation with European sub-regional unions, groups and neighborhood programs”, experts and analysts, authors of studies and specialists in foreign policy mainly discussed the topic of the Eastern Partnership.
In the second discussion, the following issues were debated:
- What is the Commonwealth of Independent States?
- How does this format work?
- How does it relate to the CSTO and other integration formats?
- What are the results of the EAEU activities?
- What are the prospects for the Union State of Russia and Belarus?
- Nothing suggests the CSTO enlargement. Today Russia is not interested in financing the military expenses of other countries.
- The results of the EAEU project implementation are disappointing.
- The Belarusian society does not fully understand what is happening in these integration organizations.
- The main principle of all post-Soviet integration processes is quite unusual: “Not to make it better, but try to make sure it doesn’t get worse”.
- Moscow should understand that arrogance is a bad substitute for expertise.
- Anyway, we all agree on the fact that Belarus is hyperdependent on Russia in economic, military and other spheres.
- The CIS covers the area of humanitarian and cultural cooperation and helps maintain social and humanitarian interaction within its framework.
- The situation in which Belarus currently finds itself is an opportunity for Moscow to tie it up.
- Lukashenka is not really interested in the Union State. His dream is to leave everything as it is.
- Belarusians are ready to build relations with all neighbors without any serious conflicts.
What is the Commonwealth of Independent States?
How does it relate to the CSTO and other integration formats?
Dmitry Mitskevich, Analyst of the Belarus Security Blog project, Belsat journalist:
I propose first to consider the format of military cooperation on the example of the CSTO. I would like to note that the CSTO is sometimes compared to NATO. So, let’s compare: the CSTO includes 6 states and its budget is $4 million, while NATO consists of 30 states and has a budget of $225 million. Moreover, NATO member states allocate 2% of their GDP to finance the military alliance, which is definitely not the case for the CSTO.
Geographically, the CSTO is represented by Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, while Russia is present in all the three regions. And, if we analyze the minutes of the CSTO meetings, it turns out that 80 percent of the agenda concerns the Central Asian region, where there is a real military threat.
At the same time, two CSTO members are trying to use this organization for their political messages ― these are Belarus and Armenia. But other CSTO countries seem deaf to those messages, since the membership in this structure is rather symbolic. This can be confirmed by the example of the assistance Armenia got from the “allies” during the Karabakh conflict.
Nothing suggests the CSTO enlargement. Today Russia is not interested in financing the military expenses of other countries.
The CSTO is the reincarnation of the Holy Alliance of the 19th century aimed to support dictatorial regimes. Therefore, Belarus should not worry about clearly defining its position in terms of withdrawing from the CSTO, since this organization is moving towards the fate of the CIS.
Without strengthening bilateral relations between the CSTO member states, this organization will in fact begin to turn into a kind of CIS. The CSTO has shown no adequate reaction to stressful situations.
Therefore, it is necessary to ensure our country’s safety by our own means. And here a certain problem arises. In a 2015 poll conducted by the most popular Internet resource in Belarus, 56% of Belarusians said that “defense and national security areas require funding cuts” ― and all that during the active phase of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict! That’s how the Belarusians see the defense and security issues. While two neighboring countries are at war, they believe that it’s high time to cut the army’s budget. So, it’s important to explain to people why it is necessary to strengthen defense capabilities and increase funding in this area.
Here, an example of Armenia can be cited. Being a CSTO member, it rather closely cooperates with NATO that offers partnership cooperation programs.
What are the results of the EAEU activity?
Valery Karbalevich, Belarusian political scientist and journalist:
The Treaty on the EAEU was signed in 2014, and it is already possible to assess certain results that are rather disappointing, since the process of the successful implementation of this project has come to a standstill.
12 reasons why this happened:
1. The economic ties between the member countries are very weak.
The mutual trade share is about 14 percent and it’s not growing. For comparison, it’s 65% in the EU, and 40% in NATO.
2. The integration of states of different sizes, when the success or failure of any project depends largely on one state.
3. Countries of different economies ― those dependent on natural resources and the consumers of the resources, hence, the difference of interests.
4. Countries with different types of economy ― market and non-market.
5. Since most of the factories in the member countries are not competitive on the global market, protective measures are often implemented.
6. For Russia, the EAEU is a geopolitical project, not an economic one.
7. An accelerated transition to the next stages of integration without completing the initial one.
8. There are no successful examples of an integration of authoritarian regimes.
9. After Crimea and Donbass, Russia can’t be trusted.
10. The impossibility of a consolidated approach to sanctions.
11. Russia has overestimated its potential, primarily in the area of economic costs.
12. The process has stalled, so relations are returning to the bilateral level and the possibility of expanding the union to other Asian countries is being considered, which is impossible.
How does the Commonwealth of Independent States function?
Kamil Kłysiński, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Eastern Studies (OSW):
I would like to add the context of Russian foreign policy and its understanding by the Kremlin. Russia sees only one way ― the expansion of its land. Russia uses various tools: different initiatives and projects are being created ― the CIS, the Union State, the EAEU, etc.
The CIS is the most disastrous project of all. The CIS summit bore no fruit. The EAEU is more successful, but it “limps with both legs”.
