The Confusing Direction of the EEU

My latest with The Diplomat looks at Moscow's approach to the statelets dotting the post-Soviet landscape, and the troubles they've begun presenting for Eurasian Union expansion:

As such, instead of recruiting more states to join the would-be “geopolitical pole,” Moscow has turned toward another avenue for expansion: the unrecognized statelets dotting the post-Soviet landscape. While Transdnistria and South Ossetia have been largely quiet on the matter, Abkhazian politicians have made noises about joining the EEU. Likewise, representatives from “Novorossiya” – the fanciful name Russian-led separatists have given themselves in Ukraine – say they intend to join the union.

However, before Russia can rope these frozen conflicts further into Moscow’s fold, it must deal with a relatively unlikely obstacle – and it will have to deal with it quickly. During the May 29 summit in Astana, which saw the heads of Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus sign the formal EEU documents, Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev abruptly blocked Armenia’s planned promotion to full membership in the union. Citing a letter from Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, Nazarbayev noted opposition to the proposal to accede Nagorno-Karabakh along with Armenia. Only states within their UN-recognized borders were to be allowed in, added Nazarbayev (Crimea notwithstanding, for reasons that remain unexplained). ...

With only a few days until Armenia formally joins, the question on Nagorno-Karabakh still stands – another thorn in Putin’s side, another prick deflating the EEU’s proposed geopolitical pull. Like Kyrgyzstan, Armenia has already experienced numerous, still-unexplained delays over the summer in the move toward accession; it is entirely possible Moscow may be forced to swallow another delay. Dealing with statelets may turn out to be just as tough as appealing to the states Putin believes remain in Russia’s sphere of influence.

Update: Following the piece's publication, a fantastic Twitter conversation unfurled fleshing out the details of the EEU's relations with statelets, with a run-down here.