My latest with The New Republic checks in on the resounding flop of Putin's Eurasian Union (EEU):
For a while, it seemed like the EEU may actually carry its weight. Unlike other empty post-Soviet groupings—generally providing photo-ops, back-slaps, and little else—the EEU looked capable of action. Scores of technocrats came aboard to draft economic proposals. Moscow quelled concerns about sovereignty, pledging that all voices would be heard equally. Ministers from the three founding members all said the right things, made the right moves, played the right parts. Even after Ukraine collapsed into revolution—EuroMaidan vetoing former President Viktor Yanukovych’s overtures at joining Putin’s union—the EEU pushed ahead, determined to carry on without Kiev’s markets or manufacturing.
Then, last February, little green men began cropping up on Crimea’s corners, unofficial Russian forces who encircled airports and disappeared human rights activists and Ukrainian patriots alike. Rabid Russian nationalists ransacked the peninsula’s parliament. Nationalism surged, and the Kremlin decided that international treaties signed prior could be ignored as Moscow wished. Before the geopolitical vertigo could subside, Crimea was part of Russia.
At that moment, the Eurasian Union was doomed. Though Putin seemed unaware, the annexation resulted in a Pyrrhic trade—a land-grab for a peninsula in lieu of a new geopolitical pole; Crimea for an economic union of 170 million people. The curtains of neo-imperialism drew back, and Putinism was unveiled for what it was, neighbors and plans and pledges be damned. “The decision to annex Crimea changed everything,” Luca Anceschi, a lecturer in Central Asian Studies at the University of Glasgow, told me. Suddenly, the Eurasian Union was “kind of like a party where no one wants to be, like one of those awful family lunches.”