Sunday, August 28, 2016


Invigorated Customs Union Presents Russia's Neighbors With Stark Choice

Then-Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (third from right) chairs a Eurasian Customs Union meeting in 2009.
Then-Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (third from right) chairs a Eurasian Customs Union meeting in 2009.
By Robert Coalson
Moscow seems to be growing frustrated with Ukraine's efforts to pursue closer ties with the European Union while simultaneously seeking benefits reserved for members of the Russia-led Eurasian Customs Union (ECU).

"You cannot be a little bit pregnant," Russian Foreign Ministry official Aleksandr Gorban said on January 1, referring to the choice facing Kyiv.

The ECU -- Russian President Vladimir Putin's premier foreign-policy project -- has been developing rapidly in recent years as it heads toward the ultimate goal of transforming into the Eurasian Economic Union by the beginning of 2015. But the ECU's emerging status as a potentially viable rival to the EU is creating intense pressure within countries like Armenia, Moldova, and Ukraine to pick one path or the other.

Both Moscow and Brussels see the choice facing these countries as a stark either/or decision that will likely have to be confronted within the next year or two.

Speaking to RFE/RL about the situation confronting Armenia, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton's spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic ruled out the possibility of simultaneously joining the ECU and pursuing closer economic integration with the EU.

"If Armenia were to join any customs union, this would not be compatible with concluding a bilateral Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement between the European Union and Armenia," she said, "because a customs union has a common external-trade policy and an individual member country no longer has sovereign control over its external-trade policies."

Although Russia's admission last year to the World Trade Organization will go some way toward bringing EU and ECU regulations more into synch, the two organizations remain far apart.

Ukraine's Pivotal Position

Rilka Dragneva, a senior lecturer with the University of Birmingham's law school who specializes in legal institutions and harmonization, has suggested that the EU can do little to reduce the pressure on these countries because EU external policy is driven by political forces within the EU itself.

"[The EU] is not necessarily able to respond to the needs of partner countries such as Ukraine or Moldova," she said.

A young activist wearing a mask of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych invites passersby to go through a symbolic gate with the words "Customs Union" and "Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here," during a protest in front of the presidential office in Kyiv in December.
A young activist wearing a mask of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych invites passersby to go through a symbolic gate with the words "Customs Union" and "Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here," during a protest in front of the presidential office in Kyiv in December.
Of the former-Soviet aspirant countries, Ukraine has the most deeply developed relations with the EU, and so Kyiv is in the spotlight.

In a recent report for Carnegie Europe, analyst Olga Shumylo-Tapiola wrote that Ukraine is "a defining factor" for the future of the ECU.

"If Ukraine decides to join [the ECU], not only will it cause havoc within the European Union, but it will also mean that the post-Soviet economic model has been cemented in the region," she said.

Shumylo-Tapiola argues that if Ukraine rejects the ECU and signs an Association Agreement with the EU -- a prospect that is on hold because of EU concerns about the prosecution of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and other officials from her government -- the ECU will be forced to turn away from Europe and focus its energies on Central Asia and even the Asia-Pacific region.

Heavy-Handed Tactics

Moscow seems eager to avoid being seen as forcing its neighbors into the ECU with heavy-handed tactics.

Instead, Putin has argued that ECU membership would be beneficial to Ukraine because it would be able to deal with the EU on better terms as part of a bloc rather than individually.

At the same time, however, Ukraine's continued reliance on Russian natural gas is a powerful tool, and Moscow has promised Kyiv deep rate reductions if it joins the ECU.

The ECU -- which currently comprises Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia -- has become increasingly robust during the last 2 years or so.

Unlike other, much more haphazard post-Soviet integration projects, the ECU is being implemented and firmly institutionalized, says Kataryna Wolczuk, a senior lecturer at the Center for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Birmingham.

"The Customs Union has been put on a new legal footing and it is much more thoroughly legalized," she adds. "It is based on law. Very comprehensive. So the legal basis is much better, very improved. And also it is [actually] being implemented."

Institutional Momentum

The Eurasian Customs Union Commission now employs more than 1,000 people. As of January 2012, the Eurasian Economic Community (Eurasec) Court became the official arbitration court of the ECU. It handed down its first two decisions late last year -- rulings that upheld the claims of private enterprises against ECU policies.

Nonetheless, according to Wolczuk, it is still very much a "Russia-dominated organization," with many key decisions still being made at the political-diplomatic level where Russia has many levers of influence.

Both Belarus and Kazakhstan have complained, for instance, that Russia uses sanitary and technical trade barriers to extract payments or protect markets.

