Thursday, December 26, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Kazakhstan Leader May Prove ‘Gravedigger’ of Putin’s Imperial Plans

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 26 – Most commentaries have focused on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plans to form a Eurasian Union that would integrate much of the former Soviet space into an analogue of the European Union and on his efforts, some successful and some not, to force neighboring countries to join his group or at least not  join any other.

            But much less attention has gone to what may be an even more important determinant of how Vladimir Putin’s plans are going to work out – the opposition of the leaders of some of the countries already part of the Moscow-led Customs Union to any expansion of that body beyond economics and trade into the political sphere.

            Such opposition or perhaps better resistance was very much on display in Moscow two days ago when Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted his Belarusian and Kazakhstani counterparts, Alyaksandr Lukashenka  and Nursultan Nazarbayev for a summit of the current members of the Customs Union (

            The three discussed including Armenia in that grouping in the near term and Kyrgyzstan at some point after that, and they also talked about creating a Eurasian Economic Union on the basis of the current free trade area.  But as one Kazakh commentator pointed out, the propaganda value of all this was undercut by the statements of Nazarbayev and Lukashenka.

            With regard to Putin’s call for political integration, Nazarbayev said that the parties should be patient and not hurry given all the changes in the region and the ongoing tensions in Ukraine.  Pointedly, he added “the politicization of the union we have created is impermissible” given what “we see all around.”

            “Let’s create an economic union; everything [else] will come in its time,” the Kazakhstan president said.  Right now, that union should not be focusing on issues like protection of borders, immigration policy, defense and security, health, education, science, culture, legal assistance and fighting crime.

            There are other venues to discuss these matters including the Organization of the Collective Security Treaty and the Commonwealth of Independent States, not to mention “bilateral” arrangements, Nazarbayev said. And he spoke out against giving the customs union council greater authority and against the union itself interfering with each country’s relationship with other states and groups of states.

            In October, the Kazakh commentary continues, Nazarbayev and Lukashenka met in Mensk and agreed to “categorically” oppose the formation of any super-national parliament of the member states. And at the meeting this week, that idea, pushed so hard by Russia Duma Speaker Serey Naryshkin was “buried.”

                Even more than Lukashenka who suffers under a variety of trade sanctions imposed by the West, Nazarbayev is very much interested in maintaining and developing ties with foreign companies and ensuring that their investments in Kazakhstan’s economy will continue to grow. And that explains much of what he said this week.

            But as a result of Nazarbayev’s hard line, Putin’s pet project is “now at the edge of collapse,” the Kazakhstan commentator says.  Indeed, it may be true that the Kazakhstan president will “play the role of gravedigger o the Eurasian Union which simply is not fated to become the new full-blown imperialist block on the territory of the former USSR.”

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