The Eurasian Peoples’ Assembly, a platform for non-governmental organisations, intelligentsia and business communities from different countries in the region, is starting talks for a free postal zone with India. Andrey Belyaninov, secretary general of the assembly, plays an important role in Russia’s turning to the east policy. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Belyaninov spoke about the Russian shift in terms of strategic manoeuvres as well as the projection of soft power.
What are your views on the possibility of a free trade area between India and Eurasia?
Eurasian connectivity is strengthening right now under the sanctions. I guess Arab oil money worth around $7 trillion is deposited in the western banking system, and Arab businessmen are worried that they are going to be the next ones to face sanctions. When money was stolen from Iran, the world was quiet. When money was stolen from Iraq, and Saddam Hussein was killed, the world was quiet. When Libya was destroyed and Muammar Qaddafi was killed, the world was quiet. Those countries used to be rich. When money was stolen from Afghanistan, too, the world was quiet. Now, they have stolen Russian money, around $300 billion. The world continues to be silent, but people have started feeling scared. How can you negotiate with gangsters?
You asked me about the economic processes. Now, there is a natural process of moving away from the dollar. That naturally promotes trade within Eurasia and payments through cyber currency. The Chinese yuan has almost become another world-class currency. The Indian rupee might also become such a currency in the future.
There is conversation about the rupee-ruble card. Could you outline the potential of a Eurasian trade bloc?
Thirty years ago, in the times of the Soviet Union, there was the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON). It was an economic and financial bloc. It used to have its own payment unit called the IBEC (International Bank for Economic Cooperation) roubles. The settlements within this economic community were done using this unit. The countries performed trade account reconciliations and setoffs once per year. It was classical clearing, as we called it. And this payment unit was just an arbitrary currency that helped to do the settlements correctly. Today we have such good organisations like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). India is an active participant in both, which are gradually transforming from political organisations into economic ones. So, let us recall what we had 30 years ago. That model is still viable.
India now holds the G20 and SCO presidencies.
In the Eurasian Assembly, we say that when people are holding each other’s hands they are unable to take up arms. I wish G20 leaders could hold each other’s hands more frequently. It would be a very good example of friendship. I would like the leaders of these countries to be linked not only through political discussions, but also through human relations. I would not like what happened last year to happen again, when a provocation almost triggered a nuclear war. But the people must not live in fear. Words and thoughts often tend to manifest in reality. Therefore, we must talk more about good things and happiness rather than nuclear war. We must talk about respect.
Do you think India can mediate?
India has no other choice. It is a country that is too big to ignore. It will always be a mediator. Maybe India is not a very loud mediator and does not advertise itself as a mediator, but all countries will listen to India’s opinion.
There is a certain isolation that has happened to Russia because of the sanctions. It affects everything.
There are countries that do not want any sanctions. In two years’ time, we may have another look at the global economy and see who suffered more from those sanctions. The west seems to have forgotten that huge economies as India and China are also part of Eurasia. There are certain things without which the global economy cannot function well: gas, oil, coal, grain, fertilisers, spacecraft, Russian technology, Russian science and Russian culture. Try and erase all these things from earth. Who would want that?