December 6, 2012
The US is trying to prevent Russia from recreating a new version of the Soviet Union under the ruse of economic integration, Hillary Clinton warned on Thursday.
“There is a move to re-Sovietise the region,” the US secretary of state told a news conference in Dublin hours before going into a meeting with her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.
“It’s not going to be called that. It’s going to be called a customs union, it will be called Eurasian Union and all of that,” she said, referring to various iterations of a Moscow-backed plan to deepen economic ties with its neighbours.
“But let's make no mistake about it. We know what the goal is and we are trying to figure out effective ways to slow down or prevent it.”
Mrs Clinton said efforts at regional hegemony had been accompanied by new campaigns of repression from pro-Moscow regimes throughout the former Soviet Union. Her tone signalled that the US was rethinking its “reset” in relations with Russia, declared in 2009, during which criticism of its human rights record has been muted and Moscow appeared to have a freer hand in the former Soviet region.
The integration efforts she was referring to were championed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in a newspaper article in October calling for deeper political and economic integration into a “Eurasian Union”.
“There is no talk of reforming the USSR in some form,” Mr Putin said at the time. “It would be naive to restore or copy what has been abandoned in the past but close integration – on the basis of new values, politics and economy is the order of the day.”
Andrew Weiss, who served on the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton and now is at the US Rand Corporation think-tank, said Mr Putin made clear when he returned to the presidency this year that he planned to focus on bolstering Russia’s influence in its neighbourhood. But he added: “Elites in the neighbouring states show little enthusiasm for simply handing over their autonomy and sovereignty to Moscow.”
Progress on integration has been modest. After more than a decade of false starts, a customs union, formed in Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan in January 2010, saw removal of tariffs and customs controls along mutual borders. This was transformed into a “common economic space” in January 2012 which should eventually ensure free movement of goods, services and capital across a single market of 165m people.
This year also saw the creation of a supranational body called the Eurasian Economic Commission, modelled on the European Commission in Brussels, designed to act as a disinterested arbiter of disputes between economic union members.
The commission has made one decree so far, when it ruled that Russia must change a law on government procurement of worsted cloths for army and police uniforms to allow suppliers from other customs union members to participate.
A second supranational body, the Eurasian Economic Court, located in Minsk, Belarus, has made two rulings since it began to function this year.
Dmitry Peskov, Mr Putin’s press secretary, called Mrs Clinton’s comments “a completely wrong understanding” of integration efforts. “What we see on the territory of the ex-Soviet Union is a new type of integration, based only on economic integration. Any other type of integration is totally impossible in today’s world,” he said.
Mrs Clinton linked what she said was an effort at expansionism by the Kremlin to a political crackdown within Russia , which has passed repressive laws. Speaking to an audience of civil society groups from the region, she said: “It's distressing that 20 years into the post-Soviet era . . . so many of the hoped-for indicators of progress are retreating . . . We are trying to fight that, but it is very difficult,” she said.