Despite this, the ECU clearly has growing institutional momentum. Moscow's next step, it seems, is to step up the push for expansion. The Kremlin has extended invitations to all members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, and the ECU has risen to the top of the agenda in Moscow's relations with most of its neighbors.

As a result, Wolczuk sees the invigorated and dynamically developing ECU as a potential game-changer in Eastern Europe, and she maintains that the next couple of years will be crucial.

"How it is going to pan out will be very interesting," she says. "But no doubt the creation of supranational institutions related to the Customs Union is clearly creating something new in the region."

The pressure of the ECU-EU dilemma will play a key role in the presidential election in Armenia in February, as well as the parliamentary elections in Moldova in 2014 and the Ukrainian presidential election in 2015.

RFE/RL Brussels correspondent Rikard Jozwiak contributed to this report
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Comment Sorting
by: rkka from: USA
January 08, 2013 12:48
Bobbie, when "Soviet genocide" ended in Ukraine, there were 52 million Ukrainians.

There are now ~45.5 million, and there's no end in sight. Ukraine's economics and demographics are far worse than Russia's and the EU is no help.

Why do you insist on defending Ukrainian independence to the last Ukrainian?
In Response

by: Asehpe from: Netherlands
January 08, 2013 23:43
For the same reason that you would defend American independence.

Population growth has halted in most industrialized countries, and negative growth is rampant in post-Soviet states (emigration, etc.). This has nothing to do with independence and would remain the same regardless of it.
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
January 14, 2013 16:57
Since 11 Centuries ago Varanga part-Neanderthals expand,
Genocide, cleansing, influx, than Empire, made it too big.
Russia invaded many neighbouring countries lands,
Continue occupation till 1917 Revolution swing.

Independent countries in Europe and Asia follen
With invasion of the Lenin's red Russian armies,
Except Finland, Baltics and Poland. Than again,
Freedom was reinstated inspite of the dammies
Of mad Lenin. 36 Constitution temporary claims:

Transfer for time of war military and foreign parts
To union government of the Parliament of Nations.
After WW2 Russia usurped - refused restore CIS.
Influxed, Stalin under house arrest, as others best.
Russia started restore empire and plagiarize us all.

During Brezhnev non-Russian nations would vanish
And Brezhnev with Varaga-Prussia got too impudent,
Pushing for abolishing national republics and plunder
Further repopulation of USSR for Varagas-Prussians.
You didn't count local poverty, only what stole Russia.

Restoration of CIS, attacks by Russia cleanse-annex,
Economic and energy blocades, strungulating all CIS.
Freedom is not cheap - as Russia's devil trying brake.
Like USA, when imperial Brits burned Washington DC.
Still CIS shouldn't bend and betray Euro-Asian nations.

Non Russians are at least as good today as last USSR
During Brezhnev - not withstanding Russian genocides,
Blocades and sabotage by Russian influx. It's occupiers
And Satrapiens-Quislings, still in republics, that winding,
For some privileges lost. - Locals in USSR were slaving.

by: Jack from: US
January 08, 2013 13:18
EU is the union of US-controlled NATO minions subjugated by Washington mafia, and it is dying slow death.
In Response

by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
January 08, 2013 14:14
You are only right,rkaka-thats russian kaka and Jack-thats another soviet kaka-no escaping the favourite russian symbol.The only way out of trouble and right unto the glorious future for the Ukrainians and anybody else is licking soviet-russian big,round and very well cultivated rears.Russian bottoms are top of the pops as Eugenia from Vienna will gladly testify.So,forget about independence,nationality,or just ordinary human decency-its high time for da future bigger and better russian soviet union.Da zdravstvuet novii,luchshii,samii balshoi CCCP!!! And dont pour your vodka unto my bloody glass,just gimme da whole bottle,spasiba!!!
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
January 15, 2013 01:48
Was Ukraine asking be in Union of USA, Jack-ass?
Was Ukraine asking be only part of EU, blockade Russia?
Ukraine only wants to live in dignity and trade with both,
Russia-made "trade union" too, not die at parasha.
Russia forgeing again imperial prison "vosh".

by: Sey from: World
January 08, 2013 17:09
I have a proposal. How about countries actually maintain their sovereignty and independence, and do not join any union of any sort? I know for some countries it might be hard to actually think about this crazy idea of them having any form of control over their own issues without allowing others to impose their rules to them.

