Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 192

On October 11 in Bishkek, Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia, Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus, Robert Kocharian of Armenia, Nursultan Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan, Askar Akaev of Kyrgyzstan and Imomali Rahmonov of Tajikistan laid the foundation of a military-political bloc under Russian leadership. Putin in effect corralled the three Central Asian presidents into the emergent bloc by brandishing the specter of external and internal threats to their regimes. Lukashenka and Kocharian for their part needed no prodding. Lukashenka shares Moscow’s goal of containing the West in Central Europe, while Kocharian has lately taken steps to reinforce Armenia’s military and political relationship with Russia on a bilateral basis, with a natural corollary in the form of joining the Bishkek bloc.

The agreements signed in Bishkek are designed to turn the eight-year-old CIS Collective Security Treaty (CST) from a piece of paper into an operational reality. Thus the agreement “On Creating Forces and Installations of the Collective Security System” provides a basis for introducing and stationing “collective troops” on the signatory countries’ territories. Under the agreement, each of the six member countries is to earmark national military units for use as part of CST forces. The units thus allocated are to participate in exercises and, if necessary, in military operations on the territories of signatory countries under “joint” command. The signatory countries will in the future make collective decisions regarding the deployment, size, composition, and mission of joint forces and the duration of their stay in a particular countries. Any operation will require a decision by the heads of state–in their collective capacity as the CIS Collective Security Council–and the consent of the “host” country.

Some of the reported content of this agreement recalls the defunct Warsaw Pact, which similarly involved national military contingents, allocated temporarily to the alliance as joint forces, and placed under joint command for exercises or for military operations. As with that pact, the CST collective forces will inevitably turn out to be predominantly Russian, and the joint command–exclusively Russian. CST documents emphasize, as did their Soviet-bloc predecessors, the “temporary” nature of the stationing of troops and the “consent” of the “host” country–more likely, the target country. And if past experience, not only of the Warsaw Pact but also of the CIS is any guide, collective decisions leave sufficient scope for Russian arm-twisting to produce the requisite majority for a deployment decision and an “invitation” from the “host” country. The renewal of the Russian “peacekeepers'” mandate in Abkhazia at previous CIS summits shows how this can be done with the appearance of host country consent and of majority approval.

The documents signed in Bishkek envisage a three-tiered collective security system with a clear division of responsibilities. The western tier consists of Russia and Belarus; the South Caucasus tier, of Russia and Armenia; and the Central Asian tier, of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Lukashenka entered a redundant reservation to the effect that Belarusan troops would only be available for deployment in the Western theater. In the South Caucasus, the agreements signed in Bishkek mark an additional step toward regional polarization, setting the Russian-oriented Armenia even further apart from her pro-Western neighbors Azerbaijan and Georgia, and complicating those two countries’ Western-backed efforts to work out a regional stability pact. In Central Asia, the emergent collective security system of the CIS shows two large gaps due to the absence of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Neither of those two countries accepts a return of Russian hegemony, and both seek countervailing factors outside the CIS (Itar-Tass, RIA, Kyrgyz Press International, Kabar, October 11-13).