The paper discusses present-day developments in interregional integration within the Eurasian Economic Union. It studies the interregional and cross-border cooperation in the Eurasian Economic Union and attempts to determine the ways to increase the effectiveness of such cooperation in the Eurasian space. The present study includes a review of theories that define the critical concepts of interregional cooperation. It explores the fundamental models that characterize interregional and cross-border cooperation in Russia. Authors present the results of their sociological diagnostics that cover a questionnaire and interviews with experts in interregional cooperation, Eurasian integration, and international relations. The study shows that at present, Eurasian integration is reduced to economic cooperation and offers an overview of potential vectors for the development of interregional and cross-border cooperation in the Eurasian Economic Union. The first vector implies the promotion of cooperation between Eurasian nongovernmental organizations and universities to establish the mechanisms of interregional integration and to carry out joint social and research projects. The second vector covers the search for and application of the best practices of cooperation that already take place in the Eurasian Economic Union and developing a gold standard based on the available resources and conditions. The third vector includes the development of a unified trajectory of public diplomacy in the Eurasian Economic Union and the implementation of public diplomacy projects between Eurasian states.
Keywords: Cross-border cooperationEurasian integration
The formation of new states in the post-Soviet space entailed the updating and reassessment of economic, social, cultural, and humanitarian ties between the republics of the former USSR. The elites of each of them began to create state economic and political systems, strategies of foreign policy, and international positioning, as well as the formation of new "national ideas."
The processes of ubiquitous "demonetization" spread beyond the cultural field and were reflected in the economic, social, humanitarian, and religious spheres. The gradual change of power and unsatisfactory results from the low efficiency of interaction with the countries of the former USSR predetermined the need for updating the integration mechanisms in the post-Soviet space.
The development of new integration processes has determined the creation of such an international project as the Eurasian Economic Union. This process led to the formation of prerequisites for studying processes in the field of cross-border and interregional interaction, both between the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union and with external partners. In this regard, there is a real need to study the already used practices of cross-border and inter-regional interaction, highlight the most effective of them, as well as their distribution and replication throughout the Eurasian Economic Union.
The main research problem lies in the contradiction between the need to intensify integration processes within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union and the lack of theoretically developed and tested practices of inter-regional and cross-border interaction in the Eurasian space. Besides, the main trends and threats to the development of inter-regional and cross-border interaction of the Eurasian Economic Union member states remain not fully understood.
In recent years, there has been a profound transformation of approaches to interregional cooperation, cross-border cooperation, and the integration of border regions. Foreign authors consider interregional interaction as a tool for solving local (local) problems. Interregional interaction is a unique opportunity for cross-border exchange of experience and solving local problems. These processes make it possible to involve a large number of different entities and can provide the necessary impetus for solving large structural projects of interregional significance. As a result, there is a benefit in the socio-economic development of not only the region but also the country as a whole (Bloomfield, Sparāne).
Besides, in foreign literature, interregional interaction is considered from the perspective of three approaches (Song, 2007). The first approach is the balanced cooperation of the two poles of power. The second approach involves solving joint problems based on a liberal approach to management. The third approach is based on the joint activities of local communities to solve the most pressing social problems.
In Russian practice, a higher number of approaches are used for defining the concept of “interregional interaction.” This circumstance is due to the modification of the essence of inter-regional interaction, caused by profound social and managerial transformations of the post-Soviet period. Another reason for the existence of many approaches is the fragmentation of the methods and tools of interaction used in different territories of the Russian Federation.
On the one hand, interregional interaction is seen as a resource that allows, firstly, increasing the efficiency of the organization of the national economy in the spatial aspect; secondly, ensuring the achievement of the strategic goal of creating a single national space both in the economy and in the social sphere (Lygina et al., 2018). On the other hand, interregional interaction is a set of prerequisites for the transition from competition for resources to cooperation based on coordination of interests, integration of potentials, and building a universal strategy (Shelomencev et al., 2014).
