Beyond the Common Economic Space
The man does not think small: "We are proposing a model of a powerful supranational association that is capable of becoming one of the poles of the modern world and, within that, to play an effective linking role between Europe and the dynamic Asia-Pacific region. ..."
Putin always likes to stress cooperation. In this instance, he argued that the Eurasian Union would actually grow to become a partner for the European Union. "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."
There are many people, especially in Washington, who would like to dismiss this as empty rhetoric. That would be a mistake. Putin may or may not be a dedicated free-market proponent. But his words are probably sincere for one very pragmatic reason: To the extent that agreements like this strengthen Russia—economically, politically, and militarily— they support Putin's grand vision.
The proposal for the Eurasian Union, however, will play out on a tricky part of the Great Game board. Maybe no amount of pressure from the Kremlin will persuade some of the target states, especially Ukraine and Azerbaijan, to join the new union. And providing financial incentives to coax a slew of cash-strapped dictator states into an economic and political partnership poses a high cost for Russia.
Moreover, the open-borders aspect of Putin's Eurasian plan could draw resistance from the Russian people. While they love their Slavic warrior president, they won't welcome an influx of low-wage migrants, many of them Muslim, into Russian cities already hostile to Islam.
So perhaps the "new USSR" will never happen, nor even its rambunctious stepchild, the Eurasian Union. But neither is critical to Putin's plan. He has a lot of geopolitical alternatives bubbling on other burners.
One is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), whose members are Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. The group was formed ostensibly to oppose extremism and enhance border security, but it's really a counterorganization to NATO, a point the SCO doesn't deny. Its official motto is nonalignment, non-confrontation, and noninterference in other countries' affairs. But the members do conduct joint military exercises.
The SCO is a work in progress: Putin wants to add Pakistan. China wants Iran in. If both join, it will be a geopolitical game changer. Russia, China, Iran, and Pakistan would be coordinating both in economic matters and in security matters.
Of course there are energy implications as well. With Iran in the club, members of the SCO would control half of the world's natural gas reserves. Development of the pipeline network would become a matter of Asian integration, not Eurasian integration.
The United States and Europe are shadows of their former selves, leaving the balance of global power up for grabs. The battle of the Colder War, fought with oil and gas, uranium and coal, pipelines and ports, will determine where that balance tilts. Putin has been preparing for the fight for a decade already and is in it for however long it takes.
Russia is set on her course. The Putinization of the world is not only coming; it has already started.
Much depends upon how the West responds.
Here's why: Despite Putin's pronouncements about cooperation among the world's peoples, he always puts his own country first. His overriding goal is to secure Russia a position at the head of the table whenever nations gather. And achieving this involves concentrating his efforts on natural resources, to which everything else is tied, and on diminishing the strength and influence of the United States.
Just read the following excerpt from Putin's Candidate of Science dissertation in economics, defended in 1997 when his country's economy was in tatters, and titled "Mineral and Raw Materials Resources and the Development Strategy for the Russian Economy":
In conclusion, one should note that the existing socio-economic preconditions, as well as the strategy for Russia to emerge from its deep crisis and attain its previous might at a qualitatively new level show that the condition of the mineral and raw materials complex of the country will remain the most important factor in the development of the country in the near term. The speed with which the crisis phenomena in the country are overcome; the creation of the material-technical base for the production of high-technology and science-intensive products, including durable goods; the solution of food supply problems, including ensuring Russia's state security in the area of food products; changing the structure of foreign trade to correspond with the exchange of goods in the world's developed countries; the solution of many social problems and a whole range of factors which determine the future of the Russian Federation depend overwhelmingly on the level of rational, well-considered responsibility and the scale of the use of natural wealth potential. (Emphasis added.)
If the end is for Russia to recover its previous might at a "qualitatively new level," then the means, in Putin's eyes, is to focus on three critical sectors in which he would like the country to rise to global dominance: oil, gas, and nuclear power.