Islamic militants based in Tajikistan hold hostages and territory in Kyrgyzstan, near the town of Osh, where the Ferghana valley offers passage into Uzbekistan. Kyrgyzstan appealed to Russia for help, which has used the opportunity to breathe life into the Collective Security Treaty (CST) of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

The CST had never been invoked until October 2, when Vladimir Zemsky, a Russian CIS official, announced in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek that treaty member states have agreed to send arms, equipment, and advisers–but not troops–to Kyrgyzstan.

Nine countries signed the original CST in 1993, but Uzbekistan, Georgia and Azerbaijan let their participation expire when the treaty was renewed last April. Of the six that remain, it turns out that only Russia has in fact invoked the treaty and agreed to aid Kyrgyzstan. Belarus and Armenia “are expected to do so,” Zemsky explained, and Kazakhstan and Tajikistan have handled their relations with Kyrgyzstan (the sixth treaty member) bilaterally, outside any CIS framework. Uzbekistan is already engaged in the conflict. In coordination with ground attacks by Kyrgyz forces, its aircraft last week attacked guerrilla positions in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

The situation in Kyrgyzstan is not one the treaty, which calls for a collective response to external military aggression, ever contemplated. The guerrillas in Kyrgyzstan are mainly Uzbeks, citizens of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, based in Tajikistan. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, like Kyrgyzstan, are member states of the CIS. But this is a legal nicety. “The main emphasis in [the treaty] needs to be shifted toward fighting international terrorism,” said Zemsky.

Those are uncomfortable words for Georgia and Azerbaijan. At CIS meetings last week, Russia insisted that “terrorists” use Georgian and Azerbaijani territory to reach Russia’s North Caucasus. The Russian representatives called for the creation of joint CIS intelligence and antiterrorist bodies under Russian control.

Russian efforts to revive old CIS structures and create new ones are likely to fail. The CIS, originally conceived as an economic ruble bloc and a military counterweight to NATO, has long since deteriorated into a talking shop. The Russian tendency to speak for other members and pre-empt their decisions is likely in the long run to weaken Russian influence even further.