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And then there were three: Russia creates Eurasian Union as hedge against EU, US

Russia and its neighbors
Russia and its neighbors

The leaders of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan signed the Eurasian Economic Union agreement yesterday in the Kazakh capitol of Astana. Coming into effect on January 1, 2015, the deal will establish free trade, open labor migration and unbridled financial interaction between the three countries. The triumvirate will focus mainly on energy, industry, agriculture, and transport as means of economic growth.

"The just-signed treaty is of epoch-making, historic importance," Russian President Vladimir Putin said. “Today we have created a powerful and attractive center of economic development, a large regional market that brings together more than 170 million people.”

Like last week’s landmark energy deal between Russia and China, the EEU agreement is a prime example of political posturing under the cover of economic growth. It’s not a coincidence that Aleksandr Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, received a $2 billion loan from Russia immediately before signing the deal. It’s not a coincidence that the name, purpose and promise of the newly formed alliance eerily resemble the verbiage of the European Union. And it’s not a coincidence that the deal was signed when Ukraine, situated precariously close to all three countries, is weathering a moment of weakness.

There are three main reasons for Russia’s push to create the EEU, according to analysts. First, by gathering the smaller states of Central Asia unto his flock before they have a chance to align with China or the West, Putin assures himself a say in the region’s future development — and earns himself a reliable trove of supporters. Also, a Eurasian union will act as a counterbalance to both the EU and the USA, elevating Russia’s trade status in the eyes of the international community. Finally, the agreement represents the geopolitical manifestation of traditional, religiously conservative ideals that dichotomize Western liberalism, the preservation of which is one of Putin’s long-held goals.

“His political vision is of a greater Russia,” said Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former secretary of state, in a speech in March. “His goal is to re-Sovietize Russia’s periphery.”

The people of Ukraine made it clear in February that they favored Europe over Russia when a public uprising ousted the pro-Russian president. How much longer Ukraine and other Eastern European states can resist Putin’s political pressure, however, remains to be seen.