From the FT, word that Vladimir Putin is moving ahead with plans to build a 21st century version of the Soviet Union with some of Russia’s neighbors:
A customs union he launched a year ago between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan has already removed tariffs and customs controls along the three states’ internal borders.
Come January this is due to expand into a “common economic space”, ensuring free movement of goods, services and capital across a single market of 165m people – 60 per cent of the former Soviet population.At a Moscow summit this month, prime ministers of the three states set an even more ambitious target – turning the grouping into a “Eurasian economic union” by 2013. There is even talk, down the line, of a common currency.
Three reasons for Americans (and others) not to push the panic button:1. Russia has been trying to rebuild something like the Soviet Union for twenty years, and periodically announces big agreements and great promise. Not much ever comes of it; few countries want to ‘pool sovereignty’ with a hungry bear. Much of Russian foreign policy is about staging events that make the country look important and the government look busy.2. It remains the case that many of Russia’s interests in Central Asia largely parallel ours. That is, neither we nor they want to see China replace the USSR as the arbiter of Central Asia. Closer ties between Russia and Kazakhstan may actually benefit US interests.3. Even if Russia managed to recreate some kind of union, it would not do much to change the global balance of power. It was only with Stalin’s conquest of half of Europe after World War II that the USSR became a major adversary for the US; even a somewhat enlarged Russia does not recreate that threat.Russia is an expansionist power that consciously seeks to weaken the US wherever it can gain an advantage. It has a vision for its region and indeed the world that is counter to core US interests and values. We cannot look for it to become a “responsible stakeholder” in an American-led world order anytime soon.But it is not launching a new Cold War nor is it capable of achieving superpower status (nukes aside). Prime Minister Putin is rattling the bars of Russia’s geopolitical cage, but he is nowhere close to unlocking the door.