By the late 2000s, instead of the moribund cis, Putin engaged in promoting the idea of the Eurasian Union, which was borrowed from Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev. Back in 1994 in his speech at Moscow State University, Nazarbayev spoke of some kind of postSoviet European Union, replacing the modifier with “Eurasian.”48 At that time this was just a very hypothetical idea of how an ideal picture of interstate cooperation in the territory of the former Soviet Union could look. This thought had been gathering dust on the shelves of the post-Soviet archives until 2011 when Putin reanimated Nazerbayev’s idea “in the process of being upgraded into a single economic space, with the goal of an economic union among the three by 2015.”49 In his interview to the newspaper Izvestiya, Putin mentioned the founding role of the CIS in unifying the ex-Soviet republics in different directions: economic (through the EEC and the Customs Union), political, and military (still through the CIS and the CSTo). In pointing to the European experience of creation of a supranational entity, Putin alluded to the ultimate goal of the Eurasian Union as a possible counterpart of the EU: “It took forty years for the Europeans to evolve from the European Coal and Steel Community to the full-fledged European Union. The formation of the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space is much more dynamic, as it considers the experience of the EU and other regional entities. We see their strengths and weaknesses. And this is our clear advantage to avoid errors, to prevent the reproduction of all sorts of bureaucratic hurdles.”50 In 2011 Putin seemed quite committed to jump-starting cooperation among the Near Abroad on a qualitatively different level.
The economic component of the newly created entity is, indeed, seen by many as its real foundation. After all, if the EU started from sector- specific economic cooperation between limited numbers of its future members and later expanded across the European continent, why can’t Russia do the same and take the spirit of supranationalism further east? The Eurasian Economic Community (eec), created in 2001 as a precursor to the Customs Union (2010) and the Common Economic Space (2012), was given exactly this task: effective promotion of ideals of economic integration and ultimate harmonization of the institutions of its member states: Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Ukraine, Armenia, and Moldova were given observer status. With this spirit of multilateralism in place, the eec was, indeed, “designed and modeled on the EU’s structure, including the institutional mechanisms in place. Thus the Eurasian Economic Integration Commission should be analogous to the European Commission in terms of structure and functions,” as Andrey Makarychev and Andre Mommen explained.51 Similar to the initial goals of the European Coal and Steel Community, the major aim of the eec, as noted by Piotr Dutkiewicz and Richard Sakwa, was “expediting the building of a common economic space, coordinating the process of integration of its member states into the world economy and harmonized economic legislation.”52 These all were noble tasks, which, with careful planning and implementation, were supposed to bring the desired results to the new social contract that Russia was striving to execute among post-Soviet states. The example of the European Union was, at minimum, reassuring.
To a certain degree, the eec was, indeed, successful in creating a common policy stance with regards to foreign trade. According to Rowe and Torjesen, its members managed to come up with a list of products— over 11,000 commodities—that they agreed to establish common tariffs on. However, as they noted, “Decision-making power [in the eec] is weighted according to financial contribution rather than based on the one-state-one-vote principle of the cis. The differential voting mechanism clearly favored Russia, in effect enshrining its great power [velikoder- zhavie] dominance in the organization.”53 The main decision-making body, the Interstate Council, would thus be unevenly skewed in its preferences toward Russia, which goes against the very spirit of multilateralism and even supranationalism.
This should not be surprising to hear, especially if taking into account Shoemaker’s definition: “The essential purpose of the Eurasian Economic Union will be to unite the various countries in the area of the former Soviet Union into a new economic bloc under Russian leadership.”54 The new entity would thus diverge from the EU’s supranational governance because of its design incompatibility. Russian post-Soviet imperialism has a fundamental difference from its Soviet predecessor korenizatsiya and the European supranational model: it is designed to be ethnic in form (as led by none else but the Russians) and imperial in content (forcefully imposed on its members). Liliya Shevtsova com?ments, “The Kremlin is building support for its great power aspirations in exchange for financial, economic, and military bonuses to the Eurasian Union members.”55 The problem is that these bonuses are not yet clear and readily available for the members, and they do not feel completely free from the memories of Russia’s dominating role in the Soviet Union.
