When is a free-trade agreement bad? When the treaty's underlying purpose is neither about trade nor freedom.
Such a pact - calling for a "united economic space" - is now being entered into by Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. On the surface, a "united economic space" sounds like something to applaud. But, sadly, the treaty will only entrench postcommunism's corrupt and criminal business practices, not increase trade or prosperity.
A huge benefit for the accession countries in preparing themselves to join the EU was that they were forced to conform to European business, political, and legal norms. The proposed "united economic space" will also have its own norms - the ways of the oligarch, the corrupt bureaucrat, the crony capitalist, and the politically motivated prosecutor.
Does anyone doubt that the jailing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, chairman of Yukos oil, is politically motivated? I myself have endured numerous politically inspired investigations and prosecutions of my former business as a means to drive me out of politics. Can anyone imagine such a prosecution occurring in the EU? That Mr. Khodorkovsky is spending months in jail before he is formally charged tells us much about the nature of business, politics, and law in the nations of the former Soviet Union.