Russian-Led Eurasian Economic Union Engages in Discussions with Iran and China

In May 2015, discussions concerning the expansion of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) progressed on two important fronts, with: 1) Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan calling for stronger ties between the EEU and Iran and pushing for an expansion of the organization south; and 2) Chinese President Xi Jinping‘s engaging in economic integration negotiations with President Putin involving the alignment of the ambitions of the EEU with those of China (including its Silk Road Economic Belt initiative).

The EEU currently consists of Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Armenia and serves as a regional trading block similar in structure to the European Union (EU).  As an official entity, the EEU came into effect on January 1, 2015, after an initial treaty signing seven months prior.  The union acts primarily as a trading bloc, enabling the free movement of goods, capital, services and people.  Further, all member states participate in a Collective Security Treaty Organization, which acts as a mutual defense alliance.  The EEU is an attempt by the Kremlin to put back together a formal structure resembling the Soviet era.  President Putin has stated that his goal is for the eventual membership of all former Soviet states, excluding Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Kyrgyzstan is likely the next state to join with the process underway.  Turkey, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia have all been formally invited to join.  The last three are unlikely to do so as they have already made verbal commitments to join the EU, although breakaway regions within all three have indicated their intention to join.

As for Iran, President Hassan Rouhani reportedly previously expressed interest in joining the EEU in a meeting with Kazak President Nursultan Nazarbayev.  Moreover, there are reports that he hopes to sign an agreement with the EEU sometime this year.  The tentative agreement would allow for mutual trade and import tariff reduction in addition to settling debts in national currencies instead of the U.S. Dollar.  Iran has also expressed an interest in eventually joining as a full member.  As for China, on offer was reportedly made to pursue a free trade zone during President Xi Jinping‘s visit to Moscow in May.

The EEU is evolving into an important demarcation line of allegiance among nation states and has become more than a symbolic institution denoting mere friendly relations.  Accordingly, its overtures ‘‘‘ and the responses to its overtures ‘‘‘ should be observed closely, including those made recently to Tehran and Beijing.