December moment of truth?
Interesting, however, are not extreme points of view that have not changed much. An interesting trend in general, which indicates not just a certain disappointment in Kazakhstan’s society and business, but that this disappointment is reaching the official level. Indicative in this respect was the Moscow meeting of the Higher Economic Council in December last year, during which Nursultan Nazarbayev frankly expressed Vladimir Putin to the surprise that the officials of the Eurasian Economic Commission receive instructions from the Russian government. The Russian side had no choice but to admit the problem and do "work on the mistakes."
It is also indicative that it was at this meeting that the main issue that interests Kazakhstan society and business in relation to the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space was finally spoken and formalized. This is a question about the limits of possible integration. He rose particularly sharply after Moscow last year did not exclude the possibility of inviting such countries to the CU, such as Syria, and against the background of active promotion of membership in the Customs Union of Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Tajikistan. Then it became obvious that for Moscow here is in the first place politics, and not economics, which is completely unacceptable for Astana, whose integration interests are of an exclusively economic nature. The meeting participants had to dot the i, clearly defining the limits of the integration association and taking as a basis the principle of “road maps” for potential member countries - in this case for Kyrgyzstan and Armenia.
What has changed over the past year, what is holding back our oncoming movement, what the main “integrator” Russia is seeking today from its partners, and what future awaits a project called the Eurasian Economic Union? The same restrained and pragmatic approach dominates in the expert community of Kazakhstan on these issues. Political scientists, economists, business representatives analyze the results of the last three years in the Customs Union in terms of losses and acquisitions for Kazakhstan. Unfortunately, there are not so many acquisitions, so the main question for today is what will we get next?
Russia and Kazakhstan: desired and real
Sultan Akimbekov, director of the Institute of World Economy and Politics at the Foundation of the First President of Kazakhstan, draws attention to the discrepancy between the desired and the actual, referring specifically to Kazakhstan and its strategic interests in the framework of the association. He recalls that the arguments of supporters of integration often included the thesis that Kazakhstan with its low taxes (VAT 12% against Russian 18%, 10% of income tax against 13% in Russia, a much lower social tax) climate (47-th place on the rating Doing Business against 112-th from Russia) will definitely benefit from integration into the Customs Union. Theoretically, Kazakhstan, having significantly better conditions, could become a platform for the production of goods, which would then have access to the market with a population of 170 million. “The expectations, however, were not justified,” Sultan Akimbekov notes. “Moreover, according to the Eurasian Economic Commission, imports from Russia to Kazakhstan increased from 2010, from 12 billion to 17 billion, from Kazakhstan. If we compare it with 2009, then in this last year before the start of the TS operation, Russian imports amounted to 9 billion dollars. That is an increase of almost 90 percent. At the same time, exports from Kazakhstan to Russia in 2012 (6,1 billion dollars) practically remained at the level of 2010 (5,7 billion dollars). Moreover, it almost coincided with the results of 2008 (6,2 billion dollars). In short, exports from Kazakhstan to Russia are stable, and the existence of a vehicle in no way affected it. The situation with the export-import balance in the relations of Astana and Minsk is even more indicative. Imports from Belarus from 2010-th doubled to 700 million dollars, following the results of 2012, and exports from Kazakhstan to Belarus fell from 100 million to 90 million dollars. According to the reporting data of 10 months of 2013, this situation has changed slightly. "
Usually, in the expert community of the two countries, they are pleased to talk about a general increase in turnover during the CU, but they do not indicate the state of the export-import balance, Sultan Akimbekov notes. Why? Because otherwise, it will be necessary to agree that the liberalization of foreign trade within the framework of the union did not bring concrete results to Astana. But Russia has obvious benefits. Over the years of the existence of the CU, Kazakhstan has become an increasingly important market for the Russian economy. For example, today Kazakhstan provides a market for about a third of all non-military engineering exports from Russia. Before the creation of the union, exports were several times lower. That is, in this, of course, plays a big role TC.
