Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 127

On July 2, 10 members of the Council of Defense Ministers of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) convened in Bishkek to discuss issues of further cooperation, integration processes in the military sector and increasing “mutual understanding.” In particular, they discussed the strengthening of cooperation in air defense until 2015 and joint preparations for the celebration of the 65th anniversary of the Second World War victory in 1945.

The council agreed to conduct joint exercises to counter terrorism in the air and boost military-scientific and informational exchanges among CIS members. The drills will practice countering terrorism in the air based on a scenario of terrorists hijacking an airplane.

With regard to the celebrations for the 65th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, the council agreed to hold a contest among national military museums. The ministers also praised recent military-sports drills organized by the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Kyrgyzstan and the level of military technological cooperation achieved by the CIS countries.

The Council’s agreement to cooperate in air defense generally reflects greater acknowledgement among its members of the importance of the air defense system. Russia still plays a leading role in promoting cooperation both in air defense and celebrations of military and political history.

Few CIS members can boast an elite air defense system; among them are Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Ukraine, while Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Tajikistan have weaker or no air defense. All CIS states with stronger air defense systems strongly depend on Russian supplies of key components. “This fact outweighs other arguments of Kazakhstan’s interest in military integration with Russia or, for that matter, other regional or international organizations,” said one expert.

Celebrations of the 65th anniversary of the Second World War clearly fit in Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s glorification of the Soviet experience in the war. “Putin has been promoting the cult of the Soviet victory in World War II, which serves as a uniting factor among the peoples of Russia,” commented one representative of the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies. This glorification also allows Putin to contrast Russia with the West and underline the country’s historic significance.

Throughout the 1990s, the CIS was often considered a paper organization with limited potential for development. In contrast, its military wing the CSTO, has been rapidly developing over the past few years, not least because Central Asian states have been seeking stronger relations with Russia. As Krasnaya zvezda noted, the CSTO was probably better known in the Central Asian states than in Russia (Krasnaya zvezda, May 6). The Central Asian mass media cover CSTO military training and summits in greater detail, while the Russian public is perhaps more familiar with the activities of NATO. Some experts claim that for some time the CSTO was the only functioning mechanism within the CIS.

Starting this year, the CSTO will conduct regular military-sports competitions among military and non-military personnel. The underlying goal of these competitions is to raise the prestige of military service, nurture patriotism among youth and promote a healthy life-style. These competitions serve as an integrating factor among participating countries. The dominance of Russian command, both in the military drills and military- life-style competitions, is conspicuously reminiscent of the Soviet style of supra-national integration through activities directed at increasing patriotism.

Given the CSTO’s success in promoting various types of military cooperation, the CIS might take the same road toward gaining greater credibility among a wider community of states. The CIS, too, will conduct sports competitions among its members in the future.

While the CIS is comprised of 10 states, its military organization, the CSTO, is represented by only seven, excluding Azerbaijan, Moldova and Ukraine. During the Council’s meeting, the CSTO members–Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan–held an ad hoc meeting to solve continuing questions of cadre politics within the organization.

Usually CIS meetings on any level take place smoothly, frequently in a lax ambiance and with minimal controversies. They are conducted with mutual respect, constructive talks and an open exchange of opinion. At the Bishkek Council, only Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiyev made a somewhat harsh public statement, commenting that the CIS continued to ignore international law in dealing with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. While sitting next to his Armenian counterpart Seiran Ogayan, he said that the CIS was currently not dealing with the issue. Abiyev’s declaration seemed, however, to raise little reaction among other ministers.