“Are we really moving towards a multipolar world?” – asked Tamás Matura, assistant professor at Corvinus University and organizer of the event while introducing the conference called The European Union, Eurasia Economic Union and the Belt and Road: Perceptions, Practices and Risks in Eurasia. The event was supported by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union. It was held in the Faculty Club of Corvinus University of Budapest on the 11th-12th of May 2023.
David Morris, the other host of the conference introduced the EUCON project in his opening speech. He talked about the beginnings when Tamás Matura and him started the applied for the funding four years ago. Back then, the Belt and Road Initiative was a hot topic in science. Since then, the focus has shifted to the war in Ukraine and the global pandemic provided new perspectives for working together in the region. Despite the challenges, the project successfully reached its main goal, namely building a network of scientists in the Eurasian region. Arriving to the end, one of the three project closing events provide space for discussion on the transformation and the challenges of the region.
The Turkic world on the rise
Ambassador János Hóvári, professor of Károli Gáspár University took a unique perspective on these topics in his kick-off speech. As the Head of Representation Office of Organisation of Turkic States, he talked about the concept and the current state of the Turkic world in Eurasia. The goal of the intergovernmental cooperation that the professor introduced is a step-by-step integration. In the past couple of years, Hungary was opening towards the Turkic World and finally joined the organisation as an observer state.
Professor Hóvári is head of the Hungarian office since 2019, working together with diplomats from all member states on a geo-political cooperation. He emphasized that the organization represents the Turkic World as a unity. “The EU should accept a new kind of Turkic geopolitics that was emerging during the last 20 years” – he explained in his presentation. He expressed that there is huge untapped market potential in trade between the Turkic world and Hungary and also in the Middle Corridor between Asia and Europe. The success of the latter is influenced by challenges stemming from different rail track sizes, lack of funds for development, and a missing agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, the professor concluded that Eurasia is multipolar, and the Turkic World means a rising power in this region.
A new iron curtain on the rise
Surely, everyone is interested in the background and the possible geopolitical outcomes of the Russian war in Ukraine. Professor Heinz Gärtner, lecturer in the Department of Political Science at the University of Vienna and member of the advisory board of the International Institute for Peace started his keynote speech by explaining the situation after the second World War. “Europe was lucky to survive the bipolarity that characterised this era” – he stated. Later, the downfall of the Russian Pact resulted in a unipolar moment with the US gaining a bigger influence. The professor expressed that this hegemony is still present in global power relations. However, China’s growing influence is undeniable.
According to the presentation, the current phase can be interpreted as multipolarity. There are many important global players, like Russia, India, Brazil, and the EU. “Not all of these poles are equal” – said the professor explaining the differences between the role of China, the US, and other countries with less economic power. While many countries strive to become poles, partial unipolarity continues as well. “The situation describes polarization that always comes with two main features: alliance building and ideology” – professor Gärtner explained.
The dominant Western alliance is the NATO, but the US has also built other bilateral relationships. The new ideological dividing line seems to be democracy versus autocracy, similarly to the period of the cold war. According to the professor, China does not really have alliances, but it purposefully builds a network of partnerships. Russia neither has significant alliances, nor is its current ideology attractive to other states. The war in Ukraine did not fulfil Russian expectations. “After the war, Russia will be a third-grade country, economically weakened with a bad international reputation” – the professor pointed out. He explained that if Russia cooperated with North Korea, there would probably be a new iron curtain dividing the world with puffer states ensuring peace for decades to come. We could avoid a permanent division of the region by organizing a cooperative European security or finding the balance of power like in the Congress of Vienna in 1814. “We have to be very careful where we end the alliance building” – the professor concluded.
A new world order on the rise
The last keynote speech was delivered by Mher Sahakyan, director of the China-Eurasia Council for Political and Strategic Research. The Armenian researcher showed us the concept of the Multipolar World Order 2.0. In the current situation, proxy and total wars are expected with hard powers playing a decisive role, weaponised sanctions securing innovations and limiting market access. The professor agreed with the previous presentation that a new cold war is happening, including the digital battlefield, the cyberspace.
The background of the Ukrainian war was further elaborated, and the professor pointed out that it led to a stronger economic cooperation between China and Russia. “Beijing does not want to see Putin defeated because it would stay alone against the West” – Mher Sahakyan explained. Therefore, China supports Russia by keeping the economy more stable. Though we have to note that this war means a loss for all: “even if Russia wins on the battlefield, it loses economically”. For Ukraine, the situation is even more concerning because it is the most affected country with a great loss of its people and military equipment. The researcher thinks that the EU must take an initiative for stopping the war. He thinks that Austria could be the mediator because it is a neutral state. While considering these solutions, we also have to acknowledge American interests. The war means that the US can finally take part in the European energy market and sell weapons to the EU member states that support Ukraine.
Other panels of the conference continue to explore European interests, the Belt and Road Initiative, and views from the Caucasus and Central Asia. The conference focuses on conflicts and competition but also on convergence and cooperation prospects in Eurasia.
Written by Tünde Taxner