Bryan Caplan  

Your Thoughts on the Eurasian Union

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Three days ago Russian, Kazakhstan, and Belarus formed the Eurasian Union, designed to do for the former Soviet bloc what the EU did for Europe:
[E]xperts stated that apart from post-Soviet states, membership to the Eurasian Union could be expanded to include other countries that have been historically or culturally close, such as Finland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Mongolia, incorporating them into a common state body where Russian would be the common language of communication and economic cooperation. According to Vladimir Putin, the Eurasian Union would build upon the "best values of the Soviet Union."
My knee-jerk reaction is to scream "Yikes!" or worse.  But should I?  Consider these scenarios:

1. The Eurasian Union creates another large free trade - and eventual free migration - zone with little downside.

2. The Eurasian Union turns out to be a largely meaningless symbol.  Members countries do what they would have done anyway.

3. The Eurasian Union is a mixed bag of trade liberalization, needless bureaucracy, and anti-Western rhetoric.

4. The Eurasian Union resurrects the Soviet bloc in diluted form.

Putin's horrifying rhetoric aside, my considered prediction is that the Eurasian Union turns out to be a mix of #2 and #3.  What do you think?



COMMENTS (10 to date)
Peter writes:

On Topic: My gut feeling is #2 (another failed CIS just like the AU or AL today) but I had the same feeling about the EU when it started out. Time has shown so far that the EU ended up a mix of #1 and #3; it's foreseable this block ends up a mixed of #2 and #3 but the problem is, unlike the EU with France/Germany/UK, there is nothing to provide a counterweight to Russia here. I definitely don't see #1, the former USSR has some of the most xenophobic people I have ever seen, even more so than the Middle East or Japan.

Off Topic:

ESU - Eurasian Solar Union

China conquered territory in Russia and much of Asia, starting in 2045. South Korea fell to China and North Korea in 2046. A coup in 2047 in Russia, sponsored by China, led to a return of Communist government to Russia and several of the other CIS nations. The Communist states then formed the Eurasian Union. The remaining CIS states (including part of Russia, the Ukraine, etc) formed the Romanov Hegemony under the deposed Czar in response. The EU crossed the Himalayas and invaded the Indian sub-continent in 2051. Launching its first FTL space craft in 2072 (several years behind the other major powers) the EU renamed itself the Eurasion Solar Union. Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia petitioned to join the ESU as "economic partners" in 2124, considering themselves to have been poorly treated by the NSL and seeing a trend toward some liberalization in ESU policies (as a result of the difficulties of administering strong central control over the vast distances of space). The balance of power swung away from the Chinese in 2127 as the ESU capital moved to the mainly Russian-settled Nova-Moskva.

I'm sorry but you got me thinking about a minature game I haven't played in years but was dear to my youth :) [Full Thrust]

Ari T writes:

Sorry mate, this country ain't joining.

Even if it wasn't the historical heritage, Finland is in the EU.

I think in the future EU will grow in budget and power terms like the federal state of US, if it doesn't collapse due to some crisis.

Nathan Smith writes:

The suggestion that the Czech Republic, Finland, or Hungary might join voluntarily is so ridiculous that this sounds like a veiled threat that they will join by force. I'd like to know who these sinister "experts" are, and maybe ban them from traveling in the West and/or freeze any bank accounts they might hold in the West. They sound like mouthpieces for crude threats from Putin's thugocracy, and there should be penalties for that. If they object, let them prove that this was a pure act of free speech by complete disclosure of their financing and contacts.

But within post-Soviet space (not including the Baltic republics), it's a different story. Nasty as the Russian regime is, it's more liberal and democratic than Central Asian countries. Crazy as it sounds, Putin is genuinely popular there, and there is widespread nostalgia for Soviet times, when Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, etc., were effectively yoked to a more developed nation and enjoyed some benefits thereby.

