Confronting the Emerging Eurasia Union

In recent weeks, a great deal of attention has been placed on the Kremlin's attempts to pressure the former Soviet states of the Ukraine, Moldova, and Armenia into its new customs union by threatening their economic and political stability. Whereas these countries are members of the EU's Eastern Partnership and have repeatedly stated they favour integration with Brussels over Moscow, does the EU have an obligation to protect them from Russian advances?

The Kremlin's announcement in 2011 that Russia, along with Belarus and Kazakhstan, intends to counter EU influence in central Asia via the creation of a Eurasian Union by 2015 was scoffed by many national leaders and international news outlets — however, the news earlier this month that Armenian President Serzgh Sargsyan now intends to join this Russian customs union rather than the planned EU free trade agreement has shocked the European Commission and forced the bloc to reassess the international importance of Russia's desire to create the Eurasian Union.

Following the Soviet breakup, Azerbaijan and Armenia have engaged in an armed dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory. Taking advantage of this conflict for its personal gain, the Russian government recently supplied Azerbaijan with more than $1 billion in tanks, artillery, and rocket launchers while actively threatening to terminate protection of Armenia if it signs onto the EU trade deal in Vilnius in November. Because Armenia relies almost entirely on Russia for security, for Putin's government to side with Azerbaijan and deny Armenia protection puts the small Caucus nation in a vulnerable position. Lacking any real security agreement with another outside power, President Sargsyan was easily pressured into Russia's invitation to join its customs union (and soon to be political union) in order to ensure its regional security.

As the 2015 goal for the formation of the Eurasian Union nears closer and only two other states on board, the lengths that the Russian government will go through to increase its influence appears to be growing public and more severe. In a bold move, Putin's government has very openly threatened to damage the economy and national unity of two nations very close to the European Union — the Ukraine and Moldova — should they agree to the EU free trade deal.

Seeking to pull the Ukraine back into the Russian sphere of influence, Putin's government has threatened to “take protective measures” against the Ukraine should it enter into agreements with the EU in Vilnius — a threat interpreted by Brussels and Kiev to mean a Russian embargo on Ukrainian goods. To show this is not an empty threat, the Russian government recently blocked Ukrainian goods from entering its borders for one week in August, causing worry and confusion in the Ukrainian capital — however, despite Russian threats and pressure tests, the Ukraine announced it still favours the agreement with the EU over integration with an increasingly colonialist Russia.

Threats have likely been the most extreme for the small Eastern European nation of Moldova, whose government internal political security, economic security, and even the livelihood of Moldovan citizens is being held at ransom by the Kremlin.

Following the Soviet collapse, Moldova has battled to keep the secessionist territory of Transniestria united with its government in Chişinău — a battle that Russia has provided a great sum of money, material, and man power for on the side of Moldova. Knowing Chişinău dependence on Russia in this internal conflict, Putin is using such assistance as leverage by threatening to withdraw all aid in the breakaway region and recognizing Transniestria as a sovereign nation should Moldova sign the EU trade deal in November.

But like the Ukraine, the Moldovan government in Chişinău has maintained its stance that it favours greater integration with the European Union than with Russia and the former Soviet republics. In response, the Kremlin pledged to both block trade with Moldova and, according to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, “cut off Moldova's gas in the winter” if it does not change its position. Again, Russia does not produce empty threats. To demonstrate its dedication to placing Moldova under its influence, the Russian government has banned the entry of Moldovan wine and spirits into its market, and Russia's intentional disruption of gas flow to the Eastern EU states in the dead of winter just a few years back is still fresh in the minds of many Eastern Europeans.

Armenia, the Ukraine, and Moldova have all freely and voluntarily chosen to engage in greater economic integration with the European Union than Russia. They were neither pressured nor threatened to do so by Brussels. For many leaders in these Eastern Partnership members, the projected 12% growth in national GDP that allegedly comes as a result of free trade with the EU was enough to influence their decisions. However, their national right to self determination is now being actively attacked by the Russian government in the hopes that doing so will bring them back under the Russian influence. Whereas these countries have made integration with the EU their goal via entry into the EU's Eastern Partnership, is it the responsibility of the European Union to protect them?

Legally the EU has no obligation to react. However, were the Union truly dedicated to its principles and the promises made in the Eastern Partnership Agreement to promote peace, justice, democracy, and rule of law in the signatory states, it would develop a regional policy that asserts Brussels' willingness to take protective action in the event that the independence of Eastern Partnership members is threatened by any outside power. Were the EU truly dedicated to protecting the rights of all Europeans, it would adopt a policy similar to the Monroe Doctrine in the United States.

