The reaction in much of the Western press to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's proposal of a Eurasian Union at the beginning of October was more or less predictable to longtime Russia watchers. Familiar accusations of Russian neo-imperialism and wild claims about a "new Soviet Union" abounded, feeding into a general narrative of Russia as a looming threat that must be contained.
These fears are premature, to say the least. As Richard Weitz pointed out in his WPR column last week, the idea of some form of overarching supranational organization for the post-Soviet states has been a hallmark of Russian foreign policy practically since the Yeltsin years. But it has never been particularly realistic due to political tensions among those states and the slim record of successful multilateral institution-building in the former Soviet Union so far. Moreover, in light of the significant dips in popularity experienced recently by Putin, President Dmitry Medvedev and their party, United Russia, this latest proposal is most likely little more than campaign rhetoric.
However, so far no one has asked the most obvious question: Would the successful creation of a Eurasian Union be a positive development for the region? The answer is quite possibly yes, at least in two areas. The first is the continuing economic development of the former Soviet Union as a whole. The second concerns the way that Moscow conducts its relations with its former imperial dependencies.