Customs Union popular in most post-Soviet states, finds study

By bne IntelliNews September 25, 2013

bne -

A substantial majority of the population in most of the potential Customs Union member states is in favour of joining the Russian-led bloc, according to a study by the Eurasian Development Bank (EDB).

The EDB Integration Barometer finds that the highest level of support is in Central Asia. A full 77% of Uzbek respondents say they are in favour of entry to the Customs Union and the Single Economic Space, the trade block Moscow is currently pushing so hard to fill with former Soviet states - especially those to the west that are flirting with the EU.

In Tajikistan, 75% of respondents would be happy to join. In Kyrgyzstan, where the government has said it plans to sign up by 2015 but has recently provoked suggestions that it is dragging its feet, 72% of respondents would like to see the deal sealed. The figures are even higher than in the existing member states, Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan, where public support is at 65%, 67%, and 73%.

Surprisingly, given the troubled relationship with Russia, a majority of Georgians - 59% - are in favour of hooking up with the Russian-led bloc. The figure is twice as high that seen in the EDB's 2012 report.

Armenia is the only state to have succumbed to the Kremlin's pressure thus far. Following a rise in Russian gas prices and a large arms deal handed by Moscow to his country's bitter rival Azerbaijan, President Serzh Sargsyan announced in early September that Armenia will join the Customs Union.

Despite demonstrations in Yerevan against the decision - due to the fact that it will likely rule out closer association with the EU - 67% support the move, according to the report. By way of contrast, just 37% of Azeri's would like to see their country join the Customs Union - the lowest level of support in any country of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Over half - 53% - see the club negatively.

Negative opinions have also increased in Moldova and Ukraine, reaching 24% and 28% respectively. However, 50% of Ukrainian respondents and 54% of those in Moldova said they supported Customs Union entry.

Many countries in the post-Soviet space still consider countries outside the region to be the most attractive sources of foreign capital. For example, 60% of Tajikistani respondents said China was the most attractive source of capital, Georgia looked to the US, Uzbekistan to Japan and Azerbaijan to Turkey.

Meanwhile, a majority of Moldavians and Ukrainians see the EU was the most attractive source of capital. Both countries say they are determined to sign trade and association pacts with Brussels in November, which has seen Moscow raise trade barriers in recent weeks.

Politically, respondents from Central Asia, Armenia and Belarus were oriented towards the post-Soviet space, while those from Russia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine favoured the EU, and Azerbaijan identified more closely with Turkey.

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