Vladimir Putin is back, and he’s looking to get the band back together:
At the beginning of his first term as Russia’s president, Putin sought contacts with Cuba, Libya and North Korea. As he prepares for a third term, he has expressed interest in creating a “Eurasian Union” with Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Putin insists that these nations have a common history and that mutual cooperation could bring their people “direct economic benefit” and “allow all of them to integrate into Europe more rapidly and from a stronger position.”
Putin knows that more than half of Russian voters recall the Soviet past with affection. He understands that the idea of reviving the empire entertains many of his fellow citizens. And so he seems ready to ignore facts in favor of ideology.
The facts are that the per capita GDP of the proposed Eurasian Union is vastly less than that of either the EU to Russia’s west, or China to the east, limiting the effective influence of the Putin’s new partnership. Within that partnership, the spread of economic activity within the proposed union speaks less of co-equal membership than metropolitan dominance. The advantages to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are relatively clear. The advantages to the Russian people, less so.
Russia was through much of its history an Asian power, and it has only been in relatively recent centuries that Russia moved towards Europe, leaving one foot in the East. It was not until the reign of Czar Peter I in the late 17th century that the Russian empire consolidated, modernized and moved towards a western geopolitical mindset. Catherine the Great extended this modernization and move towards Europe, and in doing so ended up ruling over a golden age of Russian empire.
Vladimir the Great seems poised to take his countrymen the other way, aligning the future of the Russian people with dependent autocracies, rather than liberal democracies.
Not the Russians.