I sincerely believe it would be best for people to decide what its best for their own future without having Moscow, Brussels, or anyone directly or indirectly force their interests on them, which never, ever, by any means, is the interest of the common folk (examples include Greece, Spain, North Korea, etc.).
In Response

by: Kaspy from: London
January 08, 2013 19:42
In that case we will die with poor bread in hand.Come one guys dont be selfish and just live your life.There is a whole few generations ahead of you, who is right now not living in Ukraine to face this it any good to dictate when you are not at the receiving end.When conditions are harsh better to join a customs union which benefits the citizens and improve the prosperity.Thats what made a similar move by Lithuanians last week.
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
January 15, 2013 02:30
Sey "seyet" seeds of incinuation of Russia-Britain-Bechtel pact,
Something Ukraine never wanted, selfisolate from the World.
It's what Russia do - vanish in silence nations and tribes.
It's what CIS must not do, vanish behind Russian door.
"Kaspy" playing in tendem with "Sey", with ugly odore.

Is Kaspy imply Russia own Baku, London blessed?
Did Russia got Lithuania Kaspy, by a strangulation?
Threaten Ukraine be strungulated, by Russia derail?
Does Her Magesty know as her antourage arranging
Vanishing of World nations, by Russia encroaching?

She should be careful, better ask her masson-kaballa
That lying for long for Empires, for devil and antichrist.
The truth is year 1947. World bent to antichrist-"Czar",
Global plagiarizm and slavery by Russ, USA and Brits.
I wouldn't let resurrectors fume her with Russian "Ugar".

by: Bill Webb from: Phoenix Arizona USA
January 08, 2013 23:59
Europe has been aspiring to speak with one voice, politically, and economically for many years. The fact that most of these countries and also members of NATO has ushered in the transition. The countries of eastern Europe have gravitated to the West, some even joining NATO, to the consternation of Russia. Putin and Merkel both speak German and Russian, and they both speak trade and energy. Hopefully we will see the complete integration of eastern European countries, including Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Croatia, etc, etc.This will require the political integration as well as meeting human rights and openness standards dominant in the EU. It could redefine the balance of power in the world and erase the East-West antagonisms of history completely and forever.

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
January 09, 2013 01:33
Why can't there be a win/win type arrangement, where countries like Ukraine or Moldova can join both the EU and ECU? Are the bureaucrats in Brussels even making the effort to talk with their counterparts in Moscow? I thought that WTO membership was supposed to reduce the likelihood of trade wars.

by: parvenu from: US
January 09, 2013 03:27
Where does this selfe confidence of EU come from is a mystery. What do they imagine they can offer to countries like Ukraine and others today? Look at Spain and Greece. They joined the EU and... is it good now? Poeple's salaries slashed or even halved. At least for Ukraine and even Latvia or Lithuania it would make sense to join ECU. The gas and oil will be practically free for one thing. Where are the national brands of the new EU members? Where are Greek and Romanian cars? Nonexistent. Small nations don't have prospects of development under Brussels, that much is clear.
In Response

by: Zoltan from: Hungary
January 13, 2013 15:36
Small nations don't have prospect in the EU? That's nonsense. It's a stupid statement.

Look at the really small Baltic states. They although endured a siuignificant recession after the 2008 crisis but since then all of them were able to make a strong rebound. They live now in a sphere of peace and prosperity and they can retain their own independence and national identity.

Compare this to the era during the Soviet Union when they were poor and almost crushed by Russian "imperialism".

The ECU is a rebirth of Russian imperialism and can not be compared to the democratic structure of the EU.

The EU is based on the rule of law. The ECU is based on the wishes of Russian Czar Putin.

I almost forget to mention: are you looking for national brands? Then let's look: Skoda Octavia is on the top of imported ars in Germany. Skoda nw produces more cars then ever in its history.
Dacia, Romania: Dacia has made a significant comeback since Frensh Renault bought it. The plant in Pitesti now produces cars in 3 shifts as demand is so great for the new SUV Duster.

Most of the newly joined Eastern European member states were able to converge towards the Western standard of living. (Only Hungary lags behind nowdays because of our crazy government...)
In Response

by: Rasto from: Maisons-Laffitte
January 20, 2013 00:55
Agree Zoltan, with everything you wrote...on Hungaria when government and politicians will stop feeding nationalistic, anti-semitic and anti-gypsy emotions, and take economy as a priority situation will be much better,,I wish the country all the best..
In Response

by: Rasto from: front of the comp
January 20, 2013 00:51
So it looks like that, when Americnas comment on European issues without being aware of political and social realities...Latvia and Lithuania in ECU...well go and ask some Lithuanians or Latvians how they feel about your proposal...Maybe you can advise Fidel, Noriega, Morales and Chavez to join USA....