As the results of sociological studies of domestic authors show, the basis of interregional interaction in the Russian Federation to date is economical and financial cooperation (Maksimenko & Pichugina, 2015).
However, the following areas of activity can be attributed to the non-financial area of interregional cooperation:
discussion by the regional authorities of specific issues of the socio-economic development of territories, exchange of views and best practices, development of a joint position with the reforms initiated by the federal authorities;
interaction of regions in the formation of their regulatory framework, even the unification of regional legislation is possible;
with some degree of conventionality, interaction in the cultural sphere (Kuznecova, 2019).
Also, cross-border interaction can be considered as a set of active processes for the formation of cross-border communication networks that create a new political and socio-economic reality. These processes are the essence of cross-border interaction (Zhanbulatova, 2016).
In literature, the concept of a border zone is noted, i.e., territorially, cross-border cooperation develops in the border zone, in an area that is separated by political borders and consists of the geographical territory of several countries (Palmowski, 2007).
International and national rules mainly determine the central area of cooperation. Moreover, the main areas of cooperation are determined by the social life of modern society, and the main subjects are regional and local authorities (Studzieniecki et al., 2016). Cross-border cooperation does not end on the border of any country, but “is specifically aimed at achieving the goal and achieving goals together with organizations on the other side of the border” (Molen & Ietswaart, 2012).
At the same time, in the practice of Russian reality, highlighting a unified approach to inter-regional and cross-border interaction is not an optimal solution for the development of territories, due to the high differentiation of both the regions themselves and the functions of borders.
Purpose of the Study
The principal objective of this article is the study of inter-regional and cross-border interaction in the regions of the Eurasian Economic Union, contributing to its ongoing development. The article is aimed at presenting the development of directions for increasing the efficiency of regional cooperation in the Eurasian space.
Also, the task is to conduct a comprehensive sociological diagnosis of expert opinion regarding the state, trends, and directions of development of interregional and cross-border interaction in the space of the Eurasian Economic Union.
From February to July 2019, we organized a sociological study, “Cross-border and interregional interaction of the member states of the Eurasian Economic Union.” The purpose of this study was to clarify the most promising forms and models of cross-border and interregional interaction of the member states of the Eurasian Economic Union. This study is also necessary to assess the present level of regional cooperation in the post-Soviet space.” The research issues and the main directions of the expert survey were determined based on the results of a comprehensive sociological diagnosis “Public Diplomacy as a Tool for Cross-Border Interaction of the Eurasian Economic Union,” which included a mass survey of the population of border regions (N = 1000).
The study was organized in the form of an expert survey. The study took 103 people. Fifty-three respondents answered questions from an expert questionnaire, which included more than 50 questions on various topics. Topics of the issues were the level and effectiveness of interaction between the member states of the Eurasian Economic Union, trends, and prospects for the development of interregional and cross-border cooperation in the Eurasian space; the possibilities of using project management technologies in cross-border and inter-regional cooperation.
Another 50 experts were interviewed in the format of an expert interview, according to the developed study guide, which includes the following blocks of questions. Blocks of questions include the expert’s perception of the phenomenon of cross-border cooperation, interregional cooperation as a phenomenon and its features, distinctive features of cross-border cooperation, problems, and prospects of interregional and cross-border cooperation of the Eurasian Economic Union.
The selection of experts was carried out according to a set of criteria. The criteria are a degree and publications on research issues, the experience of expert work and research on this issue, leadership, or work in public and scientific organizations implementing activities in the field of Eurasian integration. The study involved representatives of all five countries members of the Eurasian Economic Union.
In analyzing the practical results of the study, we will proceed from a comparison of the answers of respondents who answered open-ended interview questions, as well as the opinions of experts who noted the answers in closed questions of the questionnaire.
