The leaders of the EAEU countries spoke about their vision of the future association
The meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council was held in the Kremlin. At first, it was held in a narrow format, it was attended by the leaders of the EAEU countries - Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, Presidents of Kazakhstan Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Japarov and Belarus Alexander Lukashenko. Putin referred to Tokayev's words that Armenia is the main beneficiary of cooperation within the framework of the EAEU, since it has the highest economic growth rate. Pashinyan replied: in 2022, Armenia's GDP growth was 12.6%, and this year - 12.1%.
Putin, just like the day before at the Eurasian Economic Forum, said that Russia appreciates partnership with the EAEU countries, "which is consistently built on the principles of mutual benefit, respect and consideration of each other's interests." According to him, in a narrow format, they will continue to exchange views on the main areas of development, on the mechanisms that are necessary for the development of the EAEU countries. In total, the agenda included 17 issues, the discussion was held in a closed format. In addition to the leaders of the countries, two high-ranking officials of the government and the presidential administration participated in a narrow format from each country. For example, from the Russian side, these are Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Overchuk and presidential aide Yuri Ushakov.
Later, the meeting was held in an expanded format. Ushakov and Overchuk were joined in the Russian delegation by Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov, Presidential Aide Igor Levitin, Economic Development Minister Maxim Reshetnikov, Energy Minister Nikolai Shulginov, Deputy Industry Minister Yekaterina Priezzheva, Deputy Finance Minister Alexei Sazanov and Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Pankin.
Russia is chairing the EAEU this year. Putin said at an expanded meeting that the meeting was taking place on the eve of the celebration of Union Day, which is celebrated on May 29. And the EAEU is established as one of the centers of the emerging multipolar world, and the main focus of interaction is economic growth and improving the well-being of the inhabitants of the “five” countries included in the association.
True, he noted that “it will be difficult for us to keep up with Armenia,” given their GDP growth. According to Putin, it is necessary to maintain the freedom of movement of goods, services, finance and human capital in the EAEU – and this is what the strategic planning documents of the EAEU are focused on, which formulate the main vectors of joint actions for the medium and long term until 2030 and 2045. Work on these documents is already underway, he added. Recall that on May 24, Tokayev said that first it is necessary to fulfill the agreements, which are mentioned in the current strategy for the development of the EAEU until 2025, and then think about the future.
Results of the meeting
As a result of the meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council, 13 documents were signed, including on joint cooperation projects in industry, on the implementation of liberalization plans for individual service sectors, on the time and place of the next meeting of the council, etc.
Putin in his speech stressed the need to develop industrial cooperation, the creation of joint ventures under the trademark "made in the EAEU". He also noted the need for efforts to ensure a stable credit and banking infrastructure so that "capitals remain within the borders of our countries." He said that it would be useful to establish a Eurasian rating agency that would evaluate economic activity in the EAEU.
Pashinyan noted in his speech that the strengthening of the potential of the national economies of the EAEU countries is ensured by a competent approach to energy security. He noted that there is progress in the development of legal acts that would promote industrial cooperation. Lukashenka said that on some issues on the agenda, progress is difficult and slow, for example, on the formation of common energy markets. According to him, the goal of the EAEU is to have no restrictions at all. In addition to industrial cooperation, it is important to improve the transport infrastructure, “taking into account the turn to the southeast, cut a window there, since this is a bottomless market for goods,” the President of Belarus noted. He supported Putin's proposal to develop integration in the medium and long term, but paid tribute to Tokayev, adding that strategic planning should not be carried away.
Tokayev said that this time the reception in Moscow was "particularly warm." In his speech, he noted the benefits in the EAEU for Kazakhstan - over the nine years of the existence of the EAEU, Kazakhstan's trade turnover with the countries of the association has grown by 74%. He stressed that the most important area of development is the freedom of movement of goods - a barrier-free market and transit to third countries. It is also necessary to develop integration with other associations and countries. Kazakhstan is ready to act as the center of Eurasian industrial cooperation, in particular, in the production of agricultural machinery, chemical products, electric vehicles, etc., he added.