Created by U.S. President Monroe and his Secretary of State John Quincy Adams in 1823 following Central and South American independence from the Spanish and Portuguese Empires, the Monroe Doctrine states that any further efforts by European nations to colonize land or interfere with states in North or South America would be viewed as acts of aggression requiring U.S. intervention. This policy was made in response to the Holy Alliances affirmation that it supported military incursion to re-establish Bourbon rule over Spain and its colonies—colonies which had recently sought alignment with the US for protective reasons and based their governments on the American presidential system.

The Monroe Doctrine has been used as the basis of military actions in the Americas by the United States many times since its adoption, most notably along the US-Mexico border following the French invasion of Mexico in 1862 (delayed by the US Civil War), off the coast of Greenland prior to US entry into WWII as a belligerent, and during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In all of these situations the independence of nations in the Americas were threatened by European powers (specifically France, Germany, and the Soviet Union) and the US intervened to either protect their independence or to protect personal trade interests. In the case of Russian threats to Eastern Europe and the Caucuses, the independence and security of these countries is similarly being threatened by an increasingly colonialist Russia, and the EU should intervene.

While I do not suggest that the EU develop a Monroe Doctrine style policy solely to protect its trade interests in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, doing so would be an incredibly wise move economically. Considering Turkey's application for EU membership essentially frozen indefinitely, the only potential area of EU expansion outside of Eastern Europe and the Caucasus is in the Balkans—a minute addition to the massive EU market. With over 40 million consumers in the Ukraine alone, these Eastern Partnership countries would be a sizeable addition to the EU's market under a free trade agreement. However, protecting them from Russian advances for these reasons would be similarly colonialist in practice to Moscow's threats to the region.

That is why the EU should declare and vow to protect these states' independence and right to self-determination void of threats to their safety. Should these countries freely choose to join the proposed Eurasian Union, so be it. In the case of Belarus and Kazakhstan, roots run deeper with Moscow than with Brussels. However, in the case of the Ukraine, Moldova, and Armenia, alignment has, and continues to be, with the European Union, and their right to seek economic alignment with Brussels should be protected by Brussels.

Statements to Moscow by EU Neighbourhood Commissioner Štefan Füle that simply label the situation at-hand as 'unacceptable' are not enough. We know from experience that the Russian government does not deliver empty threats, that it far too often overlooks human rights, and that it is both actively and publicly threatening these states with possible economic and political ruin if they refuse to break their ties with the EU and align with Russia. If the EU truly believes it exists to protect peace, justice, democracy, and the preservation of human rights and the rule of law in Europe, it should be actively willing to defend these European nations from Russian aggression.

Should Russia continue with its advances in the former Soviet states and should the EU decide to react, what would be the most effective method of intervention? Considering the European Union is currently the largest economy in the world — even larger than the United States — while Russia has dropped significantly to tenth largest, threatening Russia with a full embargo appears to be the most influential method of intervention for the EU. Whereas trade sanctions are a common EU response to 'rogue' nations, the Kremlin would know this is not an empty threat. Further, this has been Russia's threat to the Ukraine and Moldova, so the threat of and embargo on Russia would not overly exceed threats already made by the Kremlin.

There is no question that Moscow's global influence has decreased significantly since the Soviet collapse. Russia's economy is no longer one of the world's largest, the Warsaw Pact has opted for EU and NATO membership, and the jewel of Soviet productivity — the Ukraine — strides to align more with the EU than its former Soviet big brother. In a world where soft power increasingly out-weights hard power, the Kremlin is attempting to regain some of its former Cold War glory via the creation of a Russo-centric union encompassing the vast majority of the former USSR. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton referred to the creation of such a union like so: “It is not going to be called that [U.S.S.R.]. It's going to be called 'customs union,' it will be called 'Eurasian Union' and all that. But let's make no mistake about it. We know what the goal is.'

We know what this goal is and we know what tactics the Russian government will use to achieve it. Under the EU's principles, the Kremlin has no right to use colonialist tactics to involuntarily force these Eastern Partnerships countries into its sphere of influence. To protect peace, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Europe, the EU must develop a Monroe Doctrine policy to assert its dedication to the protection of these rights in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus and be willing to use its greatest strength — its soft power — to ensure their independence and right to self-determination.  


Edited by: Celeste Concari