by: peter from: ottawa
January 09, 2013 15:29
comparing the eu and the ecu is like comparing apples and oranges. All 17 eu countries are democratic with constant changes in leadership. The ecu are all hapless dictatorships with no changes . Impoverished Armenia is a Russian vassal state with Russian border guards, Belorussia, Kazakstan are brutal regimes , the Ukraine is divided politically and geographically between east and west. As for Mr big and his impotent Russia, the word trade is last on the list for prosperity .Canada - Us trade dwarfs the ecu and canada is only 33 million people. Ecu dictatorship is the problem , the sooner these despots bite the dust like Assad, Chavez, Fidel, the sooner the trade doors will open up. Europes salvation is west not east.
In Response

by: Rasto from: here
January 20, 2013 00:45
Jesus Christ, I love when Americans and Canadians write about EU political and economical issues pretending to be experts but not knowing basics...that there are 27 EU countries

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
January 09, 2013 21:09
The article says: "Ukraine's efforts to pursue closer ties with the European Union" :-))). I mean, one really has the impression that the authors who write those "articles" in reality have NO IDEA about what is going on in the EU. Why would anyone want to "pursue closer ties" with this European Community of Bankrupt States (ECBS) some of whose member-states (for example, Spain and Portugal) are LOSING POPULATION already, because many of their citizens are just OUTMIGRATING out of Europe (for example from Portugal and Spain to Angola or Brazil), because the unemployment level is that high (26 % in Greece and in Spain).
Even some of the the RICH Europeans are already escaping from bankrupt Europe these days: look at Gérard Depardieu - the guy just has many more interesting projects waiting for him in Russia, Uzbekistan or elswhere than he does in France. So, he is just giving up his French passport and is glad to get a Russian one instead.
So, Moscow does not need to "feel frustrated" at all - there will be no closer ties between Ukraine and the European Community of Bankrupt States. The EU will just continue rotting for another couple of years and will consequently desintegrate.
Happy New Year 2013 to everyone :-)!
In Response

by: Zoltan from: Hungary
January 13, 2013 15:26
Silly argumenting...

Poland inside the EU - you know one of the newly joined members - has survived the crisis without recession. Poland was able to generate positive GDP growth even in 2009 when most of the developed world contracted.

Moreover Slovakia - you know another newly joined member state - produced the highest average GDP growth in the last 10 years inside the EU. Therefore if a member state used their opportunity wise then the reward has came. The proble is not with the EU itself but with the impotent politicians of Greece and other southern member states.

Because it isn't true that the whole Union is in a mess. The Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, not to mention the continet's powerhouse Germany is very well.

The EU is living, was living and will be living.

by: Mike_in_Kyiv from: Kyiv, Ukraine
January 10, 2013 11:42
I think the whole issue revolves around Putin as a personality versus the faceless EU bureaucracy. Although the ECU has more of a legal basis we all need to be pragmatic and expect that Putin will manipulate it as he chooses. On the other hand the European Union with their revolving door leadership really has no face, so it's the Brussels Bureaucrat resides (unfortunately) as being emblematic of what the EU stands for.

If were in Viktor Yanukovych's shoes, the EU bureaucracy is clearly the more benign option. While the bureaucratic integration process is slow and at time annoying it is not so ego-centered and therefore unstable as an alliance with Putin.

In my opinion this would have been a mute point had Ms. Tymoshenko remained intact, outside of jail and not hounded. This is a legacy trait to squash the opposition in a brutal manner - some day politicians in Ukraine may grow up stop this silliness - this is no way to move the country ahead.

Yanukovych could have been well on his way to EU integration and delivering Ukraine from stagnation had this issue been handled differently.

The EU option has been marginalized but not completely lost. There is hope that Yanukovych will see the necessity to get her out of jail and visit Brussels as soon as possible thereafter.
In Response

by: Jack from: US
January 10, 2013 14:42
the fallacy with "pro-western" Ukrainian thinking is that they fantasize the Ukraine will get to Europe "as soon as" this condition or that condition is met. The reality is however that the Ukraine will not be in EU with or without Timoshenko, with or without orange revolutionaries in power. It is like the case with Turkey. No matter how much Turkey screams it will never be admitted to EU because even NATO minions with their chicken heads already realize the danger the influx of Muslims presents to Europe. Well, with Ukrainians migrating by millions to EU (or to Russia) it is not much different
In Response

by: Mike_in_Kyiv from: Kyiv, Ukraine
January 11, 2013 10:48
Jack, you're points are well taken. This process of EU membership should not be viewed/based on fantasy but with eyes wide open and with the realization that the EU is a cumbersome bureaucracy; that membership for Ukraine would not occur overnight. However, Ukraine would have an easier time of it getting into the EU just for the reason you mentioned vis-a-vis Turkey - Ukrainians are white and Christian - much "safer" in the eyes of the power elites than the possible assention of Islamic Turkey. I don't think that Ukrainians would have such a difficult time of it as they are an educated work force - it would be much as Russians go, get educated in Poland or the Czech Republic and find a way to stay there.

