CIS DEFENSE MINISTERS’ COUNCIL FAILS TO CLEAR MOSCOW’S REORGANIZATION PROPOSALS.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 100

On May 18 in Baku, a regular meeting of the CIS Council of Defense Ministers failed to adopt two Russian proposals designed to draw the independent-minded countries closer to the CIS Collective Security Treaty. Russia’s new defense minister, Sergei Ivanov, presented both proposals, which seek to blur the distinctions between the CIS core and the soft periphery. The former includes Collective Security Treaty signatories–and Collective Security Council members–Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The latter includes Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, the GUUAM countries that stay out of the Collective Security Treaty and Council. Permanently neutral Turkmenistan shuns CIS meetings altogether.

Ivanov’s first proposal would have had the eleven-member Council of Defense Ministers decide to draw up a “single defense policy” for all CIS countries under a banner of “antiterrorism,” along the same lines that inspire the six-member Collective Security Council. Ivanov argued that all of the CIS countries face terrorist threats of a similar nature, requiring a CIS-wide response. The second proposal would have “linked closely” the operation of the two councils, their sessions and the staff work between sessions. Ivanov remarked with regret that the CIS military dimension as presently constituted involves two distinct tiers, each following a “different speed toward integration”: the Collective Security Council on a fast track and the Council of Defense Ministers on a slow track. He wanted the latter brought closer to the speed of the former.

The Defense Ministry in Moscow, and Ivanov in Baku, announced those goals on the eve of the ministers’ session. After the Baku session, however, those proposals were no longer mentioned. At the concluding briefing, Ivanov mentioned decisions taken by “some” of the countries. These are sure signs that the independent-minded countries resisted both proposals. That in turn means–barring some unusual procedural transgressions–that the proposals will not be referred to the upcoming summit in Minsk of the CIS heads of state for their consideration.

Ivanov did score a minor bureaucratic success by having the eleven-country session–according a communique–“review the results” of the recent Southern Shield-2001 military exercise and “discuss the plans” for the upcoming Combat Commonwealth-2001 air defense exercise. Only Russia’s five allies, not the other CIS countries, are traditionally involved in those exercises.

The top posts in the Council of Defense Ministers were up for rotation at this meeting, according to CIS procedures stipulating rotation among countries. Yet it was, once again, only representatives of Russia who rotated in the two posts. Ivanov took over the council’s chairmanship from General Igor Sergeev, Russia’s recently released defense minister. General Vladimir Yakovlev, the recently released commander of Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces, replaced Russian General Viktor Prudnikov as head of the CIS Headquarters for the Coordination of Military Cooperation, which is the Moscow-based permanent staff of the Defense Ministers’ Council.

The latter rotation seems somewhat odd, because Yakovlev’s experience has nothing in common with the CIS, nor with the “antiterrorism struggle” that forms the current pretense for Russia-led military integration. Prudnikov’s incumbency had made some sense in light of his experience as an air defense commander and of Moscow’s emphasis on restoring air defense capabilities in the member countries of the Collective Security Treaty.

Heavy fallout from the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict affected the ministerial session and its aftermath. Azerbaijan’s President Haidar Aliev, receiving the delegates, insisted that “international terrorism” and the externally supported armed ethnic separatism are indistinguishable, and ought to be resisted jointly. Georgia’s President Eduard Shevardnadze has often expressed the same view. During the Baku meeting, Azerbaijan’s defense minister, Colonel-General Safar Abiev, demanded that “member countries”–meaning Russia–cease military assistance to Armenia on the basis of the latter’s “support for separatism and terrorism” and “occupation of Azerbaijani lands.” In the same context, Abiev demanded that military cooperation among CIS Collective Security Treaty signatory countries not be directed against CIS countries not signatory to that treaty, such as Azerbaijan.

Armenia sent only a middle-ranking, Moscow-stationed staff officer to the meeting in Baku. A summit of the Collective Security Treaty heads of state will be held in the next few days in Yerevan, to be followed in early June by a summit of GUUAM in Ukraine. Cumulatively, these sessions are highlighting the core-periphery gap within the CIS (Turan, ANS, Itar-Tass, RIA, Agentstvo Voyennykh Novostey, Strana.ru website, May 18-19; see the Monitor, March 12, April 2, 10; Fortnight in Review, March 16).

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