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Dangerous Eurasian idea

Ingo Mannteufel / cd
May 29, 2014

It's not the Eurasian Economic Union that's a danger to Europe, but the Eurasian ideology behind it, writes DW's Ingo Mannteufel.

Ingo Mannteufel
Image: DW

When the three presidents of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus - Vladimir Putin, Nursultan Nazarbayev and Alexander Lukashenko - signed an agreement on a Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, on Thursday (29.05.2014), many people will have been reminded of the Soviet Union, which disintegrated nearly 25 years ago.

For the Kremlin, this is intentional. Because Russians too are supposed to view this enterprise within the context of a resurgent Russia - a strategy that meets with approval among the populace. Conversely, and also intended by the Kremlin, fear of a new Soviet Union is growing in the West.

But it's wrong to see the Eurasian Economic Union as a new Soviet empire.

Not equivalent to the Soviet Union

That's because Russia's Eurasian integration project is not comparable to the Soviet Union. It's a further development of the many attempts Russia has made ever since the Soviet Union's collapse to bind the former Soviet republics together economically. From 01.01.2015 onward, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan will start establishing the free movement of goods, services, capital and labor.

The existing customs union between the three countries has, however, shown that in practice day-to-day cooperation proceeds only sluggishly, not only due to (economic) political differences but also on account of corruption and a lack of transparency. So far, only Belarus and Kazakstan are involved in this project. Armenia and Kyrgyzstan could soon follow. But it is still very doubtful that Russian citizens will be persuaded that the free movement of labor from poor Central Asian republics is a good idea.

In any case, without Ukraine, the Eurasian Economic Union project for the post-Soviet region is economically dead in the water. That was - and is - the reason behind Russia's aggressive Ukraine policy in recent months.

Lastly, we must not forget that even the loyalty of Belarus and Kazakhstan to the Eurasian integration project has its limits. Kazakhstan's primary motive for joining the Eurasian Economic Union is not to subjugate itself to Moscow, but to strengthen Russian ties as a counterweight to growing Chinese influence in Kazakhstan. A similar "seesaw policy" - this time between Russia and the EU - is the basis of the Belarusian position.

No: The emerging Eurasian Economic Union is not a new Soviet Union. Nor is it a threat to the "old" European Union.

Rather, the newly-emerging single market could ultimately provide better economic opportunities for EU companies. And in the event of real economic progress, the socio-economic situation could improve for people in the region.

Europeans, therefore, cannot be against Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia joining forces to create a single market.

Eurasianism: the new threat to Europe

A far different judgment, however, should be made with regard to the Eurasian ideology that has markedly gained in political significance in Russia since Putin returned to the presidency, and which is now being woven into the Eurasian integration project.

The linguistic monstrosity known as "Eurasianism" and its individual ideological components will, ilke it or not, shape the European political debate over the coming decades. In truth, this is already the case.

This is because Europe's increasingly strong right-wing populist movements with their anti-liberal, xenophobic, homophobic, anti-American views correspond exactly to the Eurasian ideology being propagated in Russia.

Eurasianism was developed in 1920 by Russian emigrants who combined in their ideology elements of anti-liberalism, nationalisism and anti-Semitism. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, these concepts once again found their way into Russian discourse. Until a few years ago they were marginal views, held by political crackpots and conspiracy theorists.

However, in Putin's remarks and policies since 2011/2012, echoes of Eurasianism have become increasingly apparent. It is therefore unsurprising that Putin speaks so positively about right-wing populist politicians and parties like Marine Le Pen's National Front.

Eurasianism is not a Russian rejection of Europe, as is often erroneously thought. It's the concept of another Europe - namely, an anti-liberal and anti-American one.

This - and not the project of a Eurasian Economic Union - is the real threat to a liberal and democratic Europe. These far-reaching implications have yet to be grasped by the citizens of the old continent.

Europe would do well to wake up from the post-Cold-War euphoria that has prevailed since the end of the 20th century, and to adjust both politically and militarily to a new totalitarian challenge in the 21st.

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