Kyrgyzstan, which was scheduled to join the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) on May 1, has delayed full accession until the end of the month. This delay is another in an impressive history of delays that Eurasianet’s Chris Rickleton aptly called a “curious subplot to the generally unsuccessful story of Eurasian integration thus far.”
Monday, 24.kg, a Kyrgyz news agency, reported that the “last documents for Kyrgyzstan’s accession to the Eurasian Economic Union will be signed during the May holidays,” and that the customs border with Kazakhstan would be open in time for Victory Day on May 9. Wednesday, however, the story changed. The Kyrgyz Minister of Economy Temir Sariev said that “Kyrgyzstan’s accession to the Eurasian Economic Union may be delayed till the end of May.”
Sariev commented that the leaders of the EEU would meet to discuss two protocol documents that apparently still have “fundamental differences” on May 8 and that it could take 10 to 20 days for the full package of agreements to be ratified by the member countries. Differences remain regarding Kyrgyzstan’s import of Chinese construction materials and demands by other EEU members that Kyrgyzstan be subject to higher health standards, which is likely to be detrimental to Kyrgyzstani producers trying to export within the union.
After Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s election victory last weekend, he confirmed he would indeed be going to Moscow for the military parade commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. It seems that all of the EEU presidents will be in Moscow, expect Belarus’ Alexander Lukashenko, who canceled his scheduled trip to, ostensibly to attend his own nation’s parade. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan all moved their own Victory Day parades to May 7 so their presidents could travel to Moscow for the festivities. Tajikistan has previously expressed interest in joining the EEU, but that general interest has yet to morph into anything tangible.
Kyrgyzstan has been discussing joining the EEU for four years and the May deadline was an extension of a January 1 deadline officials highlighted throughout 2014. Conditions have changed dramatically since Kyrgyzstan began considering acceding to the union–low oil prices and Ukraine-related sanctions have crippled Russia’s ruble. As a result domestic producers in both Kazakhstan (and Belarus) have suffered–leading to some to declare that a trade war is brewing over cheap Russian goods flooding Kazakh markets.
As Kyrgyzstan’s accession neared, 24.kg reported that statements from officials have become less optimistic:
Kyrgyzstan is at the finish line. All of the most important documents have been adopted. But the closer the final story of the Eurasian vector of the Kyrgyz Republic, the less optimistic is the statements of officials. More often one can hear the statement that there won’t be “a land of milk and honey.”
“For Kyrgyzstan joining the Eurasian Economic Union – an opportunity to reach a wider market. Eurasian Economic Union policy aims to support domestic producers. We have never said that everything will be fine after joining the union. Of course, there will be difficulties,” Temir Sariev confessed during a round table in 24.kg news agency.
Incidentally, the economics minister who announced the delay has also been nominated to be the country’s next prime minister. Since late 2011, when the current president Almazbek Atambayev left the spot, Kyrgyzstan has had three prime ministers (and a few acting PMs). The most recent, Djoomart Otorbaev, held the post for a year but resigned last week amid ongoing controversy surrounding the Kumtor gold mine.