Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 84

The Security Councils’ secretaries of countries signatory to the CIS Collective Security Treaty–Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan–conferred on April 26-27 in Yerevan on the development of “regional security systems” and “joint groups of forces.” The overall concept envisages three regional systems and groups: a Western one in Europe, a Southern one in the “Transcaucasus” and an Eastern one in Central Asia, with Russia in the special position of being involved in all three as the mainstay of each. With the Western group of Russia-Belarus joint forces declared to exist since last year, the Yerevan meeting focused on the other two directions. It announced officially the creation of a Russian-Armenian force and approved the founding documents of a joint force in Central Asia.

The Russian-Armenian force will consist of the Russian Army units based in Armenia and of the Armenian Army’s Fifth Corps. The bulk of both the Russian and the Armenian troops are based in northwestern Armenia near the Turkish border. Armenia is entitled to appoint the commander of the joint force. Theoretically, all the 10,000-strong Russian Army troops in Armenia may become a part of the joint Russian-Armenian force. Its size is not pre-established, but can be set as circumstances may require. Unlike the Russia-Belarus joint forces, which are in fact nationally and separately based, the Russia-Armenia joint forces are forward-based on the territory of Russia’s ally.

The Russia-Belarus and Russia-Armenia groups consist mainly of general-purpose forces, are geared to conventional war operations and do not plan troop redeployments except in the event of a crisis or actual conflict. By contrast, the Central Asian is designed as a rapid-deployment force, to consist initially of units of battalion size or below, using Russian airlift capabilities, designed specifically for “antiterrorism” operations, and eventually to be based in the theater of anticipated conflict.

The participants in the meeting set the goal of stationing the joint force in Central Asia by August. But they acknowledged that financial constraints could delay that stationing by some months. The unspoken implication is that even an August move would come too late for dealing with the Islamist incursions, of which Moscow predicts and the Central Asian leaderships fear a recurrence this spring and summer.

According to the conferees, poor funding means that the national components of that force will initially remain based in their own countries. They would train separately, though in accordance with a common plan and common standards; periodically conduct joint exercises; be placed under the authority of a “small, jointly funded staff;” and be airlifted as needed.

Although the non-Russian units would be of token size and would in any case be dwarfed by Russian forces, the Russian side in the Yerevan meeting underscored the political significance of “setting up the first multilateral mechanism for military cooperation.” Meanwhile, the CIS Collective Security Council would focus on “informing the public about the aims and work” of the joint military structures. That formula would seem to indicate approval of a propaganda program which would present a nascent Russian-led military bloc as a joint structure.

Russia’s Security Council Secretary, Vladimir Rushailo, singled out Tajikistan as facing the threat of “international terrorism” and “armed incursions.” Rushailo urged the other member countries to provide various forms of technical and military assistance to Tajikistan, including troop deployments. That exhortation seems aimed at creating the appearance of a joint, “allied” effort there and introducing a modicum of burden-sharing so as to lighten, however slightly, Russia’s own load. Russian officials will, however, almost certainly find it difficult to persuade the other member countries, as long as Russia’s own, massive military forces already stationed in Tajikistan allow the “Islamist terrorists” year after year to use that country for staging attacks on Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

Rushailo and the secretary of the CIS Collective Security Council, Valery Nikolayenko, urged the member countries jointly to respond to NATO’s enlargement, the planned creation of an antimissile defense system by the United States, and other putative “challenges” to the CIS member countries’ “national interests.” Nikolayenko and Rushailo made clear that they envisaged primarily a joint political response, one which would line up the member countries behind Russia’s own position. Characteristically, the Russian officials explicitly or implicitly presented Russia’s and the CIS member countries’ interests as equivalent and interchangeable, and they spoke preemptively on the member countries’ behalf. Among the Collective Security Treaty signatory countries, however, only Belarus fully seconds Russia’s positions across the board. The others usually offer tacit and effective resistance. They did so again at this meeting through silence or evasion.

The Yerevan meeting was only the second of the Security Councils’ secretaries of countries signatory to the CIS Collective Security Treaty. The six-country forum, named Committee of Secretaries of Security Councils, was established at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s initiative last year. This meeting elected Rushailo as the committee’s chairman. It seems to be designed for coordinating and pooling the inputs of the defense, foreign affairs and other ministries and military and security agencies from the individual member countries.

The CIS Collective Security Council, by contrast, is a permanent staff body, the coordinating role of which seems on the verge of being upgraded to some representative functions. In Yerevan, Nikolayenko spoke about the Collective Security Council’s recent attempts to establish some sort of direct, formalized relationships with China, Iran, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and other international bodies. Such attempts would seem to reflect Russia’s decade-long quest to elicit international acceptance or even recognition of Russian-led CIS bodies. That quest has remained futile thus far (Itar-Tass, Agentstvo Voyennykh Novostey, Snark, Noyan-Tapan, Azg, April 26-28; see the Monitor, December 4, 2000, March 12, April 1, 10, 27; Fortnight in Review, December 15, 2000, March 16, April 13).