The BRI in Eurasia: An Updated Construction of the Region?

Eurasia in the narrow view, the former post-Soviet space, in which the institutions that emerged in the previous era continue to function. Attempts to reintegrate fragments of the former Soviet space in various forms. Why Belt Road as an Initiative causes positive reactions from the post-Soviet elites at the same time is more attractive from their point of view, rather than the Eastern Partnership?

1. Post-Soviet integration projects – “dwelling on the ruins” of the Soviet Socialist Republic and the internal institutional design.

The CIS like a project was a reintegration in the institutional design of which tools were used that were not typical of ordinary diplomacy. Undoubtedly, this was due to the fact that the de facto single space was still partially functional, but the disintegration continued. In it, an important role was played by national elites (Ukraine, Moldova and partly Belarus), as well as the capitalization of ideas of modernization as Europeanization for the signatory countries of the Bialowieza agreements. But, another part of the CIS chose a different path of state-building with a strong focus on presidential power (Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus since 1996).

If these states with a super-presidential form of government create an integration association, then that part of the government that should be given to supranational bodies is presidential power?

If the CIS as a failed project in connection with the fragmentation of space was increasingly criticized, then there was a growing demand for others. Such projects were the idea of ​​a Union State on the side of Belarus by President Lukashenko in 1996 and the President of Kazakhstan in 1994 on the creation of a Eurasian Union of States. Two projects could well be called something of a prototype EAEU, but the difference is that they were not offered by Russia.

The question is why until 2011 there was no regional project from Moscow? The so-called “color revolutions” were regarded by the Russian leadership quite clearly as interference in the internal affairs. Their perception of the Russian political elite was unequivocally negative and conflicting. A key episode is also the expansion of the EU to the East.

As a result, the specifics of the political systems of the super-presidential republics are easier to perceive projects that are not political, ideological, normative, but “purely” economic and pragmatic.

2. EAEU – a new project as a “response” to the challenge of the regional design of Eurasia.

The obvious institutional imitation of the EU by the Eurasian Economic Union has a number of basic limitations.

First, the vertical management system is conditioned by two factors: the tradition of the governance structure, since the formation of the CIS and the actual form of government of the participating countries, the presidential republics, with the exception of Armenia.

Secondly, the disintegration of the USSR and the conflict between executive and representative institutions led initially to the creation of a Super-Presidency, and when it comes to transferring a part of sovereignty to supranational institutions, this is perceived as a threat to the national sovereignty of all states, with the exception of Russia.

Thirdly, the asymmetry of the socioeconomic and military-political capital of the member countries naturally gives rise to fears from the small and medium-sized states of integration associations and the growth of distrust in the light of the crisis and conflict in Georgia (2008) and Ukraine (2014).

Thus, the Union raised under the stressful conditions. Protectionism has become not only an instrument of the policy of the EEU, but also an instrument of the member countries within the Union.

Conclusion:

I’d like to note that despite the positive reaction of the EAEU countries to the BRI, a number of factors will become a problem for its implementation. Super-presidential republics with great state influence on the economy, using a number of protectionist tools to solve current problems, are an opaque and unstable field for the full implementation of the Initiative. But, the big problem can be social discontent in these countries, which at times can take on an anti-Chinese character.

Written by: Roza Turarbekava (Assistant Professor, Belarusian State University) 

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