Associate Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Programme
Rilka DragnevaReader in Law, Development and Regional Integration, Birmingham Law School

Regardless of its multiple shortcomings, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) should not be dismissed out of hand. For Russia, it is the primary vehicle for realizing a global geopolitical agenda. 

Attendees at the Eurasian Economic Union Summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on 26 December 2016. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images.Attendees at the Eurasian Economic Union Summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on 26 December 2016. Photo: Getty Images.

Summary

  • The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) was established in January 2015 with the aim of integrating post-Soviet states, including Russia, into a new cohesive economic entity.
  • The rapid launch of the union was made possible through bilateral deals initiated by Russia with individual member countries rather than any particular appetite for integration from member states.
  • All member states seek to minimize commitments and maximize flexibility within the common regime. The lack of commitment to deep economic integration is apparent in the institutional architecture of the union.
  • The lack of commitment is also evident in the stilted progress of further integration after the EAEU’s impressive launch and the unravelling of the early success of initial integration – the Customs Union.
  • Satisfied with having created a union, Russia is not preoccupied with making it work. Russia has refused to be constrained within the Eurasian project, as would be expected as a member of a common regime.
  • Achieving deep economic integration requires a commitment, mainly from Russia, not only to respect the already adopted rules of the EAEU but also to spearhead regulatory and institutional modernization of the member states, all of which suffer from poor governance.
  • Owing to the diverging motives and preferences of member states and weak common institutions, the EAEU is failing to live up to the grand narrative and fanfare that helped launch it. Yet, the EAEU is unlikely to dissolve, as it remains too important for Russia’s regional and global agenda.