_ On the sidelines of the Annual Meeting of the Valdai Club, that took place in Sochi from October 24th to 27th 2016, the Director of the Center for Eurasian Studies Jurij Kofner took an interview for the Eurasian House Intellectual Club with Ivan Timofeev, PhD in Political Science, Director of Programs at the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) on the prospects of economic integration in Greater Eurasia.
— I would dare to argue, that the main part of the Russian expert sphere admires the Chinese “Silk Road Economic Belt” initiative. And then I ask myself, why Russia or the EEC doesn’t have its own mega infrastructure and investment project? That is to sae to make the Eurasian Economic Union interesting, not only as a common market, but also as a project for capital investment.
So, in your opinion, are there any projects which could be interesting for our foreign partners to make the Eurasian integration work, not only as an “exterior format”, but also to fill this format from within with tangible infrastructure projects. Maybe in Siberia or the Far East, or something like that?
— Yes. This is a very good question. Of course any infrastructure project within the Eurasian Economic Union could be of high interest, both for the participants of the Union, as well as for third country partners.
At the same time, we should keep in mind, that the Eurasian Union is a quite young organization with very high ambitions. We should be, in my view, very gradual in our approach, take patience and be modest in our expectations.
First of all we have to choose those tasks, that we are really able to fulfill. There are tasks and objectives of two kinds:
The first kind is the one which relate to regimes. So one of the primary goals is create four freedoms [of movement – note EH]. And what is freedom in integration theory? Freedom is here a normative regime. We harmonize our legislation, we eliminate barriers. This requires three things: Firstly, political will. Secondly, a high level of expertise, of understanding the costs and benefits. And thirdly, this requires maintenance of the rules, following the rules, implementing them. In this sense, the Eurasian Court will become more and more important. But all of this does not require capital investments.
And then we have the group of tasks of the second kind, which include infrastructure, transport, energy, communications, etc. This, for example, is what the Chinese “One Road One Belt” initiative is about. But this is a major infrastructure project which requires major capital investment — into railroads, into roads, into logistic hubs, etc.
So, in my view, the key priority of the Eurasian Economic Union at this point is to create favorable regimes. First we should make the Union robust in terms of regimes. And afterwards this will allow us to make it more reasonable to create joint infrastructure. When you have favorable conditions for the free movement of goods, services, labor and capital, then you have the motivation to develop joint infrastructure.
Thus, our primary task for the whole of the Eurasian Economic Union is to establish functional regimes, functional “freedoms”. And only afterwards we can implement joint infrastructure projects. One does not contradict the other. It’s only a matter of priority.
— After the recent reconciliation between Ankara and Moscow, how do you, as an important advisor to Russian foreign policy, see Turkey’s position within the project of Eurasian economic integration? What is Turkey’s role in Greater Eurasia?
— I think the role of Turkey in the overall trade policy of Russia, foreign trade and in the Eurasian integration processes, where Russia is an active participant, is important of course. First of all, Turkey did not support trade sanctions against Russia which is quite important to maintain our trade relations at the level which we used to have. Of course, our trade relations have been deteriorated by the contradictions we had on Syria. But now they are likely to be recovered.
Even before the deterioration of relations, Turkey was approached by the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) as one of the prospective partners of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). There were ideas of a free trade zone with Turkey. And actually the Eurasian Union is quite active in this regard. You know that we already have a free trade zone with Vietnam. Any potential deepened economic cooperation between Ankara and the EAEU could theoretically have a high impact, since the Turkish market is comparatively closer to most of the Member-States of the Union. The trade turnover between Turkey and separate countres of the EAEU is quite high. This is true both for Russia and for Kazakhstan, for Belarus and for other Member-States as well.
However, of course this kind of project should be approached with care. Both sides should be very well prepared in terms of understanding the benefits and costs they will need in this process. And hopefully we will be able to evade any political factors which could threaten our economic relations.