“There is no need to talk about the use of the initial advantages that Astana had before the start of integration,” summarizes Sultan Akimbekov. - On the contrary, Kazakhstan is becoming an increasingly important sales market for Russia and Belarus. In addition, the Kazakh economy faced a number of other problems. Among them is the low competitiveness of the business compared to the Russian one. Affected by the difference in the nature of the economic policies of the two countries over 15 years. Kazakhstan traditionally has milder business conditions, which was the result of market reforms of the 1990s. Accordingly, there are fewer large companies, but there are more small firms in the services sector, in production and in agriculture. On the one hand, this is an advantage of the country, because the mass of small owners creates a petty-bourgeois environment and does not depend on the state. On the other hand, there is a drawback when you have to compete with large companies from neighboring Russia.
Dosym Satpayev. Photo source: quorum.kz With the opinion that Kazakhstan has not yet received any desired benefits due to integration, agrees Dosym Satpayev, director of the risk assessment group. “If we talk about specific economic results of integration, then the hopes and forecasts of our authorities that the CU will open the 153 millionth market for Kazakhstani entrepreneurs have not been justified. Only Russia won, significantly expanding both the sales market for its products and the economic area of its business. And here it is necessary to understand that in the process of integration, Kazakhstan and Russia were initially unequal players and pursued different goals. Kazakhstan needs economic opportunities, we counted on the expansion of sales markets. But now we have been in the Customs Union for three years now, while exports from the republic to Russia are still at the same level. But Russian exports are growing rapidly. But Moscow’s main goals are different - today Russia is trying to strengthen its influence in the post-Soviet space through the CSTO and the Eurasian Union. And for her, the creation of this union is one of the mechanisms for containing China’s economic activity in Central Asia. Kazakhstan and Belarus are only interested in the economy, so they oppose fast integration processes, as well as the creation of supranational bodies and associations. ”
However, among experts and political scientists there is a more optimistic position regarding the benefits of Kazakhstan in the framework of integration. It is significant that it is voiced mainly by representatives of joint structures with Russia. For example, a well-known public figure and a journalist, a representative of the Russian Association for Cross-Border Cooperation, Marat Shibutov, believes that the profitability or disadvantage of integration for Kazakhstan should not be measured by common indicators. For each group, company, each structure in the business there can be pros and cons.
“Kazakhstan is an absolutely heterogeneous mass of people, companies, groups,” Marat Shibutov notes. - We have a large number of different groups that have completely different interests. For example, if we talk about a large Kazakhstan business elite, then it has already received its own from integration. Since 2014, we have Transneft makes tariffs for pumping oil through Russia for Kazakhstan internal Russian. For oil and gas corporations, this means saving the order of 5 billion dollars. Railway fares will also be reduced. Since our 80 percent of export goes through Russia, and the Kazakhstani economic elite is mainly tied to the export business, its benefits are obvious. If we talk about the bulk of the population, then people, as a rule, are absolutely indifferent. Although the benefits may be for them. Since in our country a significant proportion of the unemployed, the fact that in Russia you can work without any permits leads to a natural outflow of labor. Russian salaries, when compared, for example, with South Kazakhstan, are very competitive. There are no legal obstacles in work, the market is big. The number of such workers could increase to 1,5 million. Small and medium businesses also take their toll. If we grow legal imports from Russia, then we in the border regions prevail in the illegal segment - we sell alcohol, tobacco and all other products. Let us recall the accusations of the Central Bank of Russia that the border shadow trade with Kazakhstan brought 10 billion dollars out of the country. This is also, albeit in the shadow segment, but a certain benefit from integration. ”
