Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 206

The defense ministries of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan conducted a joint command-and-staff exercise–“Commonwealth Southern Shield-99”–from October 27 to November 2 on Kyrgyz territory. Russia’s Lieutenant-General Leonid Maltsev, first deputy chief of the CIS Military Cooperation Staff, commanded the exercise, officially if gratuitously billed as a CIS undertaking. The scenario envisaged a resolution by CIS heads of state, “Concerning the Situation in Central Asia,” as the “legal basis” for a collective decision by defense ministers to launch a joint military operation. Its mission was summed up as “liquidation of bandit-terrorist gangs penetrating from nearby states into Kyrgyzstan’s Osh Region and Uzbekistan’s Ferghana Region or forming in those territories.” Five-country integrated teams of army, air force, border troops and internal security forces rehearsed coordinated countermeasures (Itar-Tass, October 27-November 2).

Some press reports, based on the official handout, suggested that a total of 25,000 troops, 400 armored vehicles, sixty airplanes and 150 artillery pieces were used. Those figures, however, probably represent the forces included in operational plans and in the war game itself, which seems to have been conducted mainly in staff and field headquarters and communications rooms.

The five countries’ defense ministers conferred on November 3 in the Uzbek city of Ferghana to assess the exercise and the overall situation in the Kyrgyz-Tajik-Uzbek borderlands. Russia’s Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, chairing the meeting, described the joint exercise as “the most realistic” ever held by signatory countries of the 1992 CIS Collective Security Treaty (CST). According to Sergeev, this exercise proceeded from a real conflict scenario and targeted a specific enemy. He was referring to the recent cross-border insurgency by Islamic fundamentalists (Itar-Tass, November 3; see the Monitor, October 20, 27).

Against this background, Moscow has come up with an initiative to create “joint rapid-deployment antiterrorist forces” in the framework of the CST. This initiative and related Russian proposals top the agenda of the meeting of Security Council Secretaries of CST countries plus Uzbekistan, in session since November 3 in Bishkek. Russia is clearly attempting to exploit a strictly local situation as a welcome justification for breathing life into stillborn CIS military structures under Moscow’s leadership. That effort explains the punctilious references to CIS “authorization,” CIS bodies and chains of command and collective CIS actions to deal with less than 1,000 ragtag rebels in a distant mountainous corner of Tajikistan. Also noteworthy is the Russian planners’ lack of political imagination, as exemplified by the hypothetical CIS resolution “On the Situation in Central Asia,” echoing the familiar past documents “On the Situation in the German Democratic Republic,” “On the Situation in Hungary” and “On the Situation in Czechoslovakia” which typically accompanied military interventions.

Meanwhile only six CIS member countries are still parties to the CST. Among those six, Armenia and Belarus are unlikely to respond to this clarion call. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are hardly in a condition to conduct hostilities. Other than Russia, the only real military factor in the region is Uzbekistan. That country abandoned the CST in February 1999 and seems prepared to intervene unilaterally against the mainly Uzbek rebels in Tajikistan (see story below). Uzbek intervention would at least have the merit of removing Russia’s pretext for returning to the region as military leader.