Question: Regarding the launch of Eurasian Union on 1 Jan 2015, what will be the first concrete effect of the Union, e.g. a new building, secretariat, a new alignment in policy?
Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov: I find it strange to measure the importance of this event by referring to buildings and staff. Remember accession of Russia to the WTO in 2012. Who cared then about the number of staff and premises? And who cares now? But to satisfy your curiosity I might say that there is enough office space of the Eurasian Economic Commission - an executive body of the new Eurasian Union - in Moscow. If necessary there could be additional premises in Astana, Minsk, Yerevan or Bishkek.
Much more important is alignment of economic and trade policy. Immediate effect expected is considerable. This is not only because the Customs Union was already created in 2011. Obviously, creation of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) is the launching of a single burgeoning market. Even now we see an increase of internal trade since 2011 by 50%. It has been decided that by 2016 there will be a single pharmaceutical market. Starting from 1 January 2015 a single market will be introduced in construction, retailing and tourism. Plans have been approved for creating single market in 40 other services sectors.
And of course from 1 January 2015 common customs tariffs will start working in Armenia and later on - in Kyrgyzstan with its accession to the EAEU anticipated in the beginning of May.
From the beginning of 2015 the Eurasian Economic Union will become a legitimate subject of international law following its proper registration at the UN.
Question: Do you think the Russian financial crisis could harm or delay the EAEU project?
Vladimir Chizhov: Russia has been wise enough to build substantial reserves to withstand the external pressure. It is a widespread mistake to say that the depreciation of the rouble was caused by western sanctions. The fall of exchange rate was primarily caused by oil price volatility and internal market speculations.
Think historically. Look at the currency rate of euro compared with the dollar now and a year ago. Do you remember how many times the dollar was devalued since the 1960-s? Do you remember when French President Charles De Gaulle in those days sent a ship loaded with US dollars to America to change them into gold? And what was Washington’s reaction?
The situation with the rouble will be remedied. And we have to see the future of financial and energy markets in the long term. They are of no doubt in favour of Russia and Kazakhstan particularly.
Question: Is there any estimate of how much it will cost/save to create the EAEU?
Vladimir Chizhov: The costs of establishing an economic union comprising more than 180 million consumers with total GDP of more than 2.4 trillion USD are worth incurring. This is the same kind of rationale that was used by the founding fathers of the EU.
Now the Eurasian Economic Commission is finalizing a free trade agreement with Vietnam, contacts are being made with Israel, Turkey and India (on their initiative). It has been decided that a special working group will be established with Uzbekistan. Cooperation memoranda are in preparation with ASEAN and MERCOSUR.
As a diplomat I see many advantages.
Question: Western diplomats say Russia’s actions in Ukraine have caused concern about territorial integrity in Belarus and Minsk. Is this true?
Vladimir Chizhov: Belarus remains a close trusted partner of the Russian Federation, a country with which we share a deep common historical, cultural and linguistic heritage, a vibrant trade and economic relationship as well as an extensive matrix of social ties. Russia and Belarus cooperate closely within the CIS, CSTO and the nascent Eurasian Economic Union. To date we have received no signals from our Belarusian partners on concerns related to your question.
Question: What kind of future relations do you envisage between the EU and the EAEU e.g. a new trade treaty?
Vladimir Chizhov: Yes, of course. Our idea is to start official contacts between the EU and the EAEU as soon as possible. Chancellor Angela Merkel talked about this not long ago. EU sanctions are not a hinder. I think that common sense advises us to explore the possibility of establishing a common economic space in the Eurasian region. Including the focus countries of the Eastern Partnership. We all have common interest.
Now Russia and Ukraine are reestablishing trade in electricity and coal – in addition to gas. The same is right (for other products) for Moldova and Georgia. We might think of a free trade zone encompassing all of interested parties in Eurasia.
Do you believe it is wise to spend so much political energy on a free trade zone with the USA while you have more natural partners at your side, closer to home? We don’t even chlorinate our chickens! I am confident - the sooner we start a dialogue on the common economic space in Eurasia the better.