Marat Shibutov. Isstanik photo: headline.kz. A certain analyst believes that Kazakhstan also receives from the expansion of Russian companies. “We have 4500 operating joint ventures, Russian enterprises in the first place in terms of the number of joint ventures. There is a very active penetration of Russian business. The Russians register their enterprises with us and through them carry out deliveries on paper, because we have taxes in aggregate one and a half times less. And due to this, they get quite a good profit. But our tax base is expanding, money is passing - another plus. Although for our manufacturers such pressure is a challenge, it at the same time allows them to “build muscle”, if we work in the framework of the joint venture. So you can attract capital, provide technology transfer. ”
Marat Shibutov, however, like some other pro-Russian experts, emphasizes that the northern neighbor has to go to certain losses in order to maintain the economy of Kazakhstan. Although it looks quite controversial thesis. “The Russian Federation has made certain political decisions for us: this is the closure of the Ural Industrial - Ural Polar program,” said the expert. Although, on the one hand, they didn’t have much money for this program, but on the other hand, they helped us with this decision. It was a program for the industrial development of the northern territories of Russia, aimed at replacing imports from Kazakhstan. If they realized it, then no copper concentrate, pellets, coal to the Urals from us would not go at all. And they closed this program. Plus, thanks to joint military projects with Russia, we can have an army two times less than we should have expected, and this is a very big economy. ” In addition, according to Mr. Shibutov, Russia bears certain budgetary costs due to the fact that many residents of the border regions of Kazakhstan go there for treatment, send their children to study at universities.
Andrei Chebotarev, director of the IAC “Alternative”, disagrees with the opinion that Russia is making serious losses for the sake of Kazakhstan’s economy. He believes that for Russia it will never be a priority to support partners in the Customs and Eurasian Union to the detriment of its own economic interests. Unless, of course, such a need is dictated by political objectives. “Moscow halted the Ural industrial development program due to its high cost, and not at all for the sake of Kazakhstan. But in Moscow, they are well aware that Kazakhstan is interested in the development of mechanical engineering, in the modernization of infrastructure, and use their economic advantages in these sectors. We see an active process of creating a joint venture. But Russia does this not to the detriment of its corporations, but rather lobbies for them the opportunity to earn more. The situation is different in countries that have not yet joined the CU, but which Moscow would very much like to see "under the wing" of the union. This, in particular, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan. This is where political interest dominates, and for the sake of its realization, Russians are spending a lot. ”
Andrei Chebotarev. Photo source: ia-centr.ru With the opinion that the price of “land gathering” for Moscow today is quite high, Sultan Akimbekov agrees. In his article “Waste of Haste”, published by the Moscow edition of Russia in Global Affairs, the director of the IWEP states that integration costs Moscow more and more, but the desired results are not yet visible. “The completion of last year is indicative of the price that Russia has to pay for the policy of attracting new members to the organization,” writes Sultan Akimbekov. - Large loans were issued to Kiev and Minsk, contracts for preferential oil supplies to Belarus in 2014 were made, and it is also necessary to pay for the construction of hydropower stations in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and much more. There is Moscow’s desire to collect a certain number of countries in the CU, regardless of costs. At the same time, the integration process is in a great hurry. About his quality can not speak. The emergence of all the new candidates with their problems only complicates the situation within the association, even though too many problems have accumulated in it over two and a half years of work, some of which can be called deep systemic contradictions. ”
2013 year was indicative of the fact that these contradictions, perhaps for the first time since the existence of the union, reached the highest official level.
Claims to ECE: negotiators to blame?
