Ashgabat, 26 Dec—If ‘the west’ is a myth, what is reality?
The reality is what Machiavelli pointed out long ago: permanent interests
In fact, Machiavelli is in need of correction – instead of permanent interests we just need to talk of interests, permanent or temporary. Except for the need for survival, peace and growth, there are hardly any permanent interests.
The current interest of Germany is in better alignment with Russia, the interest of Greece is in declaring bankruptcy and starting all over again, the interest of Spain is in re-branding itself, and the interest of everyone is in avoiding the downward economic spiral.
To meet the diverse interests of all the member states – some of those interests on a collision course – there is the need to dilute and redefine the mandate of EU; this is called for by several factors: Let’s just take two out of many, one rather complex and one absolutely simple.
Has Euro been a universal and across the board blessing for all member states? – This is a question quite complex in nature but there is broad albeit restrained consensus on what we are hinting at.
The easy question is: Does ‘Made in Europe’ label provide enough peace of mind to the buyer on its own? Don’t the consumers look closely at the package to see where it was made? Where is the prestige factor of something made in a generic Europe? — The label just being a convenient symbol, it can be said that everything related to the concept has fallen far short of expectations.
One might ask quite justifiably, what is the connection between all this and the Russia-Ukraine deal, and how does it all relate to Central Asia.
The answer is in mindset, also described as approach or attitude.
The mindset that saw some wisdom in encouraging the unrest in Ukraine is a source of concern for Central Asia. The inevitable query in the minds of Central Asian policymakers is: Ukraine today, who tomorrow?
This is a pattern that keeps repeating itself; us vs. them, the west vs. the rest etc; the zero-sum game.
Does Central Asia deal with a mythical ‘the west,’ or does it make deals with individual countries on bilateral basis?
Look at the language of analysts and commentators in the CIS space carefully: When there is the need to criticize,, they hurl epithets at ‘the west’ and when there is a constructive suggestion worthy of praise, they name a particular country.
When among others, Germany and Japan arrive with specific proposals for Central Asia, things get going. When the mythical ‘the west’ comes over in the shape of EU or USA, a stone wall appears out of thin air to greet them.
The essence of progress is in learning; in discarding what doesn’t work and in building on what does. The engineered chaos in Ukraine didn’t work; the calculated approach of Russia did.
For want of any real sin, Yanukovych has been accused of selling to the highest bidder and throwing Ukraine back in to the folds of USSR in the guise of Kremlin-led customs union.
Selling to the highest bidder is a joke, in the category of black humour. What other bidders were there? The USA that made its contribution by sending a rabble rouser to the main square? Or, the EU that couldn’t put together a package worth serious consideration?
As far as the customs union being a form of USSR, ensuring the Russian hegemony across the CIS space is concerned, it is a delightful baloney.
Kazakhstan and Belarus, two countries fiercely conscious and protective of their sovereignty, are already members of the customs union. Has it hurt their sovereignty in any which way? Has it made them satellite states of the Russian Federation?
And the question we have raised several time earlier, begs to be looked at once again. By joining the customs union, will Ukraine forfeit all rights to join any other economic group or alliance?
In any case, Belarus and Kazakhstan are sufficiently satisfied with the customs union to agree to upgrade it to Eurasian Economic Union, which will come into effect in 2015.
Armenia is inching closer to joining the union, and the Russian deal to slash gas prices for Armenia from $ 270 to $ 189 per thousand cubic meters is just the thing that persuaded this fence-straddler.
Kyrgyzstan wants to join the union but there are concerns about its border management with China.
‘The west’ will happily expand EU and NATO but frown upon anyone else creating an economic union of their own.
The message here for Central Asia is that EU aka ‘the west’ will only play with them if they promise not to play with anyone else. And if they dare play with someone else, it will disrupt the game in the best tradition of bullies. Obviously, this is rather exaggerated and crude statement but the purpose is to highlight the mindset that is a source of concern for Central Asia.
The Russia-Ukraine is far sighted in nature. Thinking two of three steps ahead, Putin offered to resume joint work on An-70 and An-124 airplanes
An-70 is a cargo plane with capacity of about 50 tons. In transport mode it can carry about 400 passengers in seating position or about 220 persons on stretchers.
An-124 (Ruslan, in the west known as Condor) can carry 150 tons of cargo, second only in capacity to C-5. It has a built in crane that can lift up to 30 tons of cargo in one haul. The upper chamber accommodates about 80 passengers.
This is of particular interest to Central Asia.
With transport and transit corridors running in every direction in near future, the need for large capacity cargo planes cannot be over emphasized.
Moreover, the lessons learned from NDN (Northern Distribution Network) are also at play here.
It would be advisable for Central Asia, especially Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to offer to join the An-70 and An-124 production projects.
The An-70 project has absorbed about $ 10 billion so far, of which Russia provided $ 6 billion. By taking a symbolic stake of, say, 2%, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan would be making a wise investment in something of lasting value.