Zhaparov also boasted of economic growth - in Kyrgyzstan, GDP growth by 4% in January-April 2023. In his speech, he emphasized the importance of transport corridors and suggested minimizing control measures during the transit of goods. He also expressed the idea that the EAEU countries would allow residents of the Union countries to draw up the documents necessary for employment in a remote format. “Working citizens of our countries should have facilitated conditions for exercising their labor rights on the territory of any of the member states of the union,” he said.
After the heads of the member states of the EAEU, representatives of the observer states of the association spoke at the meeting: the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev on the videoconferencing, they included a recording of the speech of the President of Cuba, Miguel Diaz-Canel. In addition, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon joined the VKS.
But the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, arrived in Moscow personally. At the meeting, Aliyev used the term "Zangezur corridor", which caused a reaction from Pashinyan. The Armenian prime minister said that this phrase has been used in recent years to denote territorial claims against Armenia, and in the trilateral statement of Armenia, Russia and Azerbaijan, only the Lachin corridor is mentioned, which connects Armenia with Nagorno-Karabakh.
The skirmish between the heads of the two states lasted more than 15 minutes. Tokayev wanted to interrupt it, but Vladimir Putin did not give him this opportunity and did it himself. The President of Russia said that the terminology is important, but it is much more important that the heads of both countries said that there were agreements on the fundamental issue of territorial integrity (for more details, see the text about the negotiations between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia). He suggested that they be discussed at bilateral and then at a trilateral meeting in a closed format, which took place after the EAEU meeting.
“These are all the former republics of the Soviet Union, we lived in a single family of peoples. Unfortunately, we have many contradictions, it comes to armed conflicts, and in Russia the same thing is happening in a certain direction. All this is very sensitive, all this is connected with human tragedies. We are all interested in these problems being resolved,” Putin said. He thanked Aliyev for coming, and Pashinyan for not “blocking” this visit.
Prospects for the development of the EAEU
Unlike Moscow, the EAEU member states are interested in solving the current problems of trade and economic cooperation, and not in shaping the long-term tasks of the organization, Andrey Grozin, head of the Central Asia Department of the Institute of CIS Countries, believes. “Astana prefers to intensify work on earlier decisions. From the point of view of Kazakhstanis, the main measure of the success of economic integration is not the number of strategies and agreements signed, but the launch of the process of practical grassroots cooperation, through the creation of joint ventures, the transfer of technologies and capital, the expert says. “The Russian leadership would also like to approve far-reaching plans for the development of the organization.”
There are different approaches to the development of joint projects within the EAEU, continues Vasily Kashin, Director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the National Research University Higher School of Economics. “Russia primarily uses the structures of the union to increase its industrial exports. In general, our export structure is rather primitive, and the EAEU allows our industrialists to promote their high-tech products to neighboring countries,” the expert says.
In turn, Kazakhstan, according to Kashin, is more interested in the development of joint transport and logistics hubs: “Despite the ambitious plans to diversify its economy, this Central Asian republic does not have a developed manufacturing industry. At the same time, due to the lack of access to the oceans, it is looking for opportunities to export its raw materials to foreign markets. Therefore, at this stage, access to a variety of transport arteries is more important for them.”
All members of the organization are interested in expanding and developing the economic union, Grozin believes. “On the one hand, the EAEU makes it possible to mitigate the consequences of Western sanctions for the Russian economy. On the other hand, sanctions allow other participants to earn big money. Only Kyrgyzstan, following the results of 2022, was able to increase exports to Russia by a third. This year, at least the same dynamics is expected to be maintained, unless force majeure occurs,” the expert says. “Over the same period, Russian-Kazakh trade almost doubled.”
The growth in trade, according to Gruzev, was due to parallel imports and overcoming sanctions barriers, which allowed "vital sectors of the Russian economy to stay afloat."