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The Euro-Russia row as a result of an overlap between two economic unions : lessons for a multipolar world in the wake

The Euro-BRICS project firmly believes that the emergence of a multipolar world is a heavy trend that should be welcome and accompanied rather than feared and contained. Indeed LEAP bases its work on an original prospective method – political anticipation[1] – which, among other features, intends to help detect unavoidable trends, identify future-bearer paths amidst these trends and define adaptation strategies for systems to find their way through these positive futures. One of our predicates is that containing heavy trends leads to violence, whether economic, social or military.

The Ukrainian crisis is understood by LEAP and the Euro-BRICS project as a heavy-trend breaker, disrupting the peaceful and organised emergence of the multipolar world and thrusting Europe and the planet towards a conflictual polarisation between West and East, former global leaders and emerging powers, and ultimately US and China.

For this reason LEAP and the Euro-BRICS project are very much concerned to understand the dynamics behind this crisis. Thus a first online discussion was held in May among its Euro-BRICS network of academics with two main outcomes :

  • the release of a Joint Declaration aimed at promoting the ideas of 1/ acknowledging shared responsibilities between Europe and Russia, 2/ as a prerequisite to resume constructive talks both between Europeans and Russians, and between pro-Europeans and pro-Russians in Ukraine, 3/ using the Euro-BRICS framework as a diplomatic facilitator (see our Joint Statement’s three proposals)
  • the understanding of the Euro-Russia row over Ukraine as a result of an overlap between two economic unions and the need to dig further into this characteristic of the Ukrainian crisis

The Ukrainian crisis is born from the catastrophic handling of free-trade talks between Ukraine and Russia on the one hand, and Ukraine and Europe on the other. The simultaneous double offer turned into an impossible choice for Ukraine for two reasons:

  • the European deal was exclusive : if Ukraine signed with Europe, it was no longer allowed to sign  with Russia[2]
  • in November 2013, Europe rejected Ukraine’s request for trilateral talks (Ukraine, EU and Russia) in order to find the ways to make both deals compatible and beneficial to all parties[3]

This attitude on the part of Europe reveals a very strong feature of this crisis : it is a territorial row between two neighbours. On the one hand, there is the European Union, a free-trade area engaged in a questionable process of never-ending extension[4]. On the other hand, there is Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union project, all of a sudden competing with the latter.

All the more since the Russian offer obviously became a true challenger as proved by a number of candidate countries’ decision to pick the Russian deal rather than the European one. Indeed, in the months before the eruption of the Ukrainian crisis, other countries which had been offered both deals chose the Russian one, to Europe’s greatest dismay and surprise: Armenia[5] especially, and Belarus in the middle of the Ukrainian crisis[6].

And the fact is that Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union is building on the basis, not only of former USSR, but also of the Community of Independent States voluntarily co-created after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Europe’s attempt to divert Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaidjan, Belarus, Georgia and Moldova from this course is inevitably a conflict-builder in which the rights of three parties at least are being questioned:

  • The Europeans’ right to free-determination as regards the limits of their union is being ignored (it has been repeatedly asked by a large amount of civil and political players that any further enlargement be submitted to referendum)
  • The Ukrainians’ right to remain united and independent thanks to balanced and synergetic partnerships with both its neighbours (given the dual nature of Ukraine, Europe’s pushing for an exclusive deal inevitably leads to either division or civil war)
  • The Russians’ right to create the conditions of their security and prosperity through a European-style integration of their geographical, historical and cultural neighbourhood.

Of course, no one should be naive here. It is legitimate that the development of a Russia-centered economic union raises concerns on the part of bordering neighbours – whether Europe or China by the way. But the right of Russia to get organised along these lines needs to be asserted for constructive talks to surround this evolution in order to reach a peace-bearing and mutually beneficial configuration.

The multipolar world is made of similar integrated regions and the challenge ahead of us is to recognize the right of every region to exist and to build the tools of its sustainability, but also the necessity to invent the global framework capable of ensuring the peaceful coexistence of these processes. Major questions weigh indeed, such as : How to set the limits of each region ? Should these limits include buffer-zones (such as Ukraine should have remained), in which cases and why ? How to organise peaceful trans-regional relations ? Shouldn’t free-trade agreements be reserved to intra-regional economic relations, leaving evolving and negotiable trade-facilitation accords regulate trans-regional economic relations ? Of what use can be the organisations of the former international system (WTO namely, which needs to deeply reconsider the principles of the XXIst century global economic system[7]) ?…

The Ukrainian crisis, if unsolved properly, is a very bad omen for future regional unions’ interactions. How about the potential overlap between Mercosur and NAFTA ? NAFTA and the EU ? etc… Is the world blindly heading to a pre-WWI situation, only worldwide ? Or can Europe and Russia, together with the main actors of the emerging multipolar world – the BRICS, build on their common painful experience of History to avoid a new tragic scenario?

It is a pity that the founder of the regional integration method, Europe, hasn’t yet been able to anticipate, and at least handle rationally, this inevitable confrontation. Today it belongs to Europe and the BRICS to think together about the principles and tools of a smoothly articulated multipolar world respecting every region’s right to its economic (and political) union. The BRICS on their own can of course work on these themes but as long as at least one half of the Western world (Europe) doesn’t agree to new rules and principles, tensions will grow between old and new global powers.

Here are some of the questions we wish to discuss in our next Euro-BRICS online discussion.


[1] Political Anticipation has been invented by Franck Biancheri, our regretted director of studies, elaborated through a partnership with The Sorbonne University in 2009, formalized by Marie-Hélène Caillol in her Manual of Political Anticipation, and is now the subject of a training scheme administered by FEFAP.

[2] « Many policymakers believe that the EU must redouble its efforts to partner with Russia in the region rather than offering mutually exclusive trade deals to EaP countries, which foster a sense of competition between Brussels and Moscow ». Source : Council on Foreign Relations, 14/03/2014

[3] « On 21 November 2013,… a Ukrainian government decree suspended preparations for signing of an association agreement; instead it proposed the creation of a three-way trade commission between Ukraine, the European Union and Russia that would resolve trade issues between the sides. Prime Minister Mykola Azarov issued the decree in order to « ensure the national security of Ukraine » and in consideration of the possible ramifications of trade with Russia (and other CIS countries) if the agreement was signed on a 28-29 November summit in Vilnius… The EU rejected trilateral talks and asked Yanukovich to commit to sign the Association Agreement, which he refused to do ». Source : Ukraine-European Union Association Agreement, Wikipedia

[4] Enlargement to Eastern European countries in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall was legitimate but too fast and too far. It undermined both the process of political integration of the EU (revealed by the extreme weakness of Europe in dealing with the consequences of the current crisis) and the proper integration of Eastern European countries (revealed by the appalling voter turnout in these countries during the last European election). After the fast extension to former USSR countries in the 90’s, the perspective of an enlargement beyond reason (towards Ukraine and Turkey namely) was involved in the rejection by the French and the Dutch of the constitutional treaty in 2005, leading to a freeze of the enlargement process… But only for a short period of time: free-trade deals with Ukraine and the like, given the fact that the EU is nothing else than a free-trade zone, must be understood as « under-the-radar » enlargement processes.

[5] Source : EUObserver, 04/09/2013

[6] Source : Wall Street Journal, 29/05/2014… in which the way the information is presented is particularly revealing.

[7] Especially since India vetoed WTO’s trade facilitation global agreement, putting an end to the process of globalisation as we knew it. Source : The Guardian, 22/08/2014

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