On 28 January European Union (EU) leaders and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a summit in Brussels. While the ongoing political crisis in Ukraine and Russia's $15 billion loan to the Ukrainian government dominated the summit's discussions and Western press reports about them, some Russian sources reported on Putin's proposal, upon the conclusion of the summit, for the EU to join the free trade zone with the Eurasian Customs Union (a precursor to what Putin plans to develop into a Eurasian Union). The accompanying excerpts provide examples of such reports in the Russian-language press.
One Russian expert quoted in the first excerpt, from Vestink Kavkaza (Caucasus Herald), immediately brings the discussion back to Ukraine and the Eastern Partnership, however, when commenting on Putin's proposal. If his proposal is accepted, he says, there would be no need for Ukraine and other Eastern Partnership countries to sign free trade agreements with the EU.
His comment is quite revealing. It shows how much the Kremlin wants Eastern Partnership countries, particularly Ukraine, to join Russia's sphere of influence, rather than that of Europe, and how far Putin is willing to go. He is framing Russia-EU relations in the context of how to convinvce Eastern Europe to choose Russia over Europe.
Massive protests in Ukraine broke out precisely because Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych chose at the last minute not to sign an association agreement with Europe in November 2013. Prior to this Putin pressured Yanukovych and other Eastern European countries not to sign or initial association agreements with Europe.
Notably, the second excerpt, from Aktau-Business.com, focused on Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbaev's public support of Putin's idea. This is not surprising, as Kazakhstan itself is a member of Russia's Customs Union, along with Belarus. Nazarbaev also hints that in time the Customs Union could be more than a solely economic-focused organization.
This context is crucial to analyzing comments in the third excerpt, also from Aktau-Business.com, by Ingo Mannteufel, Director of the Eastern Europe Department and the Chief Editor of the Russian edition of Deutsche Welle, who says that Europe should take Russia's offer. This context is crucial to understand exactly what accepting Putin's offer entails. Mannteufel correctly observes that Ukraine's economic situation is dire. Putin's solution, however, which entails the offer to the E.U., is ultimately designed to take freedom from Ukraine, and other Eastern Partnership countries, to make a choice for themselves between Russia and the E.U. It is designed to pull these countries further into Russia's orbit—economically and politically— through the Customs Union.