The project of Eurasian integration proposed by President Vladimir Putin, the direct consequence of which was the Customs Union (CU), gives Russia a chance to preserve the status of a key player in the international arena in the 21st century. The failure of this project faces enormous reputational costs and the final division of the post-Soviet space between the United States, the EU and NATO on the one hand, and China on the other. Much now depends on where the expansion of the vehicle goes - after the mirages or along the path of geopolitical and geo-economic realities.
Naturally, such a high significance of the Eurasian integration process causes the closest attention to the everyday life of the Customs Union. Following the October meeting of the heads of the CU member states in Minsk, they again spoke about the “integration crisis”, about the crisis, both of the Union and its concept. The current arguments about the crisis are rooted in the “Ukrainian question”. Competition for Ukraine between the CU and the EU is, by and large, following a dilapidated course into a place in big European politics, a striving, figuratively speaking, to get into it through a window. Two or three hundred years ago it was really necessary. But times have changed, the 21st century is increasingly becoming the time of the East, the time of Asia, where the world balance of forces and interests is shifting.
Between Turkey and India: throwing a double-headed eagle
A peculiar sign that this is understood in the leadership of the CU was the “exchange” of remarks between Nursultan Nazarbayev and Vladimir Putin, all in the same Minsk. According to Nursultan Nazarbayev, the Turkish president addressed him with a request to join the Customs Union and he personally offers to accept Turkey. And Vladimir Putin, in response, said that “just our guest was our great friend, the Prime Minister of India. He asked me to ask a question at our meeting today that India would like to consider signing a free trade agreement with the Customs union. "
Throwing between Ankara and Delhi ended with decisions on Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, also, however, containing a number of nuances. The terms of joining Yerevan to the CU are not clearly defined. After discussing the so-called “road map” with Bishkek at the end of summer - early autumn of this year, the Kyrgyz side made claims for “compensation” for joining the CU, which, by and large, is a kind of “pay for loyalty” to the Kyrgyz elites.
Failure in political geography and economic pragmatism
Any normal expert has long been asked if the “architects” of the post-Soviet and Eurasian integration are fully familiar with geographical maps. If we analyze the discussions that took place within the framework of the SCO, the CSTO, and now the Customs Union, it is surprising to find that the key power of the region, relations with which are the key to a whole range of problems - the Islamic Republic of Iran - completely drops out of the discussion as a promising member of Eurasian associations.
This “conspiracy of silence” around Iran lies outside the normal political logic. It is possible to discuss the topic of participation in the Customs Union of a NATO member, connected, by the way, with the European Union by an agreement on integration into the common market and entering into a customs union with the EU already from 1995. “How can Turkey be simultaneously within the framework of a customs union of both European and Eurasian?” - no one has such a question. “Why can't Iran take part in the work of the Customs Union?” - such an obvious question is not even posed. And it would be fine with it, with geography, which politically incorrectly reminds that it is nevertheless closer to Iran than to India. In this case, we are talking about the loss of economic pragmatism, which, as we are told, is now the basis of Russian foreign policy.
What does it mean for the Customs Union to join Iran, albeit for the transitional period, as a free trade zone?
First. Iran can become a major trading partner of Russia in the Middle East, an extensive market for Russian machines, equipment, vehicles, metal products and lumber, that is, high-quality products.
Evidence of this showed the period from 2006 to 2011, when trade with Iran increased from $ 2,1 to $ 3,7 billion, with Russian exports amounting to $ 3,4 billion, and imports from Iran - $ 351 million. Actually, the Russian-Iranian turnover itself may jump to $ 10-15 billion in the next two or three years, since a large share of it will be not raw materials, but high-added production and R & D. Given the already accumulated economic, scientific, technical and defense potential of the Islamic Republic, its accession to the Customs Union will give a significant increase in the overall GDP of the participating countries.
Second. Through cooperation with Iran, the CU will gain access to the markets of the Middle East and access to the most important transit routes. It can be said with confidence that Iran’s participation in the CU will make the Customs Union itself an interesting project for the “Greater Iran Zone”, stretching from Arabia to Pakistan, will arouse heightened interest of the East to the geopolitical plans of Putin and his team.
The third. A free trade zone with Iran will entail the adherence of Pakistan and India to it, and not artificially, as it is now, but in a completely natural way, due to the realities of economic development. The situation with the geopolitical orientation of both India and Pakistan is not fully defined. Washington and Beijing are actively fighting to include them in their zone of influence, and the CU will be for Delhi and Islamabad the best way to maintain a balance in foreign policy, to which both countries are so eager.
