When Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin proposed a new “Eurasian Union” of former Soviet states last month, some dismissed it as an ambitious but unrealistic plan to resurrect the USSR. But the idea has not been rejected out of hand in Tajikistan, which might have something to gain from closer integration with stronger economies.
In an IWPR interview, Tajik political scientist Rustam Haydar said the big difference between Putin’s project and the old Soviet Union was that membership of the former would be entirely voluntary.
He said Tajikistan would have to consider what economic, political and security benefits it would gain before giving its assent. Closer union could also bring advantages in terms of freedom of movement, given that Tajikistan is a major exporter of labour to Russia, in particular. Russia and Kazakstan in turn need to secure regional markets for the goods they produce.
“What I know is that in future it’s going to be impossible for countries to withstand the threats posed by globalisation unless they cooperate and join alliances. The countries of the former Soviet Union will be unable to withstand various global threats – the world financial crisis, international terrorism and the international drugs trade – if they are on their own.
Some see Putin’s statement as mere posturing ahead of the next Russian presidential election. But Haidar says the international situation has changed so much that the idea of a regional grouping has become very relevant, especially for Central Asia, which will be left vulnerable once NATO-led troops leave Afghanistan in 2014.
He pointed out that the Eurasian integration project was not new, since Kazak president Nursultan Nazarbaev had proposed something similar years ago. And some of the building blocks were already in place, in the shape of the Customs Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation.
The audio programme, in Russian and Tajik, went out on national radio stations in Tajikistan, as part of IWPR project work funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.