In fact, we overestimate the professionalism of Russian experts and analysts, and ignore the Kremlin's “arrogant” approach to foreign policy. Due to the fact that Russia believes that Belarus, for instance, will always be there, the attractiveness of the integration is decreasing.
How does the Belarusian society assess the integration processes with Russia?
Piotr Rudkovsky, Philosopher, Academic Director of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS):
The Belarusian society does not fully understand what is happening in these integration organizations. Nevertheless, for a number of reasons ― mainly psychological and value-based ones ― there are concerns about integration aspirations to the EU. During the first years of independence, Belarusians were more positive about the format of Eurasian integration, but recently there has been a radical change towards the EU. In fact, this is not the first time ― the first one was in 2010-2011. It’s very likely that the idea of aspiration towards the EU will prevail in the near future, despite the possible contradictions in minority issues, etc. However, some caution in the “Western” direction can still be observed.
What is the main problem of all unions in the post-Soviet space?
Anatoly Kotov, Political scientist, former employee of the Presidential Administration of Belarus:
The problem of all unions in the post-Soviet space is that for Russia these are political projects that in fact are attempts to keep in its sphere of influence the countries Russia considers “belonging to it” ― Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. What’s more, the main principle of all post-Soviet integration processes is quite unusual: “Not to make it better, but try to make sure it doesn’t get worse”. “Unless you join our organizations, you will lose access to the Russian market on privileged terms.” So, the countries are forced to agree to some kind of restrictions now in order to get some benefits in the future. And the prospect is not always clear.
What do these integration processes look like at the current stage?
Vadim Mozheiko, Analyst at BISS:
Moscow should realize that “arrogance is a bad substitute for expertise”.
The relations between Belarus and Russia are reminiscent of the relations of some states in the Middle Ages, when one state pays some sort of a symbolic tribute to the other. On the one hand, one state sells to the other the support of its interests, which Lukashenka is actively doing right now. On the other hand, there is an understanding that no real takeover is possible, even if someone in Moscow is dreaming of it.
An example of such a symbolic tribute is Belarus' support for Russian resolutions at the UN. Such a symbolic relationship suits both Putin and Lukashenka. The situation is more and more reminiscent of the CIS, which in fact does not represent anything, and yet exists. And in this form, “nothing” is still “something”.
How should Belarus act when it’s dependent on Russia?
Ryhor Astapenya, Chatham House Expert, Research Director at the Center for New Ideas:
In any case, we all agree on the fact that Belarus is hyperdependent on Russia in economic, military and other spheres. We are in a situation when it’s impossible to drift away. And if one declares publicly that Belarus wants to change its course, it may lead to an inadequate reaction and just the opposite result. But we also understand that it’s impossible to increase the level of dependence, since Belarus is already in a position where its sovereignty is jeopardized. And this dependence continues to increase.
Neighbors cannot be chosen?
Dmitry Bolkunets, Political scientist, expert in relations between Belarus and Russia:
The CIS covers the area of humanitarian and cultural cooperation and helps maintain social and humanitarian interaction within its framework.
The EAEU today is only about the economy, despite the fact that the idea itself was undoubtedly political. So far, the Kazakhs have managed to keep this union within a truly economic framework. And there are opportunities for this, since in the EAEU the decisions are not binding on all the participants, unlike in the EU.
Each of the 5 member countries of the EAEU sees its benefits in the form of economic preferences, including in the energy sector.
Belarus should have better relations with both Moscow and Europe, no walls should be built. Neighbors cannot be chosen.
What are the prospects for the Union State of Russia and Belarus?
The situation in which Belarus finds itself is an opportunity for Moscow to tie it up. In the area of economic integration, the EAEU has gone much further than the Union State, therefore, an attempt has now been made to catch up with it in a bilateral format.
Hence the programs aimed at harmonizing the legislation, but their implementation takes time, even with the parliament under control.
It is worth noting that in the Russian expert community there was a question about what to do with the Union State. Different opinions were expressed, but mainly it should be seen as an attempt of the Russian political elite to show an example of positive cooperation. Then, Lukashenka was the main enemy of the Union State. Now he has been faced with a choice ― either a tribunal, or doing something historically good for Russia. The Kremlin's plans to complete the integration process by 2024 seem utopian.
Indeed, Lukashenka is not really interested in the Union State ― his dream is to leave everything as it is. But now he has little room for maneuver. Besides, his relations with China are cooling. And we can observe how the CIS language is being used in the Union State. But at the same time, there is a threat of Russia’s military presence, which is a real lever of control.
How can Belarus build relations with its neighbors?
Piotr Rudkovsky, Philosopher, BISS Academic Director:
Social surveys show that Belarusians see no contradiction in the possibility of getting closer to both the EU and Russia. Belarusians are ready to build relations without serious conflicts. And a possible option now may be the denunciation of the Union State and the development of relations within the EAEU. But the initial conditions are required: a change in the situation in Belarus and the reformation of Russia in the future.
The next discussion at the Expert Environment:
"Prospects for building short and long term partnerships with the EU"For more reports on the discussions follow us on our social networks by the hashtag #ЭкспертнаяСреда (#ExpertEnvironment):
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