The Greater Eurasian Partnership: Remodeling the Eurasian Order?
The Greater Eurasian Partnership (GEP) is an initiative by Russia for pan-regional economic cooperation in the context of new economic situation. The initiative, while mainly focusing on promoting the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and with certain geopolitical flavor, takes China as an important partner by way of synergy with the China-proposed Silk Road Economic Belt. The GEP may, to a certain extent, overlap with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), but its concept of openness, inclusiveness and coordinated development is in line with the spirit of the BRI. Therefore, the GEP could go hand-in-hand with the Chinese initiative and ensure development and stability in the Eurasian region while also serving as a lever for reshaping future global order.
Background and Objectives of GEP
The concept of “Greater Eurasia” was initiated by Sergey Karaganov, Dean of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics and Presidential Advisor to President Vladimir Putin. Putin accepted the idea and launched the Greater Eurasian Partnership at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June 2016. Since then, the academic concept has become a national initiative. Li Ziguo is Deputy Director and an Associate Research Fellow of the Department for European-central Asian Studies, China Institute of International Studies (CIIS). He is also Deputy Director of the Center for Belt and Road Studies of CIIS.
The building of a Greater Eurasia had been discussed in Russian academia for many years. The reasons for its transition into national strategy lie in three aspects.
Eurasianism prevails in Russia’s political debate. There has been protracted debate in Russia between Euro-centrism and Eurasianism. Eurocentrists insist that Russia belong to the Western civilization: all of Russia’s modernization efforts were realized with the help of Europe, and in the future Russia will be bound to embark on a Western-style development path. Therefore, Russia should focus on relations with the West. Advocates of Eurasianism, on the other hand, hold that Russia, with its unique Slavic culture, has never been truly accepted by the European civilization, and thus it is viewed as neither a pure European nor a pure Asian country, and instead as a bridge connecting European and Asian civilizations. In the rivalry between these two schools of thoughts, President Putin has gradually accepted Eurasianism. Some prominent features of Eurasianism, such as Orthodox Christianity, centralization of power, and nationalism are increasingly embodied in Russia’s political landscape, and these have served as the ideological foundation for the initiative to turn from being just a scholarly concept to a national policy.
The Greater Europe ideal has suffered a setback. The concept of a Greater Europe was first proposed by President Charles de Gaulle of France. In January 1963, de Gaulle, when meeting with the Soviet Ambassador Sergey Vinogradov, envisioned a Europe eventually jointly built by France and the Soviet Union.1 Both leaders of the Soviet Union and Russia envisaged fostering a “greater European family.” Then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, when interviewed during his visit to France in 1985, said that the two countries should cooperate and establish contacts since they lived in the same family, in the same building, despite being in different 1 Семушин Д. «Большая Европа» или «Большая Евразия»: пора менять не только риторику. // Eurasia Daily. 22 Cентября 2015, https://eadaily.com/ru/news/2015/09/22/bolshaya-evropa-ili-bolshayaevraziya-pora-menyat-ne-tolko-ritoriku.
apartments.2 The draft of a new European Security Treaty proposed by then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2010 and the construction of a new European economic system “from Lisbon to Vladivostok” proposed by then Prime Minister Putin, have in fact all been extensions of the Greater Europe ideal.
The reality, however, is that Western countries perceive themselves to be the victors of the Cold War and have constantly imposed strategic pressures on Russia, forcing it to accept its total defeat in the geopolitical confrontation with the West.3 Russia eventually realized that it would be impossible to integrate into the Western world. In September 2015, Igor Ivanov, President of Russian International Affairs Council and former Foreign Minister, announced at the Baltic Forum “The US, EU and Russia - a New Reality” that the “Greater Europe” vision had totally failed. The recognition by Ivanov, who was once a firm supporter of “Greater Europe,” signified a “watershed in Russia’s foreign policy thinking,”4 which accelerated the birth of the Greater Eurasian Partnership as a national initiative.