Rasul Jumaly. Istonik photo: tengrinews.kzAll political scientists polled by the Center for Asia agree that one of the main problems of integration within the Customs Union in the past year was a lack of trust in the Unified Economic Commission and other supranational structures of the Customs Union. Some experts have no doubt that the ECE will eventually become a structure with more powers than national governments. This point of view is defended by a former employee of the Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan, now a prominent political scientist Rasul Zhumaly. “Initially, one of our main concerns was that, given the Russian dominance in the organization, the supranational body would gradually begin to prevail over national governments. In this regard, the idea of the Russian leadership to create a Eurasian parliament was particularly alarming. We said from the very beginning that, wherever the headquarters of the EEC is located, there is no guarantee that the interests of Kazakhstan will be taken into account. Despite the presence of our representatives, Russia at the expense of the commission realizes its advantages in the Customs Union. The Customs Code of the Customs Union, developed by the former Customs Commission, turned out to be 92 percent copied the Russian customs code. Despite the fact that it does not meet the interests of Kazakhstan, it was accepted, and now we are dependent on low-quality, but expensive Russian goods. Let me remind you that the 65 votes of the Commission of the Customs Union belonged to Russia. The overwhelming majority of “international officials” working in the EEC office in Moscow are Russians. This factor is also of concern. It is not clear how Kazakhstani officials protect the interests of the republic in such an environment, and, moreover, there is almost no information about this. We see that, if necessary, Russia can afford to prevent goods from entering its market even from the countries participating in the Customs Union. Kazakhstani producers of alcohol, tobacco products, meat, and sweets managed to make sure of this. ”
Mukhtar Tayzhan. Photo source: time.kz A public figure and journalist Mukhtar Tayzhan adheres to a similar opinion: “Through the EEC instrument, Moscow was able to directly intervene in the economic policy of Kazakhstan. Previously, we ourselves pursued an agricultural development policy, a macroeconomic, antitrust policy. And now we can’t do it - we need to send a statement to the Eurasian Commission and wait for its decision. And 84 percent of employees of the Eurasian Commission are citizens of the Russian Federation. Accordingly, the decisions of the commission objectively cannot meet the interests of Kazakhstan. ”
Irina Chernykh, chief researcher at the Kazakhstan Institute of Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, draws attention to the fact that complaints about the work of the Eurasian Commission have reached the highest state level. “At a meeting at the end of last year, in which the heads of Kazakhstan, Belarus and Russia took part, President Nazarbayev touched hard on the work of the supranational Eurasian Commission. He did not like the fact that the commission’s staff received instructions at meetings of the Russian government. The fact that Vladimir Putin did not enter into the discussion indicates that the Russian side accepted criticism and made the appropriate conclusions. But I see nothing wrong with that. We had no experience in supranational structures. Over time, learn. But the President of Kazakhstan, his fellow presidents must say “thank you” for an honest and impartial conversation. The public should know what is happening on the upper levels of government. To avoid the temptation of the local conspiracy theorists who fan the myth of the "helplessness" of small Kazakhstan. If Kazakhstani officials within the EEC do not know how to properly but firmly defend their positions, then they need to be replaced ”.
It can be concluded that dissatisfaction with the external impact on Kazakhstan, on its economic policy within the framework of the Customs Union over the past year, has passed from quantity to quality. If earlier claims to the EEC were expressed in large numbers at the business level, now they are officially transmitted by the state. The December statements by Nursultan Nazarbayev are a graphic confirmation of this. In this situation, special questions are caused by the perception of the situation by society. Is the society ready to accept the existing legal realities of integration? Will we get, if we leave everything as it is, the growth of protest moods?
Irina Chernykh. Photo source: thenews.kzIn this regard, Irina Chernykh considers it necessary to ensure in Kazakhstan’s public opinion a clear understanding of the limits of possible integration. “We must understand that integration is more than just cooperation,” the political scientist notes. - Integration is the transfer of part of national authority to supranational structures. In the context of the Customs Union, states delegate their powers to the governing bodies of the CU to organize and manage processes such as the free movement of capital, services and labor, which is extremely important. The integration of the three countries touched almost all the inhabitants of our country. These processes - to one degree or another - influenced the social moods of the population, their well-being. Our research shows that, for the time being, more than half of respondents rate the activities of the Customs Union positively or rather positively rather than negatively. But so far. Some respondents note that now it has become easier to visit relatives in Russia. Others talk about strengthening the international image of our country. Most of the respondents - in principle for cooperating with Russia. However, this does not mean that Kazakhstanis do not notice the problems they are facing. Motorists say that gasoline and passenger cars have risen in price. Moreover, not Russian-made, but foreign cars made in Japan, Germany and other countries. Prices rose not so much for cars as increased customs duties, which became the same for all CU states. At the same time, respondents say: it has become easier to purchase products from the Russian automotive industry, including various modifications of the Lada car. In general, there are pros and cons. For the time being, the population as a whole is calm about economic, cultural, educational, even military integration. As for the political component of the Eurasian project, most of the respondents (about 52 percent) are against it. ”
However, although the idea of economic integration still does not cause much rejection, we have to admit that the position of the state, unfortunately, contributes to the increasing frustration of society in this idea. Again, this is about upholding the interests of the country in the framework of the Eurasian Economic Commission. The weakness of the positions of the negotiators leads to the fact that the state of Kazakhstan is increasingly perceived as weak and unable to defend its interests before the “big brother”. The work of the Eurasian Commission on various specific issues, about which there is always a lot of information in the press, and especially in the business environment, has become a kind of indicator of this public assessment.