Ukraine has much needed talents in the tech sectors and in Agribusiness which would add synergies to the EU economy; these things cannot be ignored by the EU.

I still believe that the Eurasia Customs Union is a pact with the Devil - it's the "new" Soviet Union to be manipulated by Putin as he wishes. The EU at least offers a higher degree of transparency and a chance for a more even playing field. Putin's road is a road to being the next Belarus - just a colony of Russia.
In Response

by: Zoltan from: Hungary
January 13, 2013 15:12
Ukraine is totally different than Turkey. Ukraine is white and Christian therefore European while Turkey is not. That's why Ukraine's place is in Europe while I agree that Turkey will never be admitted into the Union.

Europe needs immigrants and white Christian Ukrainians are by far more easy to assimilate than Africans or Muslims. That's why in the long term Europe really needs Ukraine.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
January 13, 2013 17:04
To ZOLTAN: Zoltan, Ukraine's place is definitely in Europe, but no one in Ukraine is that much out of their mind in order to join this Community of Bankrupt States called the EU. What advantage did Hungary get from having joined the EU 9 years ago? Hungary's economy is stagnant and Hungary's democratically elected leadership is daily MOBBED by an undemocratic, corrupt and incompetent Brussels bureaucracy. Is that the club that you want to drag Ukraine into? No surprise this latter country is not and will not be following the EU-path, as long as an EU membership is a direct way towards bankruptcy, just look at Greece, Spain, Portugal or Italy.
In Response

by: Zoltan from: Hungary
January 13, 2013 15:20
I totally agree with you Mike. Let's look at Poland's example. Now Poland has a really significant power in the EU. So in the European Union it is really possible for even a relatively poor and medium size member state to affect the policy of Brussel. Therefore the path of Poland can be followed by Ukraine as well. Moreover as Ukraine has higher population than Poland then they have good chanes to enforce their interests in the EU policy making processes.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
January 14, 2013 11:29
You, Zoltan, are one of those Euro-"optimists" who - no matter how desperate the situation within the EU is becoming - will always be pretending like "things in Europe are ok".
Apparently, the fact that more than 26 (!!!) % of the population in such EU- and NATO-member states as Greece and Spain are currently unemployed and the fact that the economy of the Euro-zone AS A WHOLE is shrinking and that there are no signs of it getting better EVER are all a "silly argument" for you.
The fact that the British govt is about to organize a referendum in which the British public will most probably vote in favor of leaving the EU is another "silly argument".
The fact that the EU- and NATO-member state Spain is disentegrating, as long as Catalunya is planning its own referendum on leaving Spain is one more "silly argument".
But don't worry, Zoltan: the people in Ukraine and elsewhere see that the EU is disintegrating and they will never be as silly as to join this Community of Bankrupt States.
In Response

by: Jack from: US
January 14, 2013 15:23
jobless rate among NATO minions: Spain: 26%, Poland 13.5%, Greece 25%
jobless rate among aspiring NATO minons:
rump republic of Georgia: 15%, the Ukraine: 8.5%

jobless rate in countries not controlled by Washington mafia:
Russia: 3.8%, Belarus: 1%, Kazakhstan: 5.4%

GDP per capita in aspiring NATO minions:
rump republic of Georgia: $3,210 the Ukraine: $3,600

GDP per capita and GDP growth in countries not controlled by Washington mafia:
Russia: $16,600, growth 4.3%
Belarus: $11,600, growth 5.3%
Kazakhstan: $13,000, growth 7.5%

Clearly, the aspiring NATO minions Ukraine and rump republic of Georgia have achieved a lot in terms of economy by aspiring to join the union of bankrupt states and the union of NATO minions, the slaves of Washington mafia
In Response

by: Rasto from: here
January 20, 2013 01:07
Jack to each Washington - and non Washington controlled country add 25-30% rural population "employed" by working on their 1-2 acres of land and milking 3 cows ( or camel and sheep in Kazakhstan) or feeding 5 piglets...Than to get real numbers add another 10 % for Georgia, Ukraine...Belarus and Kazakhstan...For better understanding of situation in Greece and Spain you may add that in the age segment 19-25 years old there is 50% unemployment....and in Spain this is the case after most of Latinos working in their turist industry left the country...

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