Successful operation of the EEU offers Russia a lever to promote the GEP. In recent years, Russia’s understanding of globalization and regional integration has undergone significant changes. Russia initially regarded globalization as an irresistible trend and acceded to the World Trade Organization (WTO), but later found that the WTO was deplorably declining while regional economic integration rapidly accelerating. Russia came to realize that only by promoting regional economic groupings could it take the initiative in globalization. In the process of building the EEU, “Eurasian economic integration” was mentioned by both President
In recent years, Russia’s understanding of globalization and regional integration has undergone significant changes.
2 Семушин Д. «Большая Европа» или «Большая Евразия»: пора менять не только риторику. 3 Там же.
4 Там же.
Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus and President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, who share similar considerations to Putin in this respect. The EEU’S establishment is a necessary step for Russia to realize the Greater Eurasian Partnership.
Russia’s initiative to establish a Greater Eurasian Partnership has dual objectives: coping with short-term pressures and building a regional order in the long run, which are manifested in the following ways.
Strengthening Russia’s bargaining position with the West. Even Sergey Karaganov, the above-mentioned GEP’S originator, argued that Russia and Europe share a sense of identity in terms of values, and Russia
would not benefit from economic and political disengagement from Europe. Russia should engage in dialogue with the West, and such dialogue will be more constructive if carried out in the context of a greater Eurasia. The American political scientist and geo-strategist, Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, also pointed out that an alliance between the European and Asian nations would be a nightmare for Washington. In the face of strategic pressures from the United States and Europe, the formation of the Greater Eurasian Partnership would constitute a strong counter force to the US and the West.
Responding to challenges posed by the TPP and the TTIP. Russia was totally excluded from these Us-led trade arrangements. The progress made in the Trans-pacific Partnership (TPP) talks, to a certain extent, gave additional impetus to the establishment of a Greater Eurasian Partnership. An article entitled “Greater Eurasian Partnership Will Compete with American Projects” carried in the Russian newspaper Vzglyad in June 2016 pointed out that the Greater Eurasian Partnership is a response to the TPP and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). “The establishment of the Greater Eurasian Partnership composed of the EEU and other countries concerned is a good move to deal with the US’ economic expansion,” said Leonid Kalashnikov, first deputy chairman of the Russian State Duma Committee on International Affairs.5 Dr. Victor Sumsky, Director of the ASEAN Centre at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, said that it is timely, from both geo-economic and geo-political points of view, to establish the Greater Eurasian Partnership covering the EEU, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and ASEAN, as it will help Russia proactively cope with challenges from the Usled TPP and TTIP.6
Alleviating internal problems in the EEU and enhancing its status. The EEU encountered multiple problems in its initial stage, especially a lack
of unity. Western sanctions against Russia have implicated Kazakhstan and other EEU countries. The internal trade within the EEU kept declining, and the trade diversion effect was not significant. The EEU, as a regional economic group, lags far behind other regional integration mechanisms such as the European Union and the CHINA-ASEAN FTA in terms of total economic scale and size of foreign trade. The EEU does not hold much weight in “re-globalization”, and all EEU member states including Russia are eager to develop cooperation with countries outside the region to circumvent their economic difficulties. President Nursultan Nazarbayev elaborated at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit on September 27, 2015, that countries in the region should “focus on building a greater Eurasia since it will integrate the Eurasian Economic Union, the Silk Road Economic Belt, and the European Union.”7 Again, in February 2016, Nazarbayev proposed that the EEU deepen its economic relations with third parties and other major economic integration organizations. Putting forward the initiative for a Greater Eurasian Partnership not only highlights the leading role played by Russia, but also meets the appeals from other EEU member states for more partners.
Accelerating integration into the Asia-pacific economy. The Asiapacific region is the world’s fastest growing economy. Better access to this market has been the direction of Russia’s efforts. In recent years, President Putin has called for strengthening cooperation among the EEU, the SCO and ASEAN, and stressed that Russia’s “Look East” policy is neither out of short-term consideration nor a reaction to frosty relations with the US and
A Greater Eurasian Partnership will focus on the fast-growing Asiapacific, thus providing a new platform for Russian companies to access the Asiapacific market.
the EU, but a policy out of long-term national interests and in line with global development trends.8 A Greater Eurasian Partnership will focus on the fast-growing Asia-pacific, thus providing a new platform for Russian companies to access the Asia-pacific market.
