Having already been pummeled by rising fuel prices and political instability in recent months, the creation of a Customs Union among Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia threatens to deal yet another economic blow to Kyrgyzstan, and is exerting pressure on Bishkek to decide whether to cast its lot with Moscow or the West.
Kyrgyzstan in recent years has served as an entrepôt for Chinese goods bound for markets in the former Soviet Union. But the Customs Union stands to erect a formidable obstacle in the way of Kyrgyz traders, who have obtained Chinese goods at low prices and who have, until now, reaped sizable profits by reselling those marked-up goods in Russia, Kazakhstan and elsewhere.
Belarus’ leader, Alexander Lukashenko, signed documents, including a Customs Code, which made the Customs Union “fully operational,” according to a July 7 report distributed by the official Russian news agency RIA Novosti. The union creates a two-tiered economic system among former Soviet states, separating Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. All five states remain members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EurAsEC).
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David Trilling is the Central Asia news editor for EurasiaNet.