“Our main problem in the Customs Union is the weakness of the negotiators,” said Marat Shibutov. - For example, we have the most powerful positions in the CU on confectionery, alcohol and tobacco, and we can be equal in this plan with Russia. But guess who took on the negotiations on tobacco products? They took not representatives of tobacco companies, but some NGOs that are against smoking. And when the Russians began to offer us to increase excise taxes in order to equalize our products at prices, they agreed immediately. If their industry ministry represented this, then we have the Ministry of Health. Who so guessed to do? And at the talks like this almost everywhere. For some reason, experts, business and scientific institutes are not attracted to the negotiation process. If you look at the website of the Institute of Economics of the Ministry of Economy and Budget Planning, they don’t have a single topic related to the CU and the CES. But this is the leading agency responsible for negotiating within the CU. But they have not ordered a single scientific topic. That's why we negotiate and lose. We need to prepare, we need specialists, conclusions, standards, reports and clear figures. ” Another example that Mr. Shibutov gives is the Baikonur negotiations. Discussing space cooperation within the framework of the Eurasian Commission, negotiators need to uphold the environmental interests of Kazakhstan, but the question arises, how was this done if the methodology for determining the content of heptyl was agreed by the two sides only in summer 2013 of the year?
Well-known political scientist and journalist Aidos Sarym agrees with Marat Shibutov, stressing that the Kazakh authorities under the EEC are under tremendous pressure on all floors, and this gives results because our negotiating positions are too weak.
Aydos Sarym. Photo source: headline.kz– Kazakhstani negotiators are often so helpless, immature, unprepared that it remains only to sincerely be surprised that we are still an independent state! - ironically n-Sarym. - How many critics today are distributed to our representatives in integration structures! They criticize and rightly criticize everything: officials, public figures, deputies, businessmen. Such negotiators should be simply dismissed and sent instead of them by more mature, trained, principled people who have a high reputation not only in the eyes of the Moscow clerks, but above all in our Kazakh society. This, after all, is about the interests of the state, about protecting the interests of the whole society, about national security and sovereignty. This is all very serious! If our negotiators could just as thoroughly defend the interests of the country as, for example, Belarusians do, then perhaps we would not have to reap the bitter fruits of the project called the Customs Union. In Belarus, in any case, the society is much more a rather integration project than in Kazakhstan. Personally, I have the impression that there is a systematic surrender of the positions of Kazakhstan. If the representatives of Kazakhstan in the integration structures have fulfilled the tasks assigned to them, then why are the agreements and regulations that are adopted within the CU working mainly against the interests of Kazakhstani entrepreneurs?
The answer to this question, however, should be sought not only in agreements and regulations. The problem is much wider. As the last year has shown, to fully realize the economic interests of Kazakhstan, in particular - to enter the market of Russia and Belarus and protect their own from uncontrolled expansion of CU partners - is hampered by the incompatibility of economic models of the CU member countries. And then there is Moscow’s aspiration to gather more and more new members in the Union, including not only countries that are completely heterogeneous from the point of view of the economic model, but also simply lagging behind, deliberately doomed to become a union ballast.
