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The Aleksanteri Institute

Unioninkatu 33 (P.O. Box 42)
00014 University of Helsinki

Past Aleksanteri Conferences

Marcin Kaczmarski (University of Warsaw, Poland)

Russia's Vision of Regionalism: Between the Post-Soviet and 'Greater Eurasia'

Russia’s approach to regionalism underwent two significant changes over the last decade. First, against the background of the global economic crisis, Russia initiated a regional economic integration organisation, which evolved from a customs union to the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). The second turning point came as a result of the 2014 Russian-Western crisis. In late 2016, the Russian president proposed to turn the EEU into the core of ‘Greater Eurasia’, which would encompass two key regional organisations, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and ASEAN, as well as major regional players such as China, India and Pakistan. This paper explores tensions characterising the Russian elite’s approach to regional cooperation and regional order. For Moscow, regionalism is expected to serve both as a defence against globalisation and as a means to benefit from it. The vision of regionalism reflected in the Eurasian Union is exclusionary and defensive. It is narrowed down to the post-Soviet space and limited by the affirmation of Soviet-era historical ties. The EEU’s legal framework provides entry barriers for potential new participants. The closed nature of the EEU stands in stark contrast to the notion of ‘Greater Eurasia’. This concept is an open and less institutionalised form of regionalism that transcends the borders of existing regional arrangements. It indicates Russia’s willingness to go beyond the post-Soviet boundaries. In practical terms these differences will prove difficult to reconcile and may undermine the implementation process. In conceptual terms, the change from a relatively narrow to a broad regional framework indicates that Russian policymaking can be adaptive and innovative, responding both to practical difficulties with persuading Ukraine and Georgia to join the EEU as well as to China’s overarching and ambitious initiative of the New Silk Road.