By Aynur Jafarova
As long as the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the dispute over its illegal annexation by Armenia are not resolved, Armenia's membership in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) is impossible, a European expert on Central Asia believes.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said the presidents of the three countries received an appeal from the Azerbaijani side which urged Armenia to accept a stipulation that the provisions of the WTO and the CU should be used within its borders recognized by the international law.
"In this respect, it is only consequent that Kazakhstan opposes this idea," Michael Laubsch told Azernews. "Astana on the one hand is trying to convince Armenia that a theoretical membership could bring benefit to the Caucasian state, but also using this prospect as a tool to show Yerevan that at first they have to leave the occupied Azerbaijani territory, before any negotiations might start. This could, at least in theory, be a helpful positive pressure action to solve the crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh and to return to the territorial integration of Azerbaijan."
Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Russia signed an agreement on the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) on May 29. Armenia is planning to join the EEU. Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan has offered to sign a treaty on Armenia's accession to the EEU till June 15, 2014.
He went on to add that Kazakhstan as the regional leader in Central Asia can have in fact a huge impact on the newly established EEU. He added Kazakhstan asked Sargsyan to stick to the UN principles of the officially fixed boundaries while joining the Customs Union (CU).
"With its strong foreign policy and economy, Kazakhstan can also serve as an integral part within the EEU, underlining that the formation of the Union does not mean to cut-off all relevant trade and economic relations with the Western Europe and its Eastern neighbors, including China and India," he said.
"At the same time, Kazakhstan has to know that its economy and companies have already strong ties with their partners outside the EEU and stronger cooperation with Russia and Belarus. So, it has to be clear that the stable business and trade relations with EU and China should not be undermined," the expert noted.
The expert believes today the goals of the EEU cannot be compared with EU ones.
"I doubt that the EEU could become a so-called rival for the EU, because countries like Russia or Kazakhstan won't jeopardize its trade relations with Western Europe. Also, the major future investment in a country like Kazakhstan comes from Western Europe, so they are not interested in shifting their partnerships. Astana has already underlined that the EEU will not become a political union, but only defines a common trade and business region, with no impact on the national political level," he said.
Several experts say the establishment of the EEU means the prosperity of the Soviet Union. Laubsch believes the upcoming years will show how this new organization will develop.
"Russia is the leading part in this group, having the most potent economy and being the only country in this club with geopolitical interests. An organization like the EEU can only be successful when all members have the same rights, the same purpose and the same vision. Belarus might be the weakest partner there while Kazakhstan is the most important emergent regional player," he said.
He also said Kazakhstan will not allow the EEU to become a new form of the Soviet Union.
"I doubt that Astana will allow the EEU to become a new Soviet bloc, where Moscow will dictate the rules. This is probably also the common opinion here in the West: Though they are a bit skeptical about the project, know it well that the economic power of the three members is not seen as a threat to the economic interests," he noted.
Touching on the future members of the EEU, in particular the advantages and disadvantages of membership for Kyrgyzstan, the expert said Kyrgyzstan's membership in the EEU could bring some benefits to the country, in particular in terms of trade and energy delivery.
"Meanwhile, Kyrgyzstan's economy is still very weak and it could be a risk, especially for Russia and Kazakhstan which having another unstable partner in the club. This does not bring much financial and economic power into the club," the expert added.
Laubsch believes Astana won't risk its own national foreign policy and its international trade and bi- and multilateral relations with the rest of the world.
"The position and vision in Astana and Moscow are of great importance. Both sides will have their independent voice in international arenas. However Belarus will more or less execute Moscow's wishes and demands. I doubt that all three will speak in one voice, at least Astana will still demand its national opinion and strategy," he concluded.