Fourth. The domestic vehicle market after the creation of this free trade zone becomes more sustainable with respect to the expansion of Chinese goods, and they will have real competition. China looks at the initiatives within the framework of the Customs Union with suspicion, suspecting Moscow of wanting to isolate itself with protectionist barriers, but its position on the large Eurasian market will change dramatically when Beijing realizes that this market is beginning to form without it. Accordingly, he will have a little more flexibility.
The fifth. Russia, Kazakhstan and Iran, operating under a single economic strategy, have the opportunity to implement large infrastructure projects in the Caspian Sea, which is a long overdue need. There are sixth and tenth in this list of economic benefits. There are only no "New Vasuki", since each item from the above list can be supplemented with specific economic calculations. Now we are not doing this solely due to the fact that the format of our article in this case goes beyond the bounds of reasonable.
Iran, CU and geopolitics
The other day a large conference on Eurasia was held in Seoul, the participants of which stressed: the Eurasian space is one, and its eastern extremity is no less interested in large transcontinental projects than the western one. Practical implementation, albeit only at the level of concepts, is only two of Eurasian unity - the American strategy of the “New Silk Road”, which, in essence, is a kind of “skewer for the region” and is aimed at consolidating Western control of Eurasia. And the Customs Union as a forerunner of the Eurasian Union, ensuring the development of the participating countries in the framework of their own interests. This is proved by several points of the geopolitical effectiveness of the Customs Union + Iran bloc.
Its emergence removes the issue of accession, and most importantly - about the economic prospects of Armenia. Its emergence makes the idea of joining Syria’s Customs Union discussed today a reality. Its emergence will increase the attractiveness of the CU for the rest of Central Asia, since new economic and new transit opportunities will open up for them. And what is probably the most relevant now - its occurrence will stop the gap of the “CIS space”, which is rapidly sliding towards the “point of no return”.
One probably should not even say that a whole range of regional security issues, as, indeed, the architecture of this security will begin to look completely different. Russia and its partners in the eyes of the international community will have the right to intensify foreign policy in a number of regions, namely Central Asia, the Caucasus, Southeast Asia and even the Persian Gulf, since it will be a matter of “protecting economic interests”, action more than understandable for the rest of the world. . The United States and NATO will have severely limited opportunities for expansion and destruction of the existing balance of power in the regions. And not because of the military threat of the Customs Union, but for the simple reason that now this expansion will require huge economic costs, for which neither the United States nor its allies are ready to go.
By and large, the TC + Iran block breaks the Western economic scheme that has developed by now, in which part of the East “drops out” of world economic relations. They are trying to convince us, for a number of states (such as, for example, Afghanistan, Kirghizia, Tajikistan, partly - Mongolia, Vietnam and Kampuchea) today “there is no niche in the production system”. What is the only possible occupation for them is either the transfer of their own natural resources under the control of transnational corporations, or "the development of tourism." So, the TC + Iran block can become an alternative to such geo-economic social Darwinism.
A nonstandard move, tearing all the templates - the joining of Iran to the CU - is able to radically change the prospects of the Customs Union, making it the most popular and significant project of the next decade. But any integration education, be it the Customs Union, be it the free trade zone “CU + Iran”, requires long and painstaking work. And not so much because it is necessary to work out the political and legal capabilities and powers, adjust the principles of functioning, get used to the new political and legal realities. The main thing here is a clear understanding of mutual benefit and the political will to achieve it, because if the idea of the Customs Union itself causes a negative reaction from the West, then the idea of “TS + Iran” will cause a wave of hatred. However, Russia is now in a position that the approval of the West will not wait under any circumstances, except for a change of regime and complete capitulation. But do we need it?
In an effort to bring relations with Iran out of the impasse, into which they themselves have driven them, the US political elites will do everything to prevent Russian-Iranian rapprochement. Eurasian integration, and, moreover, Iran, which includes the basic element, is a real geopolitical nightmare of the West, which it will try to disrupt by all available means. This can be prevented only by taking proactive steps, by reciprocal initiatives and proposals by the Islamic Republic, which cannot refuse them. And the first steps of the West and the United States, to stop the movement of Iran towards Russia and the CU, will be the abolition of all sanctions and massive investments in the Iranian economy, including such delicate areas as oil and gas, energy, industrial and military-technical.
Cautious optimism regarding the Russian turn to the East is inspired by the words of Sergey Lavrov, who said that "the Customs Union is not a closed bloc, it is open to interaction with other countries." But the declarations today are few. A decisive step is needed that can give a new impetus to Eurasian integration. A qualitative leap forward is needed, which will make the world believe that the CU is serious and for a long time. And through this faith - take seriously the role of Russia in the international arena.