Eurasian Economic Union members
The Eurasian Economic Union consists of five member states: Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia.
What is the Eurasian Economic Union?
In theory, the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU or EEAU) is an ambitious project for economic integration in the former Soviet region. Its formal objectives are to create a common market much like the European Union (EU).
It aims to achieve this by coordinating economic policy, eliminating non-tariff trade barriers, harmonizing regulations, and modernizing the economies of its five member states.
The EEU has its own institutions, mirroring that of the EU. These include the Eurasian Economic Commission in Moscow as its regulatory body, and a Court of the Eurasian Economic Union based in Minsk.
However, the reality of integration between the five member states is cumbersome and patchy.
The Commission’s power is limited. Member states disagreeing with its judgements can appeal to other bodies, and the Commission has no power to bring a member state before the Court in a case of non-compliance. Disputes are often resolved bilaterally rather than via EEU institutions.
The type of technocratic infrastructure and common market that underpins the EU – and which the EEU sought to replicate – still does not fully exist. Generally, the ambition to progress towards a more sophisticated economic union has not been realized.
Russia is by far the largest member state and dominates the Union. This means that the trade model is a ‘hub and spoke’ with most trade taking place between Russia and each of the four other nations as opposed to between all five. This domination means that Russia is easily able to act unilaterally within the union.
A short history of the EEU
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia pursued various integration projects through the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) – the much weaker successor organisation to the Soviet Union.
But this was extremely problematic. Some CIS member states were interested in closer cooperation with Russia but others were not. In Ukraine, many people perceived the organization as a mechanism purely to facilitate a civilized divorce from Russia.
Other initiatives were set up outside the CIS, including the Eurasian Economic Community of 2000 with Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, and the Common Economic Space of 2003.
From around 2010 Russia began more vigorous, ambitious attempts to deliver economic partnerships in former Soviet nations.
These included the Eurasian Customs Union formed in 2010 and the Single Economic Space, established in 2012. This activity was partly spurred by the 2008 financial crisis and partly by the EU Eastern Partnership Policy (EaP).
The EaP launched in 2009 and sought to deepen EU economic relations with its neighbouring post-Soviet states such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. Russia perceived this as infringing on its sphere of influence and wanted to create an alternative, complementary economic block to the EU.
The founder states of the Eurasian Customs Union were Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. Greater integration made sense for these states which were all autocracies and already strongly connected through infrastructure and trade due to the legacy of the Soviet Union.
Greater integration also made political sense, as economic union with Russia brought expectation of political support, security guarantees, and incentives such as cheap energy. These benefits allowed autocratic leaders to avoid the reforms other post-Soviet states were undergoing.
Both Belarus and Kazakhstan emphasized they sought economic and not political union. But the reality of the EEU as a Russian geopolitical project was revealed by the case of Armenia, which had been pursuing an agreement with the EU.
On 3 September 2013, after a summit meeting between President Sargsyan of Armenia and President Putin of Russia, it was announced that Armenia would join the Eurasian Customs Union instead, shortly to become the EEU.
This would see Armenia enjoy discounted natural gas supplies and the removal of duties on Russian petroleum products. Armenian activists argued the government had been pressured into joining the EEU as part of Russia’s efforts to cement its influence over former Soviet states.
Russia made a similar attempt to compel Ukraine to reject the EU in favour of EEU membership but this failed and protests saw the government of President Viktor Yanukovych ousted from power in 2014. This began a sequence of events which led to the Russian annexation of Crimea and the escalating Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2022.
The treaty establishing the EEU was signed on 29 May 2014 in Astana (now Nur-Sultan) and came into force on 1 January 2015. Armenia was admitted to the Union the day after it came into force. Kyrgyzstan also acceded to the Eurasian Economic Union in August 2015, motivated by its close economic ties to Kazakhstan and by the labour mobility provided by the EEU.
Central Asian migrants had been working in Russia for a long time, but they suffered discrimination and prosecution. The EEU provided legalized forms of labour migration for Kyrgyzstan’s workers, easing the opportunities to find work in Russia and send remittances to family at home. This labour mobility has been a relative success story of the Union.
Recently, discussions took place about Uzbekistan joining the EEU but these have not really progressed. Since the increased Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2022, Azerbaijan has also discussed joining the EEU as the war has forced the country to acknowledge Russia is its most important geopolitical partner.
The aftermath of the 2022 aggression has made the EEU considerably more useful economically to Russia than ever before. Countries such as Kazakhstan have been instrumental in allowing it to bypass sanctions and import restricted goods.