Constructing a new world order. Russians are good at strategic thinking, and how to build the future world order is a focus. The 2015 meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club was themed “World Order: New Rules or a Game without Rules,” and the theme for the 2016 meeting was “The Future in Progress: Shaping the World of Tomorrow.” Putting forward the initiative of a Greater Eurasian Partnership in this changing times is by no means only to meet challenges, but also Russia’s ambitious goal to build a new world order. For Karaganov, there should be something to replace the bipolar or unipolar world order, and the Greater Eurasian Partnership envisioned by Russia would be one of the carriers for a new international order.9 Objectively speaking, a successful formation of the GEP, with China, Russia and India at the core, plus Iran, Turkey and other countries, will help Eurasian economies to move towards integration and form a community of security interests, thus exerting a huge impact on the sea-based power of US hegemony and Atlanticism.
Feasibility and Initial Ideas for Building GEP
The Greater Eurasian Partnership by far remains a concept promulgated without any specific content, but for Russia it has some practical significance in a world of profound changes.
The idea of a Greater Eurasian Partnership, although to some extent
idealistic, has already displayed its feasibility.
Promotion of in-depth cooperation among Eurasian countries is already a trend. In the greater Eurasian region, the level of integration is low and regional cooperation has encountered many obstacles. The region lags behind the vigorous integration trends seen elsewhere in the world. However, the region has huge potential for cooperation. Regional countries are rich in natural and human resources, and have modern industrial technologies. To promote integration in this vast region is in line with economic laws and will bring benefits to all parties in the long run.10
Compared to Europe, Asian countries open their markets to each other rather late. It accords with the spirit of the times and development trends to engage in cooperation among the EEU, the SCO and ASEAN.11 To build a Greater Eurasian Partnership also complies with regional integration needs.
Good China-russia relations provides an opportunity for construction of the GEP. China and Russia are the most important forces in Eurasia. Russia needs China’s understanding and support to realize its vision of a Greater Eurasian Partnership. Russian scholars are assured that China will support the GEP because it is in the interest of China. In October 2015, Karaganov wrote in a Rossiyskaya Gazeta article that the integration of economic interest between China and Russia has become increasingly significant through China’s westward looking Belt and Road Initiative and Russia’s Look East strategy. More importantly, China has made diplomatic efforts to avoid competition with Russia, seeing Russia as partner rather than rival. In addition, China would be happy to join the Greater Eurasian Partnership since by so doing China’s neighbors who
The idea of a Greater Eurasian Partnership, although to some extent idealistic, has already displayed its feasibility.
feel uneasy about its rise would not join hands in its opposition, which is clearly beneficial to China.12 China and Russia issued a joint statement on June 25, 2016, announcing the establishment of a comprehensive Eurasian partnership on the basis of openness, transparency, and consideration of each other’s interests, which is likely to integrate members of the EEU, the SCO and ASEAN.13 This shows that China and Russia have reached consensus on building the Greater Eurasian Partnership. A sound Chinarussia relationship provides an historic opportunity for the construction of the partnership.
Russia and most Eurasian countries share extensive common interests. All major regional forces hope to have social stability and common economic development. In addition to healthy relations with China, Russia does not have fundamental disputes with India, Iran and Pakistan, among others. All these countries need to make joint efforts to counter the spread of terrorism, separatism, and extremism, and prevent “color revolutions” of any kind. In the face of a complex international environment, joining hands in concerted actions is cost-effective. Russia’s initiative has won support from many regional countries, and is especially attractive to India and other major powers. ASEAN countries, which have been approached by multiple parties to take sides, are worth attention. While ASEAN countries and China are negotiating for an FTA 2.0, Russia and ASEAN, at their third summit in May 2016, adopted the “Sochi Declaration,” proposing studies of establishing an EEU-ASEAN FTA, which displays a strong aspiration of ASEAN countries for cooperation with Russia and their possible accession to the Greater Eurasian Partnership.
