Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 189

Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia, Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus, Nursultan Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan, Askar Akaev of Kyrgyzstan and Imomali Rahmonov of Tajikistan met yesterday in Astana to sign the Founding Treaty of the “Eurasian Economic Community” (EAEC). The five countries’ prime ministers had approved a set of founding documents of the EAEC on October 6, also in Astana. Those documents mainly cover economic and organizational matters (see the Monitor, October 10).

The Founding Treaty mentions in several places something called “the EAEC’s external borders” with both economic and security connotations. The Russian official parlance has long been using the legally invalid term “CIS external borders,” denoting the newly independent countries’ national borders with the non-CIS world. That underlying intent was to cast doubt on the permanence of post-Soviet arrangements and to stake a claim to Russian oversight of those borders. But Moscow seldom managed to introduce that term in official CIS documents.

The official appearance of the modified version, “EAEC’s external borders,” suggests, first, that Putin’s Kremlin plays a stronger hand in relation to Central Asian countries than Boris Yeltsin’s had. Second, that these three Central Asian countries as well as Belarus tacitly accept inclusion into a Moscow-dominated system. And, third, that Russian policymakers are prepared to divide the “CIS space” in two distinct zones: a would-be bloc under Russian leadership and the group of countries which see their future in association with the West. That latter group is the GUUAM association of Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova.

The dividing line is less than clear-cut, however. Moldova’s freedom of action is now constrained by the dominant, Moscow-oriented Communist Party. Uzbekistan keeps a certain distance from GUUAM. On the other hand, Russia’s loyal military ally Armenia has declined to join the EAEC, just as it had earlier declined to join the CIS Customs Union. And Turkmenistan, with its status of permanent neutrality, stays out of all CIS activities, including the creation of the EAEC. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan aspire to develop economic relations with the Middle East and South Asia. The establishment of “EAEC borders” would dangerously limit member countries’ latitude to choose their external economic partners. But it would impact just as adversely on the EAEC countries’ economic relations with neighboring CIS countries. “EAEC borders” would, for example, imply erecting customs borders between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, or between Belarus and Ukraine. That would become a recipe for orienting the EAEC member countries economically and, by implication, politically, toward Russia on a long-term basis.

As a sop to Kazakhstan, that country’s president Nazarbaev has been designated for a one-year period as chairman of the Interstate Council, the EAEC’s top policymaking body, consisting of the five heads of state. The chairmanship will afterward rotate among the presidents in the Russian alphabetical order of the member countries’ names. The Belarusan president is in line to succeed Nazarbaev next year. And in a further, symbolic concession to Kazakhstan, its capital Astana will share with Moscow the role of hosting the EAEC’s standing executive body, the Integration Committee.

The Founding Treaty further stipulates the creation of an EAEC Arbitration Court and an EAEC Parliamentary Assembly. Lukashenka’s capital, Minsk, has been awarded the honor of hosting the Court; St. Petersburg will host the EAEC Parliamentary Assembly, as it does the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly.

The treaty binds the countries to coordinate their policies and positions with respect to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and “other international economic unions”–almost certainly an oblique reference to the European Union. At the last two CU summits, Putin–as prime minister in 1999 and president this year–had asserted that Kyrgyzstan and, by implication, Kazakhstan risk countermeasures if they do not accept a “common stance” toward the WTO (Itar-Tass, RIA, Habar, October 10; see The Fortnight in Review, October 8, 1999, February 4, 2000; see the Monitor, September 17, October 11, 1999; January 28, May 25, June 23, 2000).