Two Key Developments That Could Transform Western Eurasia

Two recent developments in Ukraine and Turkey merit considerable attention, for they could represent a significant geopolitical shift in Western Eurasia over the long term.

Firstly, Ukraine plans to sign an Association Agreement and free-trade accord with the EU at a summit in Vilnius on November 28-29. The agreement would preclude Ukraine from joining a customs union with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, which Russian President Vladimir Putin has been promoting as one of his pet projects. Putin has long sought to increase Moscow's influence in the 'near abroad' (i.e. former Soviet space), but without Ukraine's participation, any new Eurasian economic block would lack weight.

Ukraine is considered a 'pivotal state' in Europe by many geopolitical observers, due to its large population (45mn), crucial geographic position between Central Europe, the northern Balkans, Black Sea, and the Caucasus, and its close historic ties with Russia. In light of this, a Russia-leaning Ukraine would greatly strengthen Russia's geopolitical strength in Europe. Similarly, a Ukraine that is more closely aligned with the EU and the West in general would reduce Russia's geopolitical clout, and possibly 'contain' Russia. That is why Putin and the Kremlin establishment resented the 2004-2005 'Orange Revolution' that brought to power a pro-Western government in Kiev. Although the 'Orange Revolution' was mostly reversed by the election of the pro-Russian politician Viktor Yanukovych as Ukrainian president in 2010, the fact that Yanukovych is now steering Ukraine towards Europe will be raising a great deal of consternation in Moscow.

Against this backdrop, any talk of Russia's rising global influence in light of its having brokered a deal with Syria to prevent US airstrikes must be treated with caution. Ukraine matters far more to Russia than Syria does.

Secondly, Turkey recently signalled its intent to purchase a new air defence system from China Precision Machinery Export-Import Corporation (CPMIEC). This raised eyebrows, because Turkey is a long-standing member of NATO (since 1952), and there are concerns that a Chinese defence system would reduce interoperability and complicate training between Turkey and its Western allies. While Ankara's decision could still shift in favour of a Western-made defence system, Turkey's apparent favouring of the Chinese model would appear to be indicative of the country's long-term drift away from the US and EU as its principal partners. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has long favoured making Turkey more multi-vector in its foreign policy approach, which entails building deeper ties with Eastern nations. More recently, Turkey has been at loggerheads with the US over what to do about Syria's civil war, and the political upheaval in Egypt. Meanwhile, European leaders have been dismayed by the Turkish government's response to urban unrest in the summer of 2013.

Taken together, these two geopolitical developments in Ukraine and Turkey could alter the balance of power in Western Eurasia. A Ukraine more geared towards the West would be a gain for the US and Europe, but the 'loss' of Turkey would be a huge setback. In practice, Ukraine and Turkey are unlikely to make moves that 'decisively' or irreversibly alter their external relationships, but this cannot be precluded entirely.

This Week's Trivia Question

Last week's question was as follows: "Earlier [last] week, Bloomberg reported that a major international mining company is considering replacing its train drivers with robot locomotives to cut costs, because the drivers are reportedly paid the equivalent of US$224,000 per year. In which country and in which region of this country do these drivers operate?" The answer is Australia, in the Pilbara mining region, according to this article.

This week's questions are as follows: What rare object did the US recently hand over to Iran as a gesture of goodwill amid the two countries' current rapprochement? And separately, in the latest World Bank 'Doing Business' rankings, which European country scored best for ease of 'Starting a Business'? Which African country made it into the top 10 in this category?