European countries’ interest in Eurasian cooperation is on the increase. Since the end of the Cold War, Europe has not ceased its political and economic infiltration into the former Soviet Union region. Karaganov
holds that Europe sees the greater Eurasian region not merely as a new market, but as a way for Europe to break free from economic stagnation.14 China and Europe have stepped up their cooperation through the Belt and Road Initiative. In the future, it might be possible for European countries to soften their original position and join the greater Eurasian regional cooperation.
Over 40 countries make up the first group of potential participants. Although Russia has never specified which states it regards as being potential members of the Greater Eurasian Partnership, high-level official statements have indicated a basic membership composition. President Putin, in his talks at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June 2016, said that participants of the GEP would include the EEU member states and countries which enjoy a close relationship with Russia, such as China, India, Pakistan, Iran, and, of course, the members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), as well as other countries and organizations showing interest.15 There are about 40 countries and organizations which intend to work with the EEU. Among the first group of potential participants are the CIS member states, the SCO members, the ASEAN countries, as well as South Korea, Japan, Israel and Egypt.
Focus on economic cooperation. Russia’s official statements show that the Greater Eurasian Partnership is, first of all, an initiative for economic cooperation. President Putin said that a start could be made with the simplification and harmonization of sectoral regulatory cooperation and investment, as well as non-tariff measures technical, phytosanitary regulations, customs administration, and protection of intellectual property rights.16 Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov indicated
that the GEP could be established on the basis of WTO rules.17 During the BRICS Goa Summit in October 2016, President Putin highlighted the importance of establishing a non-discriminatory and open economic space based on WTO rules. All these show that the GEP will be a Wtorules-based economic partnership. As for its development path, Shuvalov suggested that the first stage might be a bilateral FTA between Russia and China or the establishment of an Eeu-china FTA.18
Upholding the principle of openness. Russian scholars and officials have all emphasized that the Greater Eurasian Partnership should be open, and the initiative will not close the door to any country. Oleg Larin, research fellow at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, maintained that the partnership should be a flexible and open integration mechanism, with the aim of promoting regional economic growth.19 Shuvalov said in an interview that the GEP is open to all countries. President Putin indicated that the initiative is inclusive and undoubtedly open to Europe, and the coordination between the GEP and Europe would serve the interests of both sides.20
Establishing a Eurasian standards system and a Eurasian financial system. Shuvalov suggested that the Eurasian region should not always follow the standards set by the West; regional countries should also become rule-makers. By doing so, he said, the Eurasian region would become a world center for economic growth and any rules produced accordingly would not be inferior to the standards of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).21 The West often resorts to sanctions against “disobedient” countries, making Eurasian countries concerned about having excessive dependence on the Western system and in particular on the financial and monetary payment systems. They wish to
build their own economic and financial systems in the region. As a victim of Western sanctions, Russia has the strongest aspirations in this regard.
An international relationship based on mutual respect. The Russian government defines the Greater Eurasian Partnership as an initiative for economic cooperation, but its designers agree that the initiative has geopolitical implications. Speaking at the Valdai International Discussion Club in October 2016, Karaganov stated that one target for Russia and China to propose a large Eurasian community was to build a normal international relationship free from cruel ideology and military and political competition.22 In his book From East to West, or Greater Eurasia, Karaganov wrote that the GEP should have its own political criteria and put forward clear political principles, such as unconditional respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, of political pluralism, and of every country and its people’s right to choose their own paths of development and way of life according to respective national conditions, as well as freedom of religion and cultural diversity. Karaganov said although these principles are not new, they accord with the spirit of the Charter of the United Nations and other international organizations.23 This shows that the GEP was designed not only as an economic mechanism, but also as a regional platform for countries to reach political consensus and for major countries to coordinate their interests.
