Prospects for Eurasian Integration

An integration among the countries, including the five countries of post-Soviet Central Asia, Russia, India, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan will provide a great bulwark for peace and stability in the region. Source: Alamy/Legion Media.

An integration among the countries, including the five countries of post-Soviet Central Asia, Russia, India, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan will provide a great bulwark for peace and stability in the region. Source: Alamy/Legion Media.

Recent developments indicate that the leaders of Central Asia, some of whom were groomed during the Soviet era, are increasingly realising the importance of coming together of the countries of the vast Eurasian space.

While speaking at the Eurasian Media Forum at Astana last week, the Kazakh President, Nusultan Nazarbayev emphasised on the prospects of Eurasian integration. The day before he had a telephonic conversation with Russian President, Vladimir Putin, and both leaders discussed on modalities to widen the integration process.

Already, a Customs Union comprising Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus is in operation since 2010. The developments in recent months and years indicate that the leaders of Central Asia, some of whom were groomed during the Soviet era, are increasingly realising the importance of coming together of the countries of the vast Eurasian space, towards cooperation in various areas. Earlier in April, during his visit to Kremlin the Uzbek President, Islam Karimov had emphasised on the prospects of regional cooperation and the crucial role of Russia in this process.

Nazarbayev lamented that Central Asia is not considered vital from a broader international politics perspective. To quote him, “There are certain people who are unable to notice or simply ignore the changing realities of our region… The reason for that is archaic stereotypes, which are yet to be overcome, shared by certain mass media, analysts and sometimes even politicians.” He called Central Asia as a new sub-region of Eurasia. He reiterated Central Asia’s great cultural heritage, civilisational past, its location in a vital geopolitical space, and its robust and independent spirit, which can no more be ignored by regional and international players. He further argued that though the countries of Central Asia are relatively new, they posses “new national spirit and opportunities.”

From an economic point of view, Central Asian countries too have enormous economic potential in terms of energy resources. The countries are located on the ancient Silk Road, which are currently dubbed as road for drug trafficking and terrorism. From geopolitical point of view, their location adjacent to Afghanistan, and their location in the wider orbit of extremism and terrorism make the countries further important.

Nazarbayev said, “I would like to emphasise the contribution of the (Eurasian Media) forum into the development of Eurasian integration … I am glad that one of the most important issues of the agenda of today’s event is related to the discussion of the prospects of this particular Union.” He envisaged that by the beginning of 2015 there will be a Eurasian economic space, which would allow the formation of the Eurasian Economic Union.

An integration among the countries, including the five countries of post-Soviet Central Asia, Russia, India, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan will provide a great bulwark for peace and stability in the region and as a certain counter weight against the menaces of extremism, terrorism and drug trafficking. The existing structures like Eurasian Customs Union can be further strengthened by incorporating new members from the region. India has already expressed interest to be a member of the Customs Union. President Putin also evinces keen interest to operationalise the idea of Eurasian Union.

Russian leaders like Yevgeny Primakov are strong votaries of the Eurasian idea. Though the initial years of post-Soviet Russia were marked by uncertainty, the later years particularly with Primakov at the helm of foreign policy making the Eurasia idea gained ground. It needs to be made clear that the idea of Eurasian identity is not a new one or emerged in the post-Soviet era as it has a long historical root. Early 20th century scholars like Nikolai Trubetskoi equated this Eurasian identity as a ‘symphonic personality’ which evolved for hundreds of years. It is neither purely confined to Europe or to Asia, but a harmonious blending of cultures emanated from Christianity, Buddhism and Islam.

As mentioned earlier, Nazarbayev talked to Putin about this Eurasia Union before his speech at the Eurasian Media Forum. Kremlin Press Service confirmed the talks. The Press Service stated, “The two presidents discussed current bilateral relations and exchanged views on a broad range of issues concerning Eurasian integration.”

The evolving Eurasian Union will have many positive implications for the region and the world. In the post-cold war de-ideologised world, it will shun any burden of ideology and promote economic cooperation and frameworks to meet common challenges. It will have myriad advantages. The old Silk Road can be revived across Eurasia and linked to North-South corridor (still in idea stage). This linkage will facilitate trade and commerce across the region. As this region comprises of countries which are abundant in energy, and also countries which are energy hungry – the integration will facilitate establishment of pipelines for transportation of oil and gas from northern part of Eurasia, e.g. Russia to southern part of Eurasia, i.e. India, and also from the east to the west. The Silk Road which has won notoriety due to drug and illegal arms trafficking, and for spread of terrorism and extremism, can be jointly managed by the countries of the region for economic development. The Road of terrorism can then be transformed in to the Road of tourism and trade.

Not only that, collaborative effort of the countries of Eurasia will be more effective in fostering peace and stability in Afghanistan. Nazarbayev rejected any prognosis of catastrophe after the NATO led International Security Assistance Force departs in 2014, and argued that international community including countries of Eurasia will play an effective role in “post-conflict peace building and development of the Afghan economy.” Eurasia in its geographic dimension not only includes countries of Central Asia and Afghanistan but also countries of groupings like RIC, SCO, CIS and CSTO. The larger Eurasia Union will not only provide a bigger umbrella to these countries and the groupings, but will also help address bilateral and multilateral differences besides facilitating coordination on issues outside their territories.  In the post-cold war world which has proved to be flexible with its ever evolving nature, the Eurasia Union may emerge a crucial binding factor for the countries of the region to promote mutual interests in a non-antagonistic format, and for larger causes of peace, stability and economic development.

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