Model Compatibility Issue
Sultan Akimbekov draws attention to both the very different scales of the economies of the three countries - the current participants, and the different principles of their organization. The economies of Kazakhstan and Russia are basically similar to each other. Albeit in varying degrees, but both of them are sufficiently integrated into the world economic system and live by its rules, which cannot be said about the economy of Belarus. For its part, Minsk has been trying to preserve the Soviet model of governance devoid of communist ideology for more than 20. Naturally, the country inherited not only the previous production base, but also all the major vices of the economy of the USSR, which led to its collapse. The main feature of the Belarusian economy today is general inefficiency and lack of competitiveness in the foreign market. It could hardly exist at all without special relations with Russia, which, in particular, provide Minsk with the opportunity to resell products of refined Russian oil.
“The unification of two market countries, Russia and Kazakhstan, with non-market Belarus obviously contradicts the main rule of any integration - preliminary rapprochement, harmonization of participants' parameters,” emphasizes Sultan Akimbekov. - In addition, Russia and Kazakhstan on the eve of the creation of the Customs Union did not hide the intention to join the WTO, even the question of a joint application was discussed. Russia became a member of the WTO in 2012, Kazakhstan is going to follow its example in 2014. Accordingly, further liberalization of foreign trade is inevitable. It is not clear what will happen to the Belarusian economy, its status will become even more uncertain, and the situation will only worsen. That is, Belarus today looks like a “fifth wheel in the integration cart”.
Experts also note more local, but important from a business point of view, compatibility problems of the Russian and Kazakhstan economic models. According to the chief specialist of the Institute for Political Decisions, Rustam Burnashev, in Russia and Kazakhstan there are in many ways similar, but at the basis of its different types of capitalism. In Kazakhstan, as in Russia, the market for services and supplies is largely tied to the public sector, to large state-owned companies. The distribution of orders, contracts, contracts for medium business depends on them. In turn, small and medium businesses can earn on the consumer market, as well as on holding orders, on contracts with state-owned companies due to a soft and liberal tax environment. In Russia, the situation is somewhat different, there is observed “oligarchic” capitalism, which has only two points of support: bureaucratic (in power) and oligarchic (in big business affiliated with the government).
Photo source: testlabs.kz– The difference at first glance is small, but it lies in the resource allocation system, the political scientist explains. - In Kazakhstan, a separate decision-making system has been created between the ministries and the public sector (Samruk-Kazyna Fund), here state corporations are controlled by the government and carry out its strategies. For example, there is a state line to support SMEs, to bring non-core assets into the competitive environment - Samruk-Kazyna does this. Whereas in Russia, a large state corporation, such as Rosneft or Rosatom, may itself attract state resources and itself dispose of them in the interests of affiliated bureaucratic elites. Accordingly, the relationship between the public sector and the private medium business is broken. Each holding, concern works only with "their". Such a situation leads to corruption and business stagnation; it does not foster competition and SME growth. Service, deliveries, and contractual orders are provided by the affiliated structures of the corporations themselves, and not by medium-sized businesses, as in Kazakhstan. That is why today Russian business is actively moving forward to Kazakhstan. It is easier for him to breathe here, he can do a lot here, but this is bad for our companies. They do not have such capitalization, they tend to be weaker. And if you do not oppose this expansion, then the Russians will simply crush our business in our own territory. While our companies enter the Russian market, offering their services there is extremely problematic. Own are not allowed, let alone our Kazakhs. We will not be allowed "by definition." Actually, as the integration project develops, this is the most inconvenient and painful issue for Kazakhstan. The capabilities of the Customs Union allow Russian corporations to expand the "range", to use the opportunities of foreign expansion in Kazakhstan. And they do it with success. Whereas, Kazakhstani companies are not allowed to move into the Russian market in the same way. This can not but cause indignation, and this is the most serious problem. According to Sultan Akimbekov, the only effective way to overcome this contradiction is to conduct a strong protectionist policy for Kazakhstani enterprises, primarily at the level of the Eurasian Commission. However, the past year has shown that this is not happening yet. Moreover, given the rather weak positions of the Kazakh side in the EEC, we are faced with frank lobbying for Russian interests. Outraged by Nursultan Nazarbayev, the fact of “consultations” of EEC officials in the Russian government is very indicative. All this, in fact, gives the critics grounds to talk about the “surrender of the positions” of Kazakhstan.