One of the first questions of the questionnaire was devoted to changes like cross-border and inter-regional interaction in the space of the Eurasian Economic Union in recent years. Almost half of the participants believe that the nature of interaction varies only between individual countries (45.28 %). Moreover, 35.85 % suggests that the nature of the interaction is changing throughout the Eurasian Economic Union. At the same time, only 11 % of respondents said that the nature of cooperation remains unchanged (Figure
Thus, the expert community as a whole positively assesses the prospects for the development of inter-regional cooperation in the space of the Eurasian Economic Union. However, it notes that it is developing heterogeneous and asynchronously.
It is worth noting that according to the results of the quantitative sociological study “Public Diplomacy as a Tool for Cross-Border Interaction of the Eurasian Union,” 79.3 % of respondents (residents of border regions) are aware of the existence of the Eurasian Economic Union. Moreover, 81.7 % of respondents believe that within the framework of integration processes in the Eurasian space, it is necessary to use tools of cross-border interaction.
In order to determine the level of differentiation of interaction highlighted by experts, respondents were also asked to evaluate how efficiently cross-border and inter-regional interaction of member states of the Eurasian Economic Union is carried out. To this end, respondents gave a score of 1 to 10 for each of a pair of countries.
According to the scales, respondents rated the level of interaction as follows:
1. Russia – Belarus: 8.5;
2. Russia – Kazakhstan: 7.54;
3. Russia – Armenia: 6.33;
4. Russia – Kyrgyzstan: 6.04;
5. Belarus – Kazakhstan: 5.47;
6. Belarus – Armenia: 4.85;
7. Belarus – Kyrgyzstan: 4.71;
8. Kazakhstan – Armenia: 4.71;
9. Kazakhstan – Kyrgyzstan: 4.96;
10. Armenia – Kyrgyzstan: 4.1.
One of the most active subjects of cross-border and interregional interaction of the member states of the Eurasian Economic Union is the Russian Federation. Representatives of all countries noted that they participated in the study. Moreover, the cooperation between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus received the highest rating. Respondents at expert interviews emphasized that the main reason for this is the close bilateral relations of the two states, as well as participation in such an integration project as the “Union State.” Also, according to experts, the interest of national governments and regional authorities served as a source for the development of highly effective cooperation between Russia and Kazakhstan.
The next question in the questionnaire devoted to those definite advantages, the manifestation of which is facilitated by inter-regional and cross-border cooperation development. Most experts have traditionally noted the economic development of the region (21.48 % of the total number of answers) and the development of business and entrepreneurship (20.81 %). Also, experts emphasized that increasing the efficiency of inter-regional and cross-border cooperation contributes to the development of labor migration (Figure
Almost similar results were revealed in the framework of the detailed answers of the respondents received during expert interviews. The majority of respondents traditionally also noted that the most significant degree of cross-border and inter-regional interaction contributes to the economic development of regions. Besides, according to experts, the establishment of useful economic ties between regions can affect the general level of socio-economic development of countries of the Eurasian Economic Union.
Expert 1 (Russian Federation): If we talk about inter-regional cooperation as a whole, then it certainly has more opportunities for economic cooperation. We can say that if cooperation is established, then this is, first of all, the economic aspect, mutual interest in certain groups of goods, services that are in some areas but are poorly represented in others.
Experts also noted education, humanitarian cooperation, and the establishment of socio-cultural ties as promising areas for which cross-border and inter-regional cooperation has significant potential. Respondents also highlighted the development of transport and near-customs infrastructure as positive changes from establishing cross-border cooperation.
Expert 2 (Republic of Belarus): Interregional interaction is, first of all, the creation of cultural exchange, exchange in the educational and academic sphere, views, ideas in the youth sphere in order to intensively form an innovative substrate in the border region. An essential aspect is the cooperation of universities, the implementation of joint research projects, the creation of inter-university research laboratories. Infrastructure and customs projects should be developed in the border area, such as, for example, simplifying border crossing procedures for border residents.