Russia should play a unique role as a bridge and in the security field. Russia is powerful militarily, but not economically. Those advocating the construction of the Greater Eurasian Partnership propose that Russia should give full play to its unique geographical location and
The Greater Eurasian Partnership was designed not only as an economic mechanism, but also as a regional platform for countries to reach political consensus and for major countries to coordinate their interests.
security advantages, acting as a bridge between the East and the West and playing the role of a regional security umbrella. Professor Mark Entin from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations suggested that Russia help the Eurasian region build a security system and act as a security guarantor. In the area of soft security, Russia can help fight drug smuggling and organized crimes, crack down on illegal immigration and money laundering, and in the area of hard security, Russia can help prevent external forces from subverting of state power and combat against terrorism.24 Karaganov proposed that Russia, located between the prosperous Asia and the affluent Europe, should make full use of its position, as a bridge not only in logistics, but also in industry, technology, and cultural exchanges. He thinks that the most ideal position for Russia is to play a pivotal role in a greater Eurasian community and in regional economy, logistics, and military-political integration, thus assuring regional peace and military-political stability.25
GEP and China’s Belt and Road Initiative
Russia’s Greater Eurasian Partnership initiative might be viewed as “balancing” or “diluting” China’s Belt and Road Initiative. However, the two initiatives have no fundamental differences. What Russia needs to do is not “balancing” China, but rather to seize the opportunity to develop together with China at a time when China’s Belt and Road Initiative is moving forward with tremendous momentum.
Balancing China: a mission impossible
Since the Greater Eurasian Partnership has a similar “business scope” to the Belt and Road Initiative, the partnership can theoretically cover the latter. Also, the Belt and Road Initiative focuses mainly on economic and
trade cooperation, and cultural and people-to-people exchanges, while the Greater Eurasian Partnership initiative has a broader scope, involving political, security, economic and cultural aspects, among others. Therefore the GEP can cover the BRI whether in terms of geographical scope or of initiative content. However, from a practical point of view, it is hard for the GEP to cover the BRI.
The GEP has neither motive nor means to “dilute” the BRI. Russia’s understanding of Eurasia is the scope of the former Soviet Union. Beyond that scope, the term “Greater Eurasia” is used to express the difference. Up to now, Russia’s idea of a Greater Eurasian Partnership has neither measures for implementation and nor a concrete roadmap. Even the name has not yet been finalized. The China-russia Joint Statement referred to a “Eurasian comprehensive partnership”, while Russian scholars so far on most occasions use the more concise term “Greater Eurasia.” The GEP has, to some extent, the purpose of preventing China from dominating Eurasia. However, it does nothing more than including China in a regional architecture which is jointly managed by multiple powers. At the same time, Russia hopes to see an integration of various mechanisms in the greater Eurasian region and tries to prevent conflicts of interests. So the proposal does not harbor any intention against China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Russia’s economy is still in crisis without sufficient financial support for the proposal. Any economic initiative will get nowhere if there is no financial support. Russia’s GDP fell by 3.7% in 2015 and is expected to drop by 0.5~0.6% in 2016.26 Russia’s Central Bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina said that Russia is still confronted with a dire situation both
The Greater Eurasian Partnership does nothing more than including China in a regional architecture which is jointly managed by multiple powers. It does not harbor any intention against China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
at home and abroad, and the economic condition would not substantially change in the next three years.27 Although the Russian government knows very well its economic problems, it seems it has not found a path for a “new economy.” The Russia-led Eurasian Development Bank is frail, with a registered capital of only US$7 billion28 and weak leverage because of Western sanctions. As Russia’s economy lacks appeal, CIS countries are not so interested in Russia’s model for development and they even feel unsure about Russia’s science and technology capabilities. This has resulted in Russia finding it difficult to unite the EEU countries. In view of this, the attractiveness of the Greater Eurasian Partnership remains to be seen.
Heavy geopolitical undertones easily cause concerns. While the Russian government has claimed that the Greater Eurasian Partnership is for economic cooperation, the initiative, judging from scholarly analyses, has geopolitical intentions, which betrays the aspiration of countries such as Kazakhstan and Belarus to facilitate greater cooperation with the world, and in particular economic cooperation with the European Union. Since the GEP’S content is not clearly defined, many countries, including the quasi-allies of Russia, have not made clear their attitudes. The Ukraine crisis, especially Russia’s position on the protection of Russian expatriates’ interests in Ukraine, has also caused misgivings in Eurasian countries. These countries are very cautious about the still undefined partnership.