“We must actively protect our interests, otherwise, if the former line of the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space continues, that is, the risk of washing out of the strongest enterprises of the real sector from Kazakhstan,” warns the IWEP director. - According to the scenario of Portugal or Greece, which took place in the European Union, the “pivot points” of the economy will come under the control of capital from a stronger country, in this case Russia. For us, in this case, the question will arise where the taxable base of the real sector will be located. The fact that Russian enterprises are located in Kazakhstan is only part of the problem. This may be good in terms of competition. Another thing is that as a result of this integration, our local petty-bourgeois environment loses its foothold. ”
Politics and ideology: dangerous silence
Actually, the very process of upholding the strategic interests of Kazakhstan in the framework of the Eurasian project is already a policy. It was the political as well as the ideological aspects of integration that caused the main concern in Kazakhstan over the past year, especially in the light of Russia's desire to make the CU members Armenia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and even Syria. The interlocutors of the “Center of Asia” agree that such ideas reflect the purely political imperative of Moscow, its desire to “collect lands”. As Sultan Akimbekov notes, if Kazakhstan places emphasis on the economic nature of the association, then Russia “is increasingly striving to use the CU as an umbrella brand to unite a large number of countries in the post-Soviet space and even beyond.”
The logic suggests that if the interests of Moscow, like Astana, were only to expand the economic area, Russia would not welcome the admission of weak participants to the CU, such as Tajikistan or Armenia. Actually, under the pressure of Astana and Minsk, they came to such a decision at the December meeting, having laid down in the process of joining new participants corresponding preparatory procedures (the so-called “road maps”). However, this is the formal side of the issue. In practice, Moscow, inviting new candidates to the union, is obviously ready for the fact that newcomers expect considerable support from Russia as the basis of the Eurasian project. This includes direct payments for specific projects, such as the Rogun hydropower station. “The Russian side is constantly expanding the list of candidates,” Sultan Akimbekov notes. “At first it was Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, then Armenia appeared, then the issue of Ukraine began to be discussed. In all these cases, political factors play, no doubt, a more important role than economic ones. For example, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are of interest from the point of view of the need to ensure Russia's geopolitical presence in Central Asia. This is especially important for Moscow since Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have chosen, in fact, the opposite vector of geopolitical orientation. The close connection of Dushanbe and Bishkek with Moscow, in particular, within the framework of an integration association, would undoubtedly contribute to a more effective provision of Russia's interests in the region. Accordingly, the desire to include these two countries in the CU has a distinctly political meaning. The situation is similar with Armenia. This country is already a traditional ally of Moscow in the Transcaucasus, Russian influence there can hardly be overestimated. But from an economic point of view, the entry of Armenia does not make much sense: there is no common border, the volume of the economy is insignificant. But Moscow’s geopolitical reason is obvious. ”
All this is understandable; there are no questions with Russian interests. The question is how much all this meets the strategic interests of Astana, including maintaining internal stability in the society. The fact is that the political aspect of integration has become the most painful component of the public debate that is taking place in Kazakhstan regarding the Eurasian project. Moreover, literally in recent months, this discussion has acquired a dangerous heat. If the positions of business representatives have become more restrained and pragmatic, bearing in mind the expectation of certain economic benefits from the work of the CU, then public figures, NGOs and individual politicians, while discussing the topic of integration, on the contrary, move to ever more rigid rhetoric. And this can not but alarm.