In identifying the main barriers that hinder the development of interaction between the regions of the Eurasian Economic Union, the opinions of respondents were divided. For example, financial difficulties (20.91 %), the presence of administrative barriers between the regions of different states of the Eurasian Economic Union (20 %), the absence of interregional business programs and projects (17.27 %), and the absence of direct transport corridors were classified as critical barriers (16.36 %). Experts also emphasized the personal disinterest of regional authorities (14.55 %) (Figure
In the framework of expert interviews, respondents identified many other barriers that also reduce the effectiveness of inter-regional and cross-border cooperation of the Eurasian Economic Union. Among them, experts attributed the lack of a single regulatory framework affecting the implementation of projects for interregional cooperation and the establishment of socio-economic ties between the regions of the Eurasian Economic Union. Besides, experts noted the insufficiently active information policy of the member countries of the Eurasian Economic Union. A significant proportion of the population is not aware of the existing forms and tools of interregional interaction.
Expert 3 (Republic of Kazakhstan): The main barrier is the regulatory framework, which contributed to the strengthening of interregional and cross-border cooperation at the level of municipalities and regions. The contracts and agreements that they sign are advisory. At the same time, there is no movement towards concretization, development of programs. Also, there is a low level of information exchange, insufficient communications between the leaders of the border regions.
Differences like the interaction between regional leaders raise the question of the types of interaction that prevails between regional authorities and elites. Experts could not come to a common opinion on this issue. Three main options were identified: “Vertical interaction through the state capitals” (23.53 %), “Horizontal interaction between regions” (22.55 %), Economic cooperation between business entities (22.55 %). The contradictory answers, as well as the fact that the first two options are much mutually exclusive, make it possible to assume that entirely different models of interregional interaction and cooperation operate in the space of the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union. In this case, one of the main criteria for the occurrence of these discrepancies. There are various approaches to determining the subjectivity of regional authorities in the field of inter-regional and cross-border cooperation and providing them with an appropriate range of powers (Figure
Experts who gave detailed answers to this question noted that vertical interaction through state capitals predominates. Most of the inter-regional initiatives at the international level come from national centers. In turn, within the framework of individual states, competition, and the struggle for the influence of central authorities and investments are observed.
Expert 4 (Republic of Armenia): First of all, it is worth saying that the regional authorities often do not seek to implement international projects on the scale of inter-regional cooperation of the Eurasian Economic Union. On the one hand, there is a lack of appropriate authority; on the other hand, formalism and the local bureaucracy put an end to such projects.
It is important to note that as a result of questioning and interviewing experts, there was a significant pluralism of opinions regarding the understanding of the terms “inter-regional interaction” and “cross-border interaction.” Moreover, differences in understanding of terminology were also identified within individual study groups (scientists, officials, representatives of the business community, and leaders of a nonprofit organization). At least, this indicates the absence of a universal approach to inter-regional and cross-border cooperation in the space of the Eurasian Economic Union, which means that research and the formation of standardization of practical tools and practices for cooperation come first. Based on the objectives of territorial development and the standards of cross-border and inter-regional cooperation, it will be possible to develop targeted programs, both international and inter-regional level.
The development of Eurasian integration was demonstrated by the fact that the main emphasis is placed on the economic segment of cooperation. The creation of conventional markets for goods and services, labor, and capital became the basis for the integration of the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union. Moreover, the achievement of these results in 5 years is an indicator of the correctness of the vector of integration education development. At the same time, the priorities for further development of the Eurasian Economic Union, voiced by the Chairman of the Board of the Eurasian Economic Commission, show that subsequent transformations will also be like economic integration (Head of the ECE Board…)
Other aspects of cooperation are still outside the field of activity of the leaders of Eurasian integration. European experience demonstrates that sustainable interregional and cross-border ties are built on deep integration in the cultural, social, educational, humanitarian, and other possible areas of cooperation. However, recent events in Armenia have attracted sharp criticism in the country regarding participation in the Eurasian Economic Union. These events indicate the need to expand the areas of cooperation, namely, the transition from the interaction of elites to real communication of the population. In 2016, Moldova acted economically irrationally by signing the Association Agreement with the European Union. The same scenario, when economic advantages were pushed to the background, occurred in Ukraine. In this regard, the strengthening of interregional ties of the countries of the European Economic Union is becoming one of the most critical priorities of Eurasian integration.
