Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 202

Defense ministers of eight CIS member countries met on October 26-27 in Dushanbe. Moldova, Georgia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan did not attend. Ukraine and Azerbaijan attended as observers and limited their participation to a few agenda items of interest to them. The military delegations of Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan focused on matters related to the CIS Collective Security Treaty (CST), which these six countries have signed. Officially, the proceedings in the eight-country format counted as a meeting of the Council of Defense Ministers of CIS Member Countries; the sessions in the six-country format counted a CST meeting and focused on the creation of Russian-led regional forces in Central Asia.

Kyiv’s main interest in meetings of this type is to get contracts for the Ukrainian defense industry to supply components for weapons systems and other equipment in CST member countries’ inventories. This interest applies first and foremost to the air defense systems to be supplied by Russia to CST countries. Ukraine seeks such a role as a business proposition, without political or strategic implications. This helps explain Kyiv’s attendance as an observer at some CIS military meetings, particularly those of the CIS Joint Air Defense System, of which Ukraine is not a member. In Dushanbe, Ukraine’s defense minister, General Oleksandr Kuzmuk, also offered places in Ukrainian military schools for cadets and officers from Central Asian countries.

Azerbaijan’s defense minister, Colonel-General Safar Abiev, used the occasion of the Dushanbe meeting to protest against the ongoing relocation of Russian armor and other combat hardware from Georgia to Armenia (see the Monitor, October 24). Abiev noted that Russia had already transferred more than US$1 billion worth of arms to Armenia in 1993-96, deployed modern jet fighters in that country in 1999 and has now initiated a third round of arms transfers which–Abiev pointed out–will likely also reach Armenian forces in areas seized from Azerbaijan. Abiev publicly told his Russian counterpart, Marshal Igor Sergeev, that such unjustified arms transfers are incompatible with norms regulating relations among CIS countries, fuel tensions in the South Caucasus and hinder international efforts to work out guarantees for regional stability.

Georgia’s absence notwithstanding, the October 26-27 session approved the nomination of a new Russian commander of “CIS peacekeeping operation” in Abkhazia, to replace Russia’s Lieutenant-General Sergey Korobko, whose regular term is expiring. As always when CIS meetings deal with that operation, there was no word about the decisionmaking procedure or the “approving” countries. Since its inception in June 1994, that purely Russian operation has been using a CIS flag of convenience. At the latest CIS summit in June of this year in Moscow, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze was pressured into consenting to another six-month extension of the “peacekeepers'” mandate in a bilateral meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. With that, the cover of CIS multilateralism on that operation lost any semblance of plausibility (see the Monitor, June 22-23). Yet the Dushanbe meeting not only attempted to put back that transparent cover, but ignored Georgia altogether as well.

A high degree of confidentiality marked the discussions on the planned collective regional force in Central Asia. Sergeev’s public statements implied that further development of a regional air defense system is Moscow’s immediate priority. Sergeev spoke of setting up a regional air defense headquarters in the capital of an unspecified Central Asian state, installing surface-to-air missile systems and radar stations on the territories of several countries, possibly deploying interceptor aircraft there, adding technical support facilities and training Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Tajik air defense specialists in Russia.

All that, if carried out, should imply stationing additional Russian military personnel in Tajikistan and returning them to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. It may also lead to Russian pressures on Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which countries will almost certainly be portrayed by Moscow as “gaps” in the “CIS regional security system” and will be invited to join. In particular, Russia will insist on Uzbekistan’s participation, if not in the “collective” system, then at least on the basis of bilateral Russian-Uzbek arrangements.

The Dushanbe meeting did not seem to focus on the planned ground forces and rapid-deployment troops which had been outlined at the CST summit in Bishkek earlier this month (see the Monitor, October 16). Those ambitious plans, which both the Kremlin and the Russian Defense Ministry promoted, were discussed at that summit without any apparent correlation to the financial resources available either in Russia or in the three Central Asian countries for implementation. Even the most energetic brandishing by Putin and Sergeev of putative threats from Afghanistan’s Taliban will not elicit the necessary funds for these plans any time soon (Itar-Tass, RIA, Turan, ANS, Asia-Plus, October 26-28).