The recent unification of a number of representatives of civil society, including some national patriots, into the “Anti-Eurasian Union” has become a kind of landmark event for the Kazakhstani opposition, which has recently shown little of itself. Many have perceived the action against integration with Russia as part of the self-promotion of individual politicians. But the thing is different. That degree of protest, which was set by representatives of this movement, undoubtedly, forces the state to take a fresh look at the existing integration realities. Because the accumulated problematic issues, if left unanswered and without an appropriate response, carry a serious destructive potential. Gulmir Ileuova, a well-known sociologist, president of the public foundation Center for Social and Political Research Strategy, believes that the ideological aspect of integration with Russia remains one of the project’s weaknesses. “The society should understand why Kazakhstan needs integration, and, moreover, to see what kind of integration is needed,” the expert notes. - It should be borne in mind that Russia is not a guideline for the majority of our fellow citizens, an ideal of an effective state. In our country there is a big dominance of the Russian picture. And this picture shows us Russia with all its flaws, crimes, with many things that are negatively perceived in the republic. At the same time, we do not see there attractive “Eurasian” arguments, any innovations in the economy, or social innovations. We do not see this, and basically the mood for integration is based on memories of the once great former homeland. Yes, while it is a serious unifying factor. Nostalgia for the Soviet Union was all 20 years of independent development of the post-Soviet countries, and it remains among the population. But today's Russia, offering old values of pohvennichestvo, looks too archaic against the background of the innovative West. And it will not be possible to travel long on the memories of the older generation about the USSR. ”
Gulmira Ileuova. Photo source: contur.kzGulmira Ileuova reminds that many Russian political scientists are dramatizing the situation around Ukraine’s withdrawal to the West, but they forget that there is a serious struggle in Kazakhstan between supporters of the Eurasian and European paths of development. Negative examples that Russia shows in the CU - pressure on Kazakhstan through the Eurasian Commission, expansion of its business to Kazakhstan against the background of blocking Kazakhstan’s business on its own territory, attempts to create supranational authorities - can in a short time greatly worsen the prestige of the Eurasian project in the eyes of Kazakhstanis. At the same time, she says, we should not forget that the viability of any integration projects in the future depends on the attitude of today's youth towards them. “Our young people today are more susceptible to the ideas of modernization and globalization, rather than to the pochvennichestvo and“ statehood ”. Therefore, if she does not see concrete economic benefits in this project, then through 10 – 15 the idea of the Eurasian Union can be successfully forgotten, like many other good undertakings, ”the expert summarizes.
However, in modern Russian integration policy there is something that is somewhat encouraging. Experts polled by the Center for Asia agree that an important outcome of the past year for the Eurasian project was Moscow’s readiness to listen and hear the arguments of its partners. If earlier, Andrei Chebotaryov notes, Russia openly forced the events, tried to go beyond the economic union and “jumping over the fences” to jump into the political union, now this rhetoric is no longer audible. “Loud and shocking statements in general diminished on both sides. At the ECE level, a systematic process of building relationships is underway, and rightly so, because the model of economic interactions in the Customs Union is still very “raw” and far from perfect. Indicative and changes in matters of tariff policy for pumping oil. Earlier, Russia did not demonstrate willingness to compromise with Kazakhstan the issue of tariffs for the transportation of energy through its territory. Now this question as a whole is removed. That is, there is progress, and this is very encouraging to pragmatists in Kazakhstan. Today it is important for us not to break from such a course, not to lose the winning positions. To do this, you need a little: a firm line of the state, competent strategic planning plus a pool of professional, strong negotiators. ”
In general, according to the general opinion of the interlocutors of the “Center of Asia”, the disconnecting factors in the Eurasian project over the past year have become much more. These are both economic and political-ideological problems, which, unlike in previous years, the elites of both countries have finally begun to argue. Maybe it's for the best. The project clearly needs more restraint and balance, more sober assessments and rational calculation. Maybe this is the only thing that can make it truly viable.