Diversity of regional countries makes integration difficult. Eurasia is a region harboring various civilizations, and at the same time with numerous disputes. Regional countries are different in history and culture, as well as in national condition, political system, and development level. People in the region have a long history of mutual exchanges and friendship, but they have also accumulated long-term conflicts and grievances. To engage in economic cooperation in the region will not be easy, and it will be even harder for countries to reach consensus if geopolitics is involved.
The BRI has already won extensive support from regional countries. Remarkable achievements have been made in advancing the Belt and Road Initiative over the past three years. China has signed memorandums of understanding on cooperation with 34 countries along the Belt and Road routes, signed industrial capacity cooperation agreements with over 20 countries, and established 46 overseas cooperation zones with 17 countries.29 Cooperation in the field of transportation and logistics not only makes it possible for the Eurasian countries to play a role as transit hubs, but also helps them realize their longcherished “ocean-going” dream. Even if some Eurasian countries applauded the Silk Road Economic Belt in the beginning just to flatter China, these countries are now giving heartfelt support and have higher expectations. As the BRI is being implemented with concrete results, any other proposals put forward for the region will try to seek cooperation with the Initiative rather than challenge it.
As the Belt and Road Initiative is being implemented with concrete results, any other proposals put forward for the Eurasian region will try to seek cooperation with the Initiative rather than challenge it.
The two proposals can go hand in hand
Since the Greater Eurasian Partnership and the Belt and Road Initiative have similar scopes, objectives and priorities, they can go hand in hand.
The two initiatives share similar concepts, objectives, and principles. Both initiatives focus on cooperation on the Eurasian continent and are aimed at joint development of regional countries. The Greater Eurasian Partnership intends to build a “new region of economic development that benefits all participants,”30 which is shared by the Belt and Road
Initiative. Both initiatives uphold the concepts of openness, inclusiveness and win-win cooperation, and make it their purpose to promote regional economic development, investment, trade, and transportation and logistics cooperation. Both adhere to the principle of openness and abide by WTO rules. Like the BRI, the GEP seeks regional economic cooperation that is open to all Eurasian countries including members of the European Union, and is also prepared to act in accordance with WTO rules. Both are going to start from facilitation and standardization measures, which is President Putin’s emphasis when talking about the GEP and also the main focus of talks between China and Russia. These measures include, among others, building East-west transport networks, reducing trade and investment barriers, simplifying customs procedures, improving logistics efficiency, cutting costs, and expanding local currency settlement.
The two initiatives should complement rather than seek to replace each other. Many integration mechanisms exist in the Eurasian region. Despite different levels of integration, they are not exclusive. The convergence between the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Eurasian Economic Union is an example of seeking cooperation among mechanisms with different integration levels. Neither the BRI nor the GEP are exclusive initiatives. Although they are different in terms of functions and scope from the SCO, the EEU and ASEAN, they can go hand in hand, complementing each other and promoting regional economic integration through concerted efforts.
Russia’s greater role in Eurasian security does not hurt China’s interests. Even if the Greater Eurasian Partnership expands its cooperation to the security field, the priority is still cooperation on fighting terrorism, separatism and extremism in order to maintain regional stability, countering external interference, and preventing “color revolutions.” China and Russia have the same interests in these areas and share similar appeals with other
Since the Greater Eurasian Partnership and the Belt and Road Initiative have similar scopes, objectives and priorities, they can go hand in hand.