As the form of a new social contract, in the cis Russia had to deal with sovereign nations and not gutless victims of the Soviet punitive machine. Russia had to show to the members of the Commonwealth that it is striving to act as a truly unifying force that they could rely on in case of economic hardships (within the Eurasian Economic Community) and political and military problems (within the Collective Security Treaty). In reality, however, as Dmitry Trenin correctly noted, “For each of the cis members their independence is, first and foremost, viewed in terms of independence from Moscow.”56 With these views, any forceful “ dragging” of the countries into the cis, eec, and potentially the Eurasian Union is fraught with negative consequences for proposed Russian multilateralism. Due to its sheer size, Russia dominates the other eec members, and as Zhanis Kembayev concluded, it actively worked to bring Ukraine into the Community as some sort of a counterbalance to its power to disperse the fears of the eec’s lesser member states.57 The myth and reality of living under one common Soviet roof are still vivid in the governance of the Near Abroad. Most of them have already undergone generational changes and are free from the communist legacy but are nevertheless aware of the internal “prison” regime.
The main problem in Russia’s attempts to bring the former Soviet countries together is the very post-Soviet neo-institutionalism that it aspires to bring. This notion is characterized by incompatibility of two qualities of a superpower, which was discussed in chapter 2 on Russian political culture: the ability to effectively impose its will on followers and to attract their willing adherence to its will. The cis countries are treating Russia’s actions with increased suspicion, especially with the wave of growing support for the Russian world and Eurasianism. A loyal adherent of them both, Russian novelist Alexander Prokhanov, views Russia’s attempt to create the Eurasian Union as a step in the direction of institutionalizing Russia’s neo-imperialism. In the article in the newspaper Zavtra (Tomorrow), where he is a chief editor, Prohanov sang the following praises to Putin’s Eurasianist direction:
On the territory of the shattered Soviet empire, among the imperial debris, on the orphaned scraps of the disappeared Red kingdom, Putin promises to build a new imperial community. . . . But even if it proves to be a bluff, this bluff is associated with a yearning for Empire. The desecrated spaces, oppressed peoples, plundered developmental potentials, [and] wailing sacred stones of
the Empire speak up through Putin’s voice____The ideology ofjustice as the
main resource of the upcoming Empire will become attractive to all peoples inhabiting Eurasia. . . . Put your ear to the cobblestones of the Red Square. And you hear the roar of the Fifth Empire.58
Another popular Russian writer, Sergey Lukianenko, echoed Prokh- anov’s notion of gathering up the imperial stones in a peculiar way, revoking the senses of divine revelation: “We should firmly and clearly understand: we, Russia, are now the bearers of truth, freedom, and kindness. All those who oppose us are bringing lies, slavery, and evil. There is no middle ground; those undecided are, at minimum, unwitting accomplices of the enemy.”59 Here, too, allusions are made to the notions ofjustice and righteousness, which are innate parts of Russian political culture.
The statements above were made in relation to the Ukrainian crisis and are not the official position of the Russian Federation, nor are they coming from official state representatives. They are made by prominent private citizens who have their own loyal audiences. However, in the context of the ongoing project of post-Soviet institutionalism initiated and championed by Russia, they bear a less than convoluted message to their readers. Connected with Russia’s actions in Georgia in 2008, its repeated denial of autonomous identity to Ukraine culminating in 2014-15, its infringements upon the state sovereignty of Moldova—all this shows that Russia is trying to reshape the institutions of the newly proposed post-Soviet order in accordance with its individual interpretations of the memories uniting the Near Abroad, its own understand?ing of right and wrong, and its own visions of historical justice. This is the new social contract that Russia, as an up-and-coming superpower, wants to offer to its followers.