The Customs Union: A Resurgence of Soviet Unity or Just Another Failed Regional Initiative?

Formed in 2007, the Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan Customs Union has gained traction since 2010. Although it is too early to say whether the Union is doomed to fail like other similar regional agreements or whether it represents a Soviet-style resurrection of inter-state economic links, for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the grouping’s architect, the customs union has already become an instrument of both regional and international politics. Union membership is regarded as an indicator of political alignment with and support of Russian leadership in the post-Soviet space. Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan are pressured to join the club. The Union implemented several key trade agreements and is expanding further into the postSoviet space, but its members remain divided on a number of policies. With that, the Customs Union also poses serious challenges to Russia and Kazakhstan’s bid for the WTO membership. Furthermore, the Union forces Russia to relax some of the retaliatory trade bans Moscow imposed in 2006 on Georgian products. Since the Customs Union is designed to erase trade barriers among its members, Georgian products banned in Russia will inevitably make their way to the Russian market once they pass through intermediary countries that have not imposed similar trade bans.

Authors: Erica Marat