Regional integration among the post-Soviet states: Eurasian and West-oriented regionalisms*

Researchers studying regional integration among the post-Soviet states often encounter a problem of defining a region under study. The term post-Soviet lost its appeal as more than twenty years passed after the break down of the USSR. The societies in the former Soviet states have developed very distinct interpretations of the Soviet past. While Soviet legacy is often praised in Russia, it is part of dark colonial past for many other states that emerged after the collapse of the USSR. Some research centers and societies have moved towards using the term Central Eurasian, which seems to cover almost all former Soviet states but avoids referring to Soviet legacy. The difficulties in defining the region lead to a conclusion whether it is necessary to try to come up with one term to replace the aging post-Soviet concept. The objective reason to replace or abandon the use of post-Soviet adjective arises from different regionalization processes ongoing within so-called post-Soviet area. To date, it is possible to speak of two main regionalism projects, Eurasian regionalism and West-oriented regionalism.[1]

Figure 1 shows membership of the twelve post-Soviet states in the regional organizations that were established after the collapse of the USSR. The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) established in 1992 can be viewed as post-Soviet regional cooperation project. Although the CIS was successful in early years as a platform for dialogue, the divergence of interests among its members required the establishment of new organizations with limited number of members to pursue higher levels of cooperation. 


Figure 1. Regional organizations established among post-Soviet states

Source: Moldashev & Gulam Hassan (2015)


The first regionalism project, Eurasian regionalism was initiated by the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev in 1994, who offered  to create a workable regional organisation, the Eurasian Union, to facilitate economic relations between former Soviet states and to establish stability in the region. Nazarbayev identified four basic principles for Eurasian integration: (1) economic pragmatism; (2) voluntarily nature; (3) common efforts to maintain stability in the region; and (4) multi-speed integration.[2] Other post-Soviet states, particularly Russia, were not so enthusiastic about the Eurasian Union idea in the mid-1990s. The Customs Union agreement signed by Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia in 1995 and later joined by Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan did not result in the establishment of the effective regional organization. Only in 2000 there was some progress through the creation of the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) by Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. Armenia, Moldova, and Ukraine received observer status in the EurAsEC.

And only 10 years after the establishment of the EurAsEC, three of its members, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia agreed to establish the Customs Union (BKR CU). This time, three countries were able to agree on a common external tariff (CET) scheme, which has been in effect since January 1, 2010. Customs control between these three countries was abolished by July 2011. The Single Economic Space (BKR SES) among Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia was established on January 1, 2012. The Eurasian Economic Commission (EAEC), a supranational body of the BKR SES and later of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) started to function in the same year. The core three have also established the EEU on January 1, 2015 and Armenia joined the organization on January 2 of the same year. Kyrgyzstan is also to join on May of 2015. All of the previously discussed regional arrangements can be viewed as part of the Eurasian regionalism project, which to some extent has evolved based on Nazarbayev’s pragmatic Eurasianism proposal of 1994. However, some actors in Russia often view Eurasian regionalism as a part of  Russia’s revisionist and expansionist strategy, which seriously hinders the progress of regional integration.[3]

Eurasian regionalism though highly institutionalized lacks vision and agreement on what is ‘Eurasian’

The second regionalism project, so-called West-oriented regionalism, was an attempt by some post-Soviet countries to integrate into the West. The EU and the United States were the main supporters of this regionalism project. Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine established GUAM in 1997, which was renamed as the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development – GUAM (ODED-GUAM) in 2006. The ODED-GUAM is the only regional organization established by the post-Soviet states with no Russian participation and it is often argued that the organization is an exclusive arrangement to limit Russia’s influence in the region. The GUAM and later the ODED-GUAM, in general, had very modest impact in addressing the economic and security issues in the region. Despite its limited success, the organization reflected an ideological shift that served as a stepping stone for the European Eastern Partnership Program (EEPP).

The previously discussed two regionalism projects shape the regionalization processes among the post-Soviet states. In some cases the West/European-oriented and Eurasian regionalism are presented as mutually exclusive projects causing internal divides within societies as it happens in  Ukraine, Moldova, and also in Armenia. This is not surprising because Eurasian regionalism, which was initially thought as inclusive project by its architects, is currently influenced by nationalist forces in Russia trying to turn in into exclusive Russia-centered arrangement, which leads to growing suspicions among its members. The future of both regionalism projects is still bleak. West-oriented regionalism depends on the EU’s commitment to the project and the readiness of societies in the EEPP participant countries to accept European values. Eurasian regionalism though highly institutionalized lacks vision and agreement on what is ‘Eurasian’. In Russia, the concept of ‘Eurasian’ is often used as the opposite of the ‘Western’ or ‘ Atlantic’ Other and it is expected that Eurasian integration will strengthen country’s position as a dominant power in the region to achieve Russian foreign policy goal of building multipolar world order. On the contrary, Kazakhstan leadership’s interpretation of ‘Eurasian’ rejects West-East or Atlantic-Eurasian dichotomy. Nazarbayev’s pragmatic Eurasianism aims to address such issues as attracting foreign direct investment (FDI), utilizing transit potential, and managing multi-ethnic society.[4]



*This commentary is based on the following research article.



Moldashev, K., & Gulam Hassan, M. A. (2015). The Eurasian union: actor in the making? Journal of International Relations and Development.



[1] The term regionalism is defined as a political commitment and body of ideas and objectives with an aim towards transforming a particular geographical area into a cohesive region .


[3] For discussion on the different meanings of Eurasian and on the possible future of the Eurasian regionalism see Moldashev & Gulam Hassan (2015)

[4] Nazarbayev’s views on Eurasianism are compiled in the following publication

Kairat Moldashev

Researcher, Consultant


PhD, University of Malaya

MA - SDU Almaty

BSc - Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics, and Strategic Research (KIMEP)

Research Interests

Political Economy of regional integration

Civil Society

Critical theories in IPE

Development Economics



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