Rubles in the near abroad

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 Coronavirus is the first major economic shock to test the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union, Eurasianet said, noting that so far, there’s been more friction than friendship.

At a March 25 meeting of the Eurasian Economic Commission (Commission), the EAEU’s executive body agreed to drop customs duties on medical equipment and other items imported for the coronavirus response. It also banned the export of personal protective equipment to non-member states.

On March 31, the Commission said the export of most agricultural goods outside the EAEU would be banned until June 30.

The Commission did agree a temporary ban on the export of ventilators and personal protective equipment to non-EAEU members, although the Kremlin swiftly violated the prohibition with its propaganda coup in New York City, according to Eurasianet.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko reportedly used a March 31 call with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to complain that Moscow is charging too much for its gas since the recent plunge in international energy prices. He urged a summit of the bloc’s members, by video call if necessary, to discuss the economic impact of the virus. Earlier in the month he had accused the Kremlin of “betrayal” when Russia shut its border with his country. Moscow had charged Minsk with failing to adhere to WHO recommendations.

An Armenian MP released a four-page letter criticizing the EAEU’s lack of solidarity amid the crisis.

COVID-19’s economic impacts are certain to be felt for years, but some have had immediate consequences. Thousands of labor migrant from Central Asia were stranded in Russia in the second half of March, victims of cancelled flights and closed borders.

Moscow is, however, stepping up to provide tests to its friends and quarries.

Health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor announced on March 12 that it was sending tests to fellow EAEU members as well as Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan – in short, just about everyone in the region but Georgia and Ukraine.

Russian media reports said Tajikistan would receive 21,000 tests; Kyrgyzstan 20,000; Uzbekistan 9,000. Russia’s Embassy in Azerbaijan said Baku would receive 7,000 tests. Armenia got 1,500. Kazakhstan’s president said he’d secured 40,000.

On March 31, Armenian Vice Premier Mher Grigoryan requested Gazprom sit down for talks about those gas prices.

According to Eurasianet, Gazprom has reached deep into the piggybank for Kyrgyzstan, paying 2 million som (roughly $24,000) into a government fund set up to combat the pandemic, according to local outlet Kaktus Media.

Russian support for closer economic ties with Uzbekistan reportedly remains strong. On March 31 Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin approved holding a new Russian-Uzbek business forum later this year, and a similar forum with Kazakhstan next year.

One potential path to deeper cooperation would be Tashkent joining the Eurasian Development Bank (EDB), suggested chairman Andrei Belyaninov. At a March 11 press conference, Belyaninov said all the bank’s members (the EAEU plus Tajikistan) support Uzbek membership.

The development lender is far smaller than the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Asian Development Bank, which are big players in the region. But where those two generally align with U.S. policy interests, the EDB looks resolutely toward Moscow.

Source: Asia Plus