Of course, it is worth paying attention to the experience of European Union integration that goes beyond economic cooperation. The ongoing and completed programs Interreg (Find a programme), ENPI (ENPI – European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument), ENI CBC (European neighbourhood policy partners) were aimed at the development of inter-regional and cross-border ties. For example, the set of Interreg programs has, for many years, been uniting projects in the scientific, innovative, transport, cultural, historical, and social spheres (Find a programme). The implementation of these projects, over more than 25 years of the program’s existence, has enabled horizontal integration between regions and territories of various parts of Europe. To date, Interreg is one of the critical tools in the field of increasing social cohesion, increasing economic competitiveness, optimizing the practice of territorial management and spatial planning, as well as environmental protection (Medeiros, 2015). At the same time, it should be noted that this initiative, in addition to real opportunities and “growth points,” also includes overcoming political contradictions on the path to unity. From the semantic load, the initiative paves the way for the spatial union for the European Union (Budanova, 2018).
The introduction of such programs in the Eurasian space is possible only if two very problematic conditions are observed. Firstly, we are talking about significant adaptation and even modification of European practices for use in the Eurasian space. The reason is that the direct transfer of tools may not give the desired effect and inhibit development. As, for example, this happened with the literal implantation of Western practices in the 90s. Secondly, the European initiatives for interregional integration in the social, cultural, and other fields came from the organs of the interethnic government. However, the high development priorities of the Eurasian Economic Union do not imply such activities.
As noted by Wardom, there is a cooperation of the member countries of the Eurasian Economic Union that takes place on the integration enthusiasm of the highest officials of the participating countries. While integration actions should occur at other levels of state and regional government, business, and nonprofit organizations (Vardomskij, 2017).
In this regard, in our opinion, the initiative to strengthen interregional and cross-border cooperation should come from below. As the results of sociological research have shown, regional authorities are weakly interested in the development of integration projects or are implementing them only at a formal level; it is necessary to expand the number of entities willing to take an active part in the interaction of territories.
For example, at present, the Eurasian Network University operates at the head of Tomsk State University. This university is an association of universities of the member countries of the Eurasian Economic Union, training personnel for solving future integration problems (The Union develops Eurasian personnel potential, 2019). Such initiatives should not be solitary. Moreover, the number of participants in the integration process must continuously grow. So, for example, it is advisable to include in the cooperation processes the sector of public organizations, which currently already receive significant support, at least in the Russian Federation.
Thus, we see the intensification of the activities of public organizations and the academic community as the first director of the development of interregional and cross-border cooperation in the space of the Eurasian Economic Union. These organizations, taking into account the financial opportunities that have appeared in the form of grant financing, should create cooperation nodes in various areas. The search and scientific substantiation of mechanisms for inter-regional integration is real international projects in the field of social and technical sciences.
Often, it is the function of public organizations that is the function with which the state is not able to cope effectively alone. In these conditions, the pooling of potentials of a nonprofit organization can have a significant effect on the development of integration processes. It is essential to note the experience of European interaction – active cooperation of the public sector in youth policy, development, and training of young leaders, the formation of civil society. Besides, the simple exchange of practices and methods between a socially-oriented nonprofit organization is essential.
Based on the previous thesis, the second direction of the development of inter-regional and cross-border interaction should be the search and replication of the most effective cooperation practices that are already applied in the Eurasian space. Moreover, the practices themselves should not be studied in isolation from the context and conditions of their application. An essential role in the effectiveness of the application of one or another interaction tool is played by the regional infrastructural, managerial, institutional, economic, and social situation. In this regard, it seems necessary not only to classify the practices and tools of interaction depending on their types but also to categorize them based on the possibilities and conditions of use.
