The treaty to create a Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) signed Thursday by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan is an intermediate step with more challenges ahead before it arrives at its destination of integration of former Soviet states, local experts say.
The long-anticipated document, inked at a meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council in Astana, capital of Kazakhstan, envisages the formal launch of the EEU from Jan. 1, 2015.
The principal difference between the existing Customs Union (CU) of the same three countries and the EEU is that the former relates only to their trade cooperation, while the latter embraces a wider range of issues, member of the Russian Academy of Science Oleg Bogomolov said.
"At the moment, the competence of the CU has been wider and its functions are more precisely described, while the EEU so far is on a more declarative stage," Bogomolov told Xinhua in an exclusive interview.
Even at such an early stage, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has admitted he does not feel fully satisfied with the draft treaty.
"We still have the opportunity to make our agreements better, to the common benefit of all of the treaty signatories," the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.
Bogomolov said Eurasian integration was a lengthy and quite slow process. For instance, he said, the member countries did not discuss creation of a currency union, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite calling the treaty "epochal and historic," was quick to reassure that it would not harm any of the three nations' sovereignty.
That was directed somewhat at the concerns of Russian partners over Moscow's "economic imperialism," said Andrei Kortunov, head of the Russian International Affairs Council.
"Hard work is ahead for all EEU signatories, present and prospective," he told Xinhua, referring to Armenia and Kyrgyzstan as the next possible members of the union.
"It is going to be slow technical and legal work of coordination of thousands of national regulations and laws, as well as coordination of CU and EEU legal bases," he said, comparing the CU and EEU to Russian dolls sitting one inside the other. ( Moreover, the expert said, for any economic alliance to work efficiently, it must have its "engine country," like Germany was during the European Union (EU)'s early years.
Meanwhile, "even the strongest economy out of the three -- or five in future -- Russia, lacks an intelligible model of economic growth," he said, adding the situation had been further complicated by western sanctions.
"It seems that the presidents sitting at the round table in Astana were thinking about how the newly conceived union will compete with the EU and the United States. That question is yet to be answered," he said.