Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 123

Putin and Belarusian President Lukashenko at the CIS CSTO meeting.

On June 22-23, Moscow hosted a meeting of the heads of state of the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization (Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan) and concurrent meetings of the CSTO countries’ ministers of foreign affairs, defense ministers, and secretaries of the national security councils.

The meetings approved a framework plan on CSTO development in two stages — through 2010 and beyond — as well as plans to upgrade the Collective Rapid Deployment Forces in Central Asia and to create an inter-state commission for handling deliveries and servicing of military equipment at preferential prices. These measures have been on the agenda for several years but hardly showed any results.

Far more significantly, this summit decided to separate the CIS Joint Air Defense System (nominally of ten countries) from that of the CSTO’s planned United Air Defense System (six member countries). The Joint System consists of forces under national command, exercising periodically under coordination from a center in Russia, and regards each country’s airspace as distinct and sovereign. The planned United System consists of forces under a single — that is, Russian — planning system and command, and it only recognizes a single CSTO airspace. Russian officials explained the need for separating the two systems by noting that certain CIS countries are not CSTO members and aspire to join NATO.

Russian officials moved unobtrusively but unmistakably to exploit American discomfiture over Uzbekistan. Thus, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov, and CSTO Secretary-General Nikolai Bordyuzha all characterized the recent “events” in Andijan unambiguously as an assault by international terrorism and radical Islam against Uzbekistan. Citing international obligations to assist states under terrorist attack, they announced Russia’s support for the Uzbek leadership’s efforts to stabilize the situation in Andijan and throughout the country. These statements form part of an intensifying exchange of political overtures between Moscow and Tashkent in the wake of the Andijan rebellion, which by the same token has deepened the misunderstandings between Tashkent and Washington.

With President Vladimir Putin joining in, those same Russian officials criticized the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan for failing to suppress “terrorist training bases, including those supported by certain intelligence services” (Putin) and for tolerating the booming export of Afghan heroin to Russia and Europe. Rating the coalition’s efforts as “very ineffective thus far,” Putin and other Russian officials hinted that the CSTO is prepared to consider stepping in. The meeting discussed possible measures to increase and coordinate assistance to Afghanistan, as well as setting up “a working group to coordinate with Afghan structures” and a joint anti-drug authority.

Kyrgyzstan’s post-revolution defense minister, Ismail Isakov, was authorized by the defense ministers’ session to tell the press that the creation of a second Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan is intended. It will, apparently, carry a CSTO label. The CSTO’s Russian-led military staff has been tasked to determine the possible missions, troop level, and armament of such a base, and whether it should be designated as temporary or permanent. Another post-revolution leader, Felix Kulov, had publicly called last month for the deployment of a second Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan, to be located in Osh.

By contrast, Kazakhstan opposed a Russian initiative — presumably supported by others — to create a joint standing conventional military force for Central Asia within the CSTO’s framework. Kazakh Defense Minister General Mukhtar Altynbayev told the press, “Creating a cumbersome force for permanent stationing would be worthless.” Due to Kazakhstan’s position, further discussion of this issue was deferred until the next meeting some months from now (Interfax, June 23).

In the session of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, certain countries that were not publicly identified successfully resisted proposals on financing the CSTO. One defeated proposal would have collected long-overdue contributions from Central Asian member countries to the CSTO’s budget from the years 1996-2003. Another, more topical measure that was defeated would have required member countries to co-finance the development of command-and-control systems for the Collective Rapid Deployment Forces in Central Asia. The only financial issues that appeared to be resolved would increase salaries of CSTO Secretariat personnel by 20% — provided that the extra funding is taken out of other items of the CSTO budget, so as to avoid a net increase.

Loyalists had their day, however. Armenian President Robert Kocharian professed to find comfort “in the CSTO’s lineup, one in which we do not disagree among ourselves, but strive for practical results” (Interfax, June 23). Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka praised the CSTO as one of the centers of power that provide counterweights to the “unipolar dictatorship of a single super-power” [the United States]. Igor Ivanov rewarded his ally by denouncing “the external forces’ threats of interference in Belarus, where they are trying to impose political decisions. We reject this kind of actions” (RIA, June 22).

For the first time in the CSTO’s history, the Russian military now plans to hold joint ground-force exercises in the organization’s “western region” and “southern region” — that is, in Belarus and in Armenia. These exercises are scheduled to be held on the command-and-staff level in 2006. Thus far, the CSTO has only held joint ground-force and combined exercises in its Central Asian region.

At this summit, Putin took over the chairmanship of the Collective Security Council (the top political authority of the CSTO) from Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev. That and other CSTO posts are supposed to rotate annually in the Russian alphabetical order of the member countries’ names. In this case, Kyrgyzstan was unceremoniously skipped. Next year, moreover, the CSTO summit will be held in Belarus, and the honor of chairing the organization will devolve to Lukashenka.

(Interfax, RIA, June 22, 23).