The supreme objective is the standardization of the methodology of cross-border and inter-regional interaction of the Eurasian Economic Union, which includes practices and tools, taking into account the required capabilities and resources for their application. Under these conditions, the regions will have the opportunity to form their programs of cross-border and interregional cooperation based on standardized and tested methods and tools. An essential outcome of the development of this direction is the development of a program or concept for the development of cross-border and interregional interaction of the member countries of the Eurasian Economic Union.
The third direction for the further development of interregional integration of the Eurasian Economic Union, in our opinion, is the development of diplomacy. This idea goes beyond the classical concept; first of all, it is worth talking about social and scientific diplomacy.
Regarding public diplomacy, it is worth noting that the issue of forming a single vector of public diplomacy of the Eurasian Economic Union has already been raised on the agenda. The purpose of the association is to position the international association and convey the values of Eurasian integration to other countries. At the same time, on the one hand, a unique role should be given to the implementation of public diplomacy projects in the post-Soviet space. In this case, public diplomacy projects should become instruments of attraction to the integration project. On the other hand, systematic work should be carried out in the member countries of the Eurasian Economic Union to involve the population in the processes of building international relations, spreading and combining national values, and overcoming misunderstandings in the goals and principles of foreign policy.
With scientific diplomacy, it is worth noting that significant experience of academic cooperation was accumulated in the framework of the USSR. This experience is practically not used, and scientific ties are built on bilateral contacts between universities and individual scientists. In this regard, it seems necessary to create Eurasian inter-university associations to unite potential in various fields of science: technological, social, humanitarian.
Also, integration of educational systems is required. So, each country has its scientific citation base, which is often not taken into account in other states of the Eurasian Economic Union. Moreover, the scientific community is increasingly guided by international citation bases: Scopus, Web of Sciences, Erih +, and others. Under these conditions, the creation of a single Eurasian scientific citation index is seen as one of the most promising areas for the development of scientific cooperation.
The development of integration processes in both the Eurasian and post-Soviet space should be based on the activation of all forms and links of inter-regional and cross-border cooperation. Strengthening economic integration within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union has already yielded significant results for member countries. However, further, development is possible only with increased cooperation at lower levels – regions, municipal areas, and even individual cities.
It is on the borders of the member countries of the Eurasian Economic Union that it is possible to create “integration nodes” that combine economic, social, and cultural potentials. In this, the socio-economic effect will be manifested both in the interacting regions and in the international space.
The main issue on the agenda remains the possibility and ways to achieve the integration phase at which the leaders of the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union conclude that it is necessary to expand cooperation beyond the economic segment. In turn, interregional and cross-border integration, which will develop “from below” and be initiated by new actors in international dialogue, will only bring this moment closer.
Possible directions for the development of interregional and economic integration of the Eurasian Economic Union have long been circulating in the academic community, only their perception on the part of interethnic governance bodies remains essential. At the moment when the Eurasian project goes beyond the established norms. The integration of member countries will be measured by something significantly more than just econometric indicators, and cooperation will bring real results in the form of consolidation of national communities into a single socio-economic space.
This article was completed as part of the grant of the President of the Russian Federation “MD-578.2020.6 “Sociocultural threats to the transformation of civilizational frontiers in the post-Soviet chronotype”.
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27 February 2021
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National interest, national identity, national security, public organizations, linguocultural identity, linguistic worldview
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Sapryka, V. A., Vavilov, A. N., Kovrizhnykh, Y. V., Pastyuk, A. V., & Oleynik, S. A. (2021). Development Of The Interregional And Crossborder Interaction Of The Eurasian Economic Union. In I. Savchenko (Ed.), National Interest, National Identity and National Security, vol 102. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 840-852). European Publisher. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2021.02.02.105