Russia deserves more credit than they get for their partial openness to migrants from Central Asia. A poor Tajik wouldn't have a chance to go to the West and earn a living there, but about a million of them are working in Russia and sending remittances home. As long as this is done peacefully through inter-governmental agreements (even if the governments aren't democratic), the West should regard it with cautious approval. But we need to be on guard against the likelihood that this is a form of Russian intimidation of its neighbors. Lunatic rhetoric like this is a good pretext for diplomatic reprisals and for strengthening NATO.

sams writes:

Interesting topic, I think the project in itself is aimed at option 3, wether it will make it or not.

You should try to read the books of the mind behind Putin Eurasian project, a russian intellectual by the name Alexandre Duguin to grasp the gist of what they want.

R. Pointer writes:

This seems to be a reoccurring theme in Russian politics. CIS was a first version with perpetual declarations of union between Ukraine, Belarus, and the Russian Federation. It was common at the end of the 1990s for Russia to seek closer monetary union with these other nations, but that never happened. Independent monetary policy is one benefit of being a nation-state it seems.

If anything it mirrors the wide proliferation of regional groups around many such issues. If anything, it probably just institutionalizes current economic relationships with some airy aspirational goals that will never come to be. How many groups does the US belong to that you and I don't really know about. I bet it is dozens or more.

Pavel writes:

Aren't they mostly formalizing existing relationship? Both Belarus and Kazakhstan are already quite dependent on Russia. I would expect this to be mostly irrelevant and unable to attract new members. Mongolia is in China's zone of influence while the European countries prefer European integration(and dislike Russia).

Nathan Smith: penalizing free speech puts you in Putin's gang.

Shayne Cook writes:

To Peter:

My first reaction to Bryan's post was also to remember the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) - "... in order to define an economic space". The 20th anniversary of that is coming up in December. No one hears about that much anymore. It seems the big-kid-on-the-block Russia has no end of difficulty getting the other kids on the block to play the game he wants to play.

But I have an alternate scenario to your "game" scenario. It all happens by 2020 and goes like this:

China buys the eastern third of Russia from Putin, using a combination of its amassed U.S. currency and U.S. debt (mostly U.S. debt) holdings. The transaction benefits both parties as follows:

1.) Russia gets to rid itself of a land mass/minor population that was never governable anyway.
2.) Russia gets monetary leverage over the U.S., which it has always wanted.
3.) China gets land/resources more in tune with its population size and economic growth.
4.) China gets to off-load its constantly-devaluing U.S. debt and currency assets. It can always get more if it wants.

This "deal" works so well for both Russia and China that they agree to further economic and political cooperation, culminating in combining the Ruble and Renmimbi into a common currency. The Sino-Russian political and economic pact works so well, many western European countries join voluntarily.

Erstwhile in the U.S. ...
1.) The Federal Government passes automatic annual $5 Trillion debt ceiling increases to avoid future bi-partisan bickering that threaten crisis/catastrophe/Armageddon/meltdown.
2.) The Federal Government passes unemployment benefits extension to 520 weeks to avoid revolt.
3.) The Federal Government nationalizes the remaining 18 public companies that were part of the former S&P 500 - those that it hadn't already been nationalized or hadn't re-incorporated overseas.
4.) With great fanfare and publicity as the sole foreign and economic policy coup of 2019, the Federal Government inks the "Trans-Pacific Fee Trade Pact" - with Zimbabwe.

And this I fear will be no game. As Bryan so eloquently stated, "Yikes".

Shane writes:

Good luck to them, no yikes! I hope it does indeed improve trade between the countries and help reduce poverty.

Is it not an interesting sign that these countries seem to be accepting the principle that free trade is positive?

Jeremy, Alabama writes:

I go with Option 5, Lukashenka gets cheap gas this winter in exchange for a slight boost to the prestige for Russia's near-abroad.

Lukashenka is an opportunist. For 10 years, during Russia's weakness, he looked west and talked about "Europe". He caused the "largest library in Europe" to be built in Minsk. Before that there was talk about the Russian commonwealth and eventual reunification. Right now he needs Russia's cheap energy. I don't think it is very meaningful to consider strategery further out than 6 months. BTW my wife is Belarussian.

Kevin H writes:

I think they will erect tariffs around this union of countries with all the money collecting ending up in Moscow. It will be similar to the industrial North and the agricultural South before the Civil War.

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