"Western vector of the EAEU: from confrontation to the search for constructive models of partnership": in the assessments of experts

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On March 12, 2017 an on-line conference "The Western Vector of the Unified Energy System: From Opposition to Searching for Constructive Partnership Models" was held. Scientists from Kazakhstan, Turkey, Britain, India, Romania and Russia discussed the current state of the dialogue between the Eurasian Union and the West, and also offered their vision to improve the quality of this dialogue.

The event was organized by the Information and Analytical Center "Eurasia-Volga Region" (Saratov); Regional public organization "Information and Analytical Center" EuroNord "(St. Petersburg); St. Petersburg State Economic University, Faculty of International Relations of the Eurasian National University.named by L.Gumilyov (Astana city). With the information support of the "Russian-Kazakhstan expert IQ-Club".

During the expert meeting, the geo-economic attractiveness of the EAEU for external partners was discussed, options for moving from the confrontational practices of the West- EAEU dialogue to developing a new constructive agenda were discussed.

Following the meeting, IQ asked the experts to answer a number of questions, in particular:

1.    What do you think about the current statement does the EEU-West dialog? Do they have any dialog?

2.    According to your opinion which factors (positive or negative) can affect to the statement of this dialog?

3.    What do you think: are there any the so-called ‘red lines’ or difficulties that could limit the EEU-West dialog?

Denis Alexeev (PhD in Political Science, Associate Professor , Saratov State University):

1. At the moment, we may recognize the absence of direct dialogue between EEU as regional economic organization and consolidated West. All the elements of cooperation and economic partnership are remain on bilateral or multilateral interstate level without any kind of institutional involvement of the EEU.

2. The issue of cooperation between EEU and the West (or recognition of the EEU as legitimate economic partner for the Western countries and regional organizations) corresponds to the political and practical level of the question. On one hand, difficult political relations with Russia makes Western dialogue with EEU as very unlikely. On the other hand, from the western point of view it is difficult to imagine what kind of practical benefits and economic gains this dialogue could bring. What kind of advantage could give institutional partnership with EEU to the EU, US, or any particular European country besides to what they can achieve via direct economic cooperation and dialogue with EEU member-states? As soon as we could give a rational answer to this question, we could find a ground and agenda for the dialogue. It is a challenge for expert’s community to look for such an answer.

3. There are plenty of obstacles on the way of dialogue between the West and the EEU. First of all, it is a serious crisis in Russia-Western relations. The differences and disagreements in both sides approaches toward the fundamental issues of international security, principles of international law and the perspectives of the global world order. All these disagreements will shape the level of mutual trust and rapprochement, including the level of EEU. As soon as current contradictions and crises will be resolved and compromises will be found, we could detect a positive dynamics on the level of regional cooperation and dialogue.

James C.Pearce (PhD, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge)

1. No, it is not a high profile discussion, which takes place in the West. The British government and European Union do not take the EEU as a serious economic union. So how can there be a dialogue, let alone a constructive one?

2. The relationship with Russia has to improve first of all. Russia is the largest country in the union and its biggest net contributor. The EU’s suspicion and British government’s ambivalence towards the EEU comes from this strained relationship is recent years. Secondly, greater cultural exchanges could help. The reality is that ordinary people need an increased awareness of the EEU and the countries who comprise its membership. More education and business exchanges would be starting block number one.

3. Unfortunately, the membership of Ukraine and Georgia seems to be the main red line. Neither the West nor Russia can allow Ukraine to join the EEU or NATO. This is an obstacle in having a wider economic union or at least a greater trading region. A secondary issue might be migrant labour. The EU and UK could not allow for even greater uncontrolled migration of unskilled workers in the current political climate.

Maria Lagutina (PhD in Political Science, Associate Professor ,Vice-head of World Politics Department School of International Relations Saint-Petersburg State University)

1. It is difficult to assess something that, unfortunately, does not exist. Although, I would like to recall that the original purpose of the EEU was precisely the creation of an equal (!) In the form and importance of a partner for the EU, as bilateral relations on the line "national state - EU" have not proved their effectiveness. In particular, within the framework of Russia-EU cooperation, not so many common projects have been implemented. Moreover, all of this fits into the concept of "Greater Europe", or later - "integration of integration", from Lisbon to Vladivostok, which was dreamed of by representatives of the European and then Russian expert community. However, the events of the early 2000s (for example, the expansion of NATO and the EU to the East), and then in 2014 made it almost impossible for a dialogue between Russia and Western countries and, as a consequence, between the EU and the EEU.

2. The parties are aware of the fact that if the split in relations between the two key actors of the Eurasian space (the EU and the EEU) does not improve, then in the near future both can lose their actority and dissolve in the Chinese initiative «One Belt and one Road." For the EEU at this stage, it is also important to work on the formation of its positive image and actively popularize its activities both on the territory of the member states and outside the integration space.

3.  I'm afraid that this is the so-called "Ukrainian factor". Our Western colleagues keep stressing that until this issue is resolved, there will be no dialogue with Russia. But those solutions that the Russian side offers do not suit them. Dialogue can not be established even at this level. Although recently we have seen a gradual return of the desire of a number of Western countries to establish cooperation with Russia in the so-called "soft power" sector. Apparently, it becomes more and more obvious to our colleagues that a number of issues on the world agenda can not be solved without the participation of Russia

Natalia Eremina (PhD in Political Science, Associate Professor, Saint-Petersburg State University)

1. The so-called collective West has not demonstrated a willingness to engage in dialogue with the EEU, while Russia and other countries of the EEU confirm the idea of ​​multilateral diplomacy, which is necessary to solve a set of interrelated economic tasks. Therefore, the situation is quite paradoxical: Western countries were initially not ready for an equitable dialogue with the EEU, and the countries of the EEU call upon it. In addition, the EEU itself is considered by the representatives of the EU, the US and others as a projection of Russian foreign policy ambitions, which also does not promote dialogue, especially in the context of the growing Russophobia and sanctions policy towards Russia. Thus, the negative perception of Russia by the countries of the West brings down opportunities for dialogue between them and the EEU.

2. At present, we can state the presence of diametrically opposite positions in Russia and the so-called collective West. They relate to the security architecture (the Euro-Atlantic vector, preserved by Western countries, or the model of collective security with the Eurasian core, proposed by Russia); different perceptions of a number of major conflicts (Ukrainian crisis, ISIS, etc.); different ideas about the possibilities of realizing the idea of ​​"Big Eurasia", which is denied in the EU; relative rivalry in the post-Soviet space between the countries of the West and Russia. These positions in the context of the transformation of the international order make it difficult to have a full dialogue, especially between the EU and the EEU. The last project the European partners perceive as competing. Nevertheless, the security problems that the Western countries can not solve without Russia will allow us to start a more substantive dialogue, for example, on the SCO platform.

3. The most significant factor, insurmountable over the next 10 years, is the different geopolitical strategies of the countries of the West and the countries of the EEU. In these circumstances, any foreign policy measures of Russia and the development of the EEU will be perceived by the West as a challenge to them from Russia. Especially seriously, the experts of the EU and the US assess the possibility of the growth of the EEU in the case of cooperation of the group countries with the BRICS countries, primarily with China and India.

Translating: Sergei M. Kirillov, School of International Affairs Saint Petersburg State University