The creation of a Eurasian Union – proposed by Russian leader Vladimir Putin in October 2011, and immediately backed by Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko and his Kazakh counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev – might be the most important geopolitical event of the XXI century, as the rise and fall of the Soviet Union were for the last century. Not surprisingly, the collapse of the USSR has been famously described as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the XX century by Putin himself, who nevertheless made clear that the proposed geopolitical subject would not be a new version of its Soviet predecessor, being rather modelled on the European Union.
Despite the Kremlin’s assurances, the United States has shown concern over Russian efforts to promote integration in Eurasia, described by Washington’s former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as “a move to re-Sovietize the region.” A synthetic geopolitical comparison between the USSR at the eve of its fall, on December 25, 1991, and the Common Economic Space of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia at its launch, on January 1, 2012, can help understand the difference, in terms of power, between the old communist superpower and the embryonic Eurasian Union.
In 1990, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was the world’s largest country, exercising its sovereignty over an area of 22,402,200 square kilometres equal to 15.04% of the world’s land area. Fatherland of 289 million people, it accounted for 5.47% of the world’s population, producing a gross domestic product at purchasing power parity (PPP) of $2.66 trillion equal to 9,66% of the world’s. In 2012, the Common Economic Space of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia occupied an area of 19,280,342 square kilometres equal to 12,94% of the world’s land area, and was inhabited by 173 million people representing 2,48% of the world’s population and producing a GDP (PPP) of $2.95 trillion equal to 3.57 % of the world’s GDP (PPP).
The aforementioned data show the proposed Eurasian Union’s lesser relevance on the global scene compared to the Soviet Union’s. While occupying an area only slightly lower to that of the Soviet giant, the Eurasian Union as made up by Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia has a lesser demographic weight (result of both Russia’s population crisis and the world’s demographic growth) and an even more reduced relative weight in the world economy in comparison to its geopolitical predecessor. Likely adhesions of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – both members of EurAsEC who have shown interest in joining the being established union – would not change this reality.
Nevertheless, a possible accession of Ukraine – currently taken into consideration in Kiev and understandably supported by Moscow – may turn the Eurasian Union into a much more powerful subject, capable to exert its economic and political influence over an area stretching from the very heart of Europe to the Pacific Ocean. Furthermore, with a majority Slavic population of 44,854,065 million people, Ukraine would considerably increase the population of the Eurasian Union up to 218 million, strengthening the centrality of the Russian, orthodox majority within a subject spatially oriented towards the Asian sphere. However, it will be just in its ability to merge the Slavic and Turkic elements of its own national identity into a united, geopolitical subject where Russia, yesterday and today, will play its survival as both a Eurasian and global power.