Vladimir Putin has said he wants to forge a “Eurasian Union” on the vast swath of territory that used to be the Soviet Union to compete with the European Union and the United States.
By Andrew Osborn, Moscow
Speaking six months before he reassumes the Russian presidency for the third time, Mr Putin said he wanted to create a global power bloc that would straddle one fifth of the earth’s surface and unite almost 300 million people.
“We have a great inheritance from the Soviet Union,” he wrote in an article extolling the idea in the daily Izvestia newspaper. “We inherited an infrastructure, specialised production facilities, and a common linguistic, scientific and cultural space. It is in our joint interests to use this resource for our development.”
The Russian prime minister called the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century” and is known for revelling in Soviet nostalgia.
He denied his new plan was an attempt to resurrect the Russian-led superpower, insisting that the Eurasian Union would be freer than the Soviet Union and membership would be voluntary. “We are not talking about recreating the USSR,” Mr Putin claimed.
“It would be naive to try to restore or copy what was in the past. But time dictates that we should have closer integration based on values, politics and economics.”
The Soviet Union included 15 different republics which became independent countries after its chaotic collapse in 1991. Three of those countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – have since become members of the EU and it is unimaginable that they would sign up to the Eurasian Union.
Georgia, a country that lost 20 per cent of its territory in a war against Russia in 2008, would also be highly unlikely to acquiesce. But Mr Putin said an existing kernel of three countries – Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus – were already locked into a new common economic space with shared customs and other rules that would serve as the foundation for the Eurasian Union.
Mr Putin said he expected Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to sign up soon. “We are talking about a model of a powerful supranational union capable of becoming one of the poles in the modern world,” he said.
Andrei Okara, a political analyst, said: “Putin does not just see himself as a Russian leader but on a historical and global scale. He wants to make grandiose political moves that will leave their mark on history.”