3 – Trade and geopolitics
BSSB.BE epc.eu 20.04.2015
Crucially, Russia has monopolised the external agenda of the EEU and its policy towards Ukraine has tested the new integration regime, exposing significant cracks. Russia’s ability to use some of its ‘tried and tested’ instruments, such as the application of anti-dumping duties, seemed constrained by the EEU, as these are now clearly competencies of the EEU as a whole.
This means that the other member states have to agree on the adoption of restrictions and sanctions vis-à-vis third states, such as Ukraine. Kazakhstan and Belarus refused to join the sanctions against Ukrainian and Western products imposed by Russia in 2014.
When confronted with dissenting views within the Eurasian regime, Russia resorted to unilateral actions. Moscow’s disregard for legal issues presented other member states with a fait accompli. In the ensuing disagreement with Russia, Belarus even moved to re-introduce customs checks.
This spiral of unilateral actions has threatened the Customs Union – the biggest achievement of the Eurasian project. Despite the time and energy invested in the creation of a multilateral structure with supranational elements, the fragile and even tenuous nature of the Customs Union has been laid bare.
Russia’s disregard for its own multilateral regime results in the ‘undoing’ of the basic achievements of Eurasian integration. Such an instrumental use of the EEU negates the promise that the EEU it is a credible partner (and competitor).
Russia is unlikely to surrender any time soon. This prevents a comprehensive, forward-looking review of EU-Russia relations. The ENP review is unable to provide answers, not only because Russia refused to participate, but because Russia is challenging the very aims of the ENP.
Under the circumstances, the creation of the Energy Union is a timely response to a Russia that has threatened to deploy economic instruments in pursuit of geopolitical advantage. Given all the tensions, there is a natural willingness to focus relations on a seemingly neutral subject – trade – either within the trilateral EU-Russia-Ukraine context or by involving the EEU.
However, to do so is to miss the point: Russia’s objections are neither technical nor legal. Moscow is challenging the EU’s right to pursue its policies on the European continent and the right of independent and sovereign states in Europe to make their own choices.
The Commission’s refusal to revise the EU-Ukraine DCFTA is therefore an appropriate response: revising a bilateral agreement under pressure from a third country would set an unfortunate precedent.
Such an attempt to placate Russia to ‘secure peace’ would only increase the growing sense of anxiety in the eastern neighbourhood that the pursuit of democracy, rule of law and economic modernisation via integration with the EU is a security risk too great to take.
With trade being part of the bigger geopolitical challenge, the cautious, step-by-step approach vis-à-vis the EEU is highly justified. A new agreement between the EU and Armenia would be a useful pilot run. Such an agreement would test the ability of the EEU member states, which are highly dependent on Russia, to make sovereign decisions on fostering economic and political relations with the EU.
This would also allow the partners to identify possible (in)compatibilities between the EU and the EEU before any larger projects are considered. Given the fault lines within the Eurasian project, engagement with the EEU should move forward with due caution and include a number of conditions with regard to Russia’s actions in Ukraine as well as Russia’s WTO commitments.
It is important that any dialogue includes, apart from Russia, the Eurasian Economic Commission and other EEU member states, if only to prevent Russia from monopolising the EEU’s external agenda and avoid the marginalisation of the eastern neighbours inside and outside the Eurasian bloc.
Dr Rilka Dragneva-Lewers is Senior Lecturer at the Birmingham Law School, and Dr Kataryna Wolczuk is Reader in Politics and International Studies at the Centre for Russian, European and Eurasian Studies, both at the Universty of Birmingham.
European Policy Centre
*This is the third part of the article about trade and geopolitics and current crises. More information You can find in the second and in the first and in the second parts of this article.