Plans targeting the future
As the New Year gains momentum, we cannot help but reflect on the events of the past — such as sessions of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council and the Supreme State Council of the Union State of Belarus and Russia. Negotiations in late December at Moscow’s Kremlin testify to the importance of coming tasks
By Vasily Kharitonov
The Moscow meetings have been discussing how to build upon our Belarusian-Russian union, to develop promising models for closer rapprochement of post-Soviet countries. Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan are promoting these in an expanded format, with Armenia and Kyrgyzstan gradually joining the process. Ukraine is observing with great interest, as are some other former Soviet republics. According to the heads of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan, the move is far from being a return to the past; rather, their regional integration is a reaction to our 21st century world, creating a geo-political alliance for the future.
Presidents Alexander Lukashenko, Vladimir Putin and Nursultan Nazarbayev have unanimously confirmed the determination of our three states to sign an agreement on creating the Eurasian Economic Council by May. The necessary inter-state procedures dealing with its ratification are being conducted so that, from January 1st, 2015, the new — trilateral — union will become operational.
We can judge prospects by the format of the Moscow summit, at which the heads of the ‘troika’ started work in a narrow format, later joined by the presidents of Kyrgyzstan and Armenia and the Ukrainian Prime Minister. They tackled measures relating to Armenia’s joining the Customs Union and the Single Economic Space, as well as the development of a similar ‘road map’ for Kyrgyzstan. Undoubtedly, the draft Treaty on the Eurasian Economic Union was in the limelight.
Minsk views the would-be union as a fully-fledged international organisation, as the President of Belarus notes, “The union should be an international organisation empowered with the necessary jurisdiction and status to ensure the efficient functioning of the Union and to make it transparent to the world community and to our citizens.”
Mr. Lukashenko stresses that the decision was adopted a year ago and that any ‘shakiness’ may inspire ‘undesirable rumours among opponents of the Eurasian integration beyond the borders of the Customs Union’. Belarus insists on a clear and detailed distribution of powers between member states and the next logical step is to create an all-embracing definition of the legal force and hierarchy of the union’s acts.
Mr. Lukashenko is eager that the decisions of the Supreme and Intergovernmental councils should be bound by solid legislation governing all sides and allowing the Eurasian Economic Commission to develop to its full potential.
Mechanisms relating to the Eurasian Economic Union need final adjustment, so that a truly unified economic space becomes operational, based on the workings of the Customs Union. Vitally, there should be no restrictions or obstacles to free movement of goods, services, capital or labour. In pursuit of clarifying commodity positions, Mr. Lukashenko emphasises, “Despite our ‘troika’ agreement, exemptions continue to be put forward, including alcoholic and tobacco-based goods, medicine and medical goods, gas, oil and oil products, automobiles and fish. I’m convinced that it’s dangerous — and wrong — to launch a new economic union before our Customs Union has been perfected. Its free movement of goods should be an example for the provision of other freedoms. Otherwise, it’s obvious to all, even those without economic expertise, that the Union and its economic purpose are called into doubt.”
The Supreme Eurasian Economic Council has already approved the institutional element of the draft Eurasian Economic Union treaty, which determines its international-legal status, as well as its goals and mechanisms. Its functions now need to be determined, requiring intensive work, so that all is complete by spring. By March 1st, a list of exemptions and restrictions remaining in the Customs Union and the Single Economic Space will be drawn up, with particular terms defined for their elimination. In May, the draft treaty will be submitted for signing to our presidents before passing to the parliaments of our three states.
A ‘road map’ has been approved regarding Armenia’s joining of the Customs Union and the SES of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan, with experts continuing to work on a similar document for Kyrgyzstan. At the final briefing, our three presidents expressed similar strategic assessments. Mr. Lukashenko noted, “If we fail to get the Eurasian Economic Union up and running by the chosen date, it’ll be a disgrace for all of us and for our three states. We’ve spoken about this and we’re resolute about creating and signing a complex document within a short period of time. Belarus is proceeding from the fact that the new document should be an important step forward in integration construction. Moreover, we need to fully implement the agreements reached during the formation of the Single Economic Space and borrow the best Customs Union and SES practice, while creating a legal system and structure to ensure high efficiency. Our joint discussion has again proven our readiness to continue integration. We’re able to reach consensus on all issues, even the most sensitive. The trusting partnerships which exist on all sides are guaranteeing further development and mutually beneficial co-operation.”
The presidents of Russia and Kazakhstan expressed similar assessments.
The Kremlin meeting continued in a ‘dvoika’ format, including a session of the Supreme State Council of the Union State of Belarus and Russia: the second within the past year. Clearly, the project remains topical against the background of broader integration structures developing.
In his role as the Chairman of the Supreme State Council, Mr. Lukashenko praised previously launched and new joint Union State programmes, while emphasising the unprecedented level of interaction between the military, diplomats and law enforcement agencies within the post-Soviet space. The strengthening of regional forces and the reinforcement of protection for our external border and air space show the quality of our collaboration. The recent Zapad-2013 joint exercise demonstrated the high efficiency of our military liaisons.
The session of the Supreme State Council also tackled the results of trade-economic co-operation between our two states, the Union State budget for 2014, joint events dedicated to the 70th anniversary of Belarus’ liberation from the Nazis and a range of other issues — including the fulfilment of a programme of agreed foreign policy.
Mr. Putin agrees that the Union State is the most advanced integration structure within the CIS, and notes its recent intensification and substantive working agenda. Investment collaboration is to the fore, alongside strengthening of industrial co-operation and mutual trade. Progress is evident. The two presidents also note that, despite its relatively small size, Belarus occupies fifth place among Russia’s trade partners and is ranked first among CIS states. Moreover, Russian business is actively investing in our country, providing a good basis for further development.
At the final briefing, Mr. Putin said that Russia has decided to allocate additional credit resources to Belarus in 2014: up to $2bn. The money will be used to minimise external global influences. Mr. Lukashenko thanked his colleague for this step and clarified, “For those inclined to think that Russia supports Belarus free of charge, they should know that our economy is about 60-70 percent reliant on Russian commodities and components; these are manufactured by enterprises employing up to 10 million people. Therefore, by supporting finished production in Belarus, Russia is implicitly assisting its own businesses. In other words, this loan will work to the benefit of both countries’ economies.”
The Supreme State Council has approved the Union State budget for 2014, which will stand at almost 5bn Russian Roubles. This money will be used to finance almost 40 joint programmes and events. A new programme of concerted foreign policy has also been approved for 2014-2015, aiming to widely support and stimulate inter-regional interaction. Several inter-governmental agreements have been signed, tackling the joint struggle against corruption, and the provision of international information security and military-technical collaboration.
Mr. Lukashenko underlines, “Our adopted decisions again testify to the expansion of Belarusian-Russian interaction across all areas of integration. Although the process of creating conditions for the development and strengthening of the Union State isn’t easy, it is yielding practical results.” He especially emphasised the need to ensure complementarity of all Soviet integration, adding, “The Union State has been and remains a locomotive of all integration processes within the post-Soviet space. We’ll do everything we can to preserve it as an example in our region, and across all space — from Vladivostok to Lisbon.”