Plans targeting the future
[b]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. [/b]
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.
Previously, the heads of the three states decided that this document should comprise two sections: institutional and functional. The first envisages the major principles of the would-be union while the second provides concrete details. Belarus believes that the second section is only a third complete, with many issues and, even, whole sections yet to be elaborated. It wishes to see the Eurasian Economic Commission fire up its work, especially focusing on the compatibility of the institutional and functional sections of the draft treaty. Mr. Lukashenko has paid great attention to the principal position of Belarus during the preparation of the document.
Minsk views the coming union as a fully-fledged international organisation; the President of Belarus notes that it should be ‘an international organisation empowered with the necessary jurisdiction. Such status is necessary to ensure the efficient functioning of the union and to make it transparent to the world community and to our citizens’. He 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.
“The more clearly we detail our aims and who is responsible, the fewer disputes we’ll have later. Everyone has agreed the spheres of the union’s competence so it’s logical to take the second step: to stipulate in which spheres our states will have power, realised under an agreed policy and format,” Mr. Lukashenko emphasises.
The next logical step is to create an all-embracing definition of the legal force and hierarchy of the union’s acts. Mr. Lukashenko believes that it’s critical that the decisions of the Supreme Council and the Intergovernmental Council are not just political documents, but legally binding regulatory acts — obligatory for all sides. This will ensure efficient operation and control over the work of the Eurasian Economic Commission.
Of course, technical details are also vital. Mr. Lukashenko noted that, during the previous meeting in Minsk, the heads of the ‘troika’ agreed that directors of Eurasian Economic Commission departments and their deputies should hail from various countries. The Eurasian Economic Commission and governments have been charged to study the issue.
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 exemptions. Most issues regarding free movement of goods have already been solved, while still much needs to be done as regards the free movement of 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.”
Minsk is proposing that the treaty on the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union should recognise a unified regime for trade in goods. All member states would view each other’s products as their own, withdrawing all restrictions, fees and export duties, quantitative restrictions and other obstacles. The issue has been fixed in base agreements on the establishment of the Single Economic Space but full realisation of these agreements is yet to be seen.
Legislation also requires attention, with clarification needed regarding member states’ obligations in respect of third states. It’s necessary to avoid contradictions, which would threaten the core of the whole integration process. Bilateral agreements do exist within the ‘troika’ union and some envisage more favourable conditions for trade-economic co-operation than are provided by the treaty on the new union. Belarusian-Russian agreements within the context of the Union State are a good example, of which Mr. Lukashenko states, “It’s vital to preserve their activity and to clearly stipulate this in the treaty we’re preparing for signing. I’m convinced that such an approach will further promote integration processes.”
The Supreme Eurasian Economic Council has already approved the institutional part 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, the 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. Vladimir Putin noted, “Russia hopes for further well-coordinated interaction with Belarus and Kazakhstan in the development of this large-scale Eurasian economic project. We’ve agreed with Mr. Lukashenko and Mr. Nazarbayev to continue the annual organisation of at least three meetings of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council, thus preserving our accumulated high rate of integration work next year.”
Mr. Nazarbayev underlined, “We’re aware that we’re being attentively watched by all countries. Without exaggeration, the history of our states is being created at the ‘round table’ of the Eurasian Economic Union. We understand this responsibility. The establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union is truly a modern innovation project. It’s not an attempt to restore the collapsed USSR, as some wish to do. There will be no return to the past: this is the common and unanimous position of all states. We’re not moving backwards; rather we’re moving forward. Dominating integration trends currently lead the whole world, with globalisation and regionalisation at the core of the 21st century. However, we’re not swimming with the stream and our union isn’t a copy of the EU or any other structure. We’re building our own traditions and history.”
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. Mr. Lukashenko is convinced, “This fact alone testifies to the intensive development of our relations and of Eurasian integration processes, where Union State construction occupies a special place.”
Early in the conversation, Mr. Putin stated, “Everything we’re doing within the framework of the Union State is vital to integration processes within the whole post-Soviet space. We’re advancing in many areas and even setting trends in some.”
Work began with a brief summary of the previous day’s work at the Kremlin, with Mr. Lukashenko noting its efficiency, saying, “We’ve conducted a great event and taken another step towards our cherished goal: the creation of our union. I believe this to be a good foundation for the future, while serving as an example to other states. Yesterday and today’s integration events are large-scale, targeting the future. Some may not like this but we’ve decided to go our own way. We’ll definitely achieve the desired result.”
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.
Trade-economic collaboration is also progressing at a dynamic rate, although trade turnover has slightly fallen on 2012. Nevertheless it has grown on 2011 by almost $0.5bn: a reasonable result considering the global economic crisis. Mr. Lukashenko notes that our bilateral relationships are at the heart of all work, saying, “Everything may seem routine but this is the major achievement of our project: our close bilateral interaction has become the norm. Such harmony is the result of many years of hard work. Against a background of serious progress regarding Eurasian integration, we need to see significant levels of modernisation to drive forward the Union State. A whole range of decisions has been tried and tested within the ‘dvoika’ format and ideas are now being successfully implemented in the ‘troika’ format. I believe that, in future, the Union State should preserve its role as ‘icebreaker’ in solving complex issues.”
The President of Belarus is eager to see full clarity in combining the functions of the Union State and the would-be Eurasian Economic Union, while avoiding simply ‘copying’. As to which aspects require improvement, he is keen to see more interaction in the social sphere, with equal rights for Russians in Belarus and Belarusians in Russia. He stresses, “Equal rights should become the norm: a natural element of our common living space.”
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 agreed 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.
Our presidents negotiated in a narrow format for over an hour, with much to discuss, as ever. Of course, all issues had received prior attention before the extended session of the Supreme State Council, which was conducted in a thorough and business-like manner, according to Mr. Putin. The heads of states announced that decisions have been adopted on all agenda issues, with clarity introduced regarding some issues beyond the agenda. Mr. Lukashenko added that Minsk has no unresolved issues regarding Moscow.
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 heads of state noted the importance of joint projects in nuclear power and space exploration, evidently testifying to the improved quality of our interaction, with focus on high-tech and innovation spheres.
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.”
By Vasily Kharitonov