(Reuters) - Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said he wants to bring ex-Soviet states into a "Eurasian Union" in an article which outlined his first foreign policy initiative as he prepares to return to the Kremlin as the country's next president.
Putin said the new union would build on an existing Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan which from next year will remove all barriers to trade, capital and labor movement between the three countries.
"We are not going to stop there and are setting an ambitious goal -- to achieve an even higher integration level in the Eurasian Union," Putin wrote in an article which will be published in Izvestia newspaper on October 4.
Putin said last month he would run in the March 2012 presidential election and his current public approval ratings show that he is set to win.
Putin's initiative comes as Russia nears the end of its 18-year-old negotiations to join the World Trade Organization. In the article Putin made no secret of his skepticism about the global trade watchdog.
"The process of finding new post-crisis global development models is moving forward with difficulty. For example, the Doha round (of international trade talks) has practically stopped. There are objective difficulties inside the WTO," he wrote.
In 2009, Putin threw Russia's bid to join the WTO into disarray, saying Russia would instead form the Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan. The new initiative will have to be explained to WTO members.
Putin, who once called the collapse of the USSR in 1991 "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century," said his new project would not resemble the Soviet Union.
"It would be naive to attempt to restore or copy something from the past. However, a stronger integration on a new political and economic basis and a new system of values is an imperative of our era," Putin wrote.
Russia's relationship with its ex-Soviet neighbors has been troubled by trade and political disputes and even armed conflicts such as the 2008 war with Georgia.
Putin said he saw the new union as a supra-national body which would coordinate "economic and currency policy" between its members. It would also be open to new members.
Putin said that the Customs Union would expand to take in Central Asian republics of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. He also made a veiled criticism of Ukraine which chose to stay outside the union citing its commitment to European integration.
Some of Russian's neighbors were unwilling to commit to integration because this appeared to contradict their decision to build ties with Europe.
But this was a wrong choice, he wrote. He argued that the Customs Union and in future the Eurasian Union would be the European Union's partner in talks over the creation of a common economic space, guaranteeing its members a stronger voice.
"Membership in the Eurasian Union, apart from direct economic benefits, will enable its members to integrate into Europe faster and from a much stronger position."
Putin wrote that he saw the way out of the global crisis through a regional integration, mentioning the European Union, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as examples.
"These 'bricks' can assemble into a more stable global economy," Putin wrote.
(Reporting by Gleb Bryanski; Editing by Myra MacDonald)
Lot of commentators have had the knee-jerk "Soviet Union" parallels, but considering Russia's historical position since the days of its empire, it's not a surprise that the government seeks to solidify and strengthen ties with its neighbors. Especially as the EU is making more and more overtures into Ukraine, I think the need to assert its position in the region is growing.
Russians are very patriotic people, so anything even remotely resembling the Soviet Union is going to be helpful in elections.
The idea of a regional trade union isn't anything special, what has people worried is most likely the fact that Russia has been known to use economic measures for political blackmailing.
Belarus is the only remaining dictatorship in Europe and is under an arms embargo from the EU. Relations to Russia weren't that great either recently due to conflicts about gas shipments. Kazakhstan is a pseudo-democracy much like Russia, with restrictions on opposition and controlled media. Relations to Russia are close, but Kazakhstan also entertains increasing relations to China and the US.
Victim of Forgotten HopeForum bystander
26th April 2004
That's bad to see Putin going backwards against WTO membership, for which Medvedev has worked towards greatly.
But I don't think it will affect anything really if Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and potentially some Central Asian states will go into an economic union from an European perspective. Since Russia is wanting more influence in Europe, Belarus won't help much and I doubt Ukraine wants to join that union. Last Ukrainian government even wanted to join NATO.
Georgia is joining NATO as well, and I hope Finland as well, since they're making huge defence budget cuts here right now, it's really a must soon. So there's not much influence Russia can put in Europe either economically or militarily.
The difference between the EU and Eurasian Union is that the Eurasian one has one dominant member, Russia. It's bad if it can dictate everything in the union and push it's interests fully to other members. But if it's just economic cooperation, that's good. EU could cooperate with it in the future.
I think this is a logical move for Russia. They're never going to be part of the EU. It makes sense for them to set up something to compete with EU influence. I don't think it will have the economic sway of the EU but it would also have a propaganda value just to have a competing organization.
Kind of hope he changes the name though. Would never be able to abbreviate "Eurasian Union" to EU as it would confuse people.
Tanith;5570472Kind of hope he changes the name though. Would never be able to abbreviate "Eurasian Union" to EU as it would confuse people.
They might come up with something else- I think it was just something on part of Putin to illustrate what he has in mind. Though one thing some people were pointing out was the whole 1984 idea of the "Eurasia" nation, but it's a different story here.
Putin I think wants to assert Russia's position in the region and part of that means creating a common economic block to counter the EU. The CIS that currently exists is rather a joke and powerless. The groundwork for this is already being laid with some of the customs and trade agreements among Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.