Speaking last Thursday in Dublin to a group of human rights activists on the sidelines of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) conference, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton effectively sounded the death-knell for the reset in U.S.-Russia relations. Commenting on Russian proposals for creating a Eurasian Union comprising Russia and other former Soviet republics, Clinton bluntly described the plan as a “move to re-Sovietize the region” and said that the United States is “trying to figure out effective ways to slow down or prevent it.”
Given that the proposal to develop the Eurasian Union was at the heart of the foreign policy platform that Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled prior to his presidential election, it is difficult to understand how Washington feels it can oppose the initiative yet retain cooperative relations with Moscow in other areas. In a pre-election essay penned by Putin last October, he described “stronger integration on a new political and economic basis” between Russia and its neighbors as “an imperative of our era.” Building on an existing customs union between Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, the new Eurasian Union, which Putin hopes could be created as early as 2015, would be modeled on the European Union. The ruling United Russia party has endorsed the project, noting that the Eurasian Union “should bring together nations that are historically or culturally close to Russia and that are ‘loyal to Russia's interests.’”
Whether the Eurasian Union is a good idea for Russia or for the other states in the post-Soviet space is a separate debate. What is clear is that Putin, as well as some other regional leaders like Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, view a Eurasian Union as necessary to fill the vacuum created by the stalling of the European project in the west and the rise of China to the east. From the Russian perspective, the “new EU” is designed to thwart the effective partition of the territory of the former Soviet Union into European and Chinese spheres of influence. Instead, the Eurasian Union is envisioned as “one of the global poles of power, connecting Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.” And the proposed union’s governance would be constructed to give Russia the leading role in framing its direction, ensuring that Moscow would serve as the “choirmaster” of the Eurasian bloc of states.