BRI and EEU synergy: a major approach of GEP
The starting point for building the Greater Eurasian Partnership is the Eurasian Economic Union, but it is ultimately based on China-russia relations. President Putin defined the Russia-china strategic partnership of coordination as “in the present difficult conditions, one of the key factors in ensuring global and regional stability,” and “a model of international relations.”31 It is under such a definition that top-level Russian officials and designers of the GEP think that a good convergence of interests between the EEU and China constitutes the first step for the GEP. Karaganov, in his Rossiyskaya Gazeta article, argued that synergizing the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Eurasian Economic Union would become the core element in new greater Eurasian integration.32 President Putin, at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June 2016, said that the future prospects for the EEU would be a Greater Eurasian Partnership. To launch talks between the EEU and China on the establishment of a comprehensive economic and trade partnership is the first step towards establishing the GEP.33 In a speech at the Valdai International Discussion Club in October that year, Putin further said: “We have established the Eurasian Economic Union and launched negotiations with other partners, including talks with China on synergy with its Silk Road Economic Belt initiative. We hope that this will create a Greater Eurasian Partnership, which could a center of broader integration in Eurasia.34 With the purpose of reaching more consensus between China and Russia over the GEP, the Chinese Embassy in Russia and the Russian International Affairs Council held a symposium themed “Reality and Prospects: BRI-EEU Convergence and Building a
Greater Eurasian Partnership” on October 20, 2016. From the abovementioned statements and bilateral activities, we can see that the Greater Eurasian Partnership, first of all, concerns the economic relations between China and Russia, and the most practical path is for the two countries to promote cooperation between the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Eurasian Economic Union.
In addition, some Russian scholars believe that if the Shanghai Cooperation Organization becomes larger and stronger, its combination with the Eurasian Economic Union could be a good path forward for the Greater Eurasian Partnership. According to Karaganov, it could not be ruled out that the SCO would be one of the central forces in the greater Eurasian region. However, the SCO needs to be strengthened with more concrete projects and practical experience in cooperation. With India and Pakistan’s accession to the SCO and its membership expanded, Russia will find it more ideal to have the SCO as the platform for establishing the GEP. But whether it is the “Eeu+china” or “EEU+SCO,” China would be a critical player.
The Eurasian Economic Union is the starting point and basis of Russia’s idea of a Greater Eurasian Partnership. It has been Russia’s realistic goal to consolidate and enhance the EEU’S influence by developing the GEP, which is the “practical” side of this Russian initiative. On the other hand, Russia has not formulated a roadmap of implementing the GEP, and the concepts, principles and long-term objectives of greater Eurasian economic cooperation remain an illusion. In the latest Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation approved by President Putin on November 30, 2016, Russia did not even mention the GEP; Putin’s State of the Nation address, though touching upon the partnership, stopped short of elaboration. As Russia recovers its relations with the West, part of the GEP’S bargaining functions might fade away. It is worth attention to what extent would Russia then maintain its enthusiasm about the GEP. It is likely that Russia would
not lavishly tout the GEP, but would instead “reduce” it to a trans-regional economic partnership.
Despite the uncertainties, China holds a positive and supportive attitude towards the Greater Eurasian Partnership. The GEP, both economically and geo-strategically, would contribute to regional economic integration, consolidate China-russia relations, and maintain stability in the Eurasian region, thus benefiting the interests of China, Russia, and other regional countries. But the GEP’S formation will be a long process. At present, what should be done well is to realize synergy of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Eurasian Economic Union, which is the most practical starting point for the establishment of the GEP. The development of the GEP, together with the BRI, would foster economic blocs in the greater Eurasian region, form a regional force to counterbalance the developed economies, and enhance the region’s economic discourse in the construction of a new world order.
The cooperation between China and Russia has long been looked down by the West, and the prospects presented by a Greater Eurasian Partnership would further get on the United States’ nerve, which would incite more discord-sowing and pessimistic voices on China-russia relations. Karaganov, in his article “The Eurasian Promise” in October 2015, indicated that the damping voices from the West, who vigorously trumpeted the inevitability of intensified China-russia competition in Central Asia, had emerged as soon as Russia, China and EEU members began their approach. With Donald Trump inaugurated as the new US President, there has been increasing worry in Chinese media about a potential scenario of the US and Russia jointly against China, which is in fact an indication of diffidence in China-russia relations, influenced by Western discourse. Anyway, the best response to these negative voices is action rather than debate, by strengthening Chinarussia pragmatic cooperation, and accelerating the realization of BRI-EEU synergy.
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a speech at the 2016 meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club on October 28, 2016, in which he promoted the idea of an extensive Eurasian partnership that promises to evolve into one of the formative centers of a vast Eurasian integration area.