The CIS Collective Security Treaty (CST) summit, just held in Yerevan, has marked a further step toward the division of the CIS into two groups of countries. One group consists of Russia and its five allies; the other group includes the five countries in GUUAM, the summit of which is now scheduled for June 6-7. Turkmenistan, in theory a member of the CIS, keeps firmly aloof from it, from the CST and from GUUAM as well.
Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan signed the CST in 1992. Belarus, Georgia and Azerbaijan–the latter two under Russian duress–joined the CST in 1993-94. Uzbekistan, Georgia and Azerbaijan hardly ever participated de facto, and they quit the CST in 1999. In the wake of the Yerevan summit, Georgia and Azerbaijan reaffirmed that their abandonment of the CST and of military cooperation with Russia are irreversible decisions. President Eduard Shevardnadze additionally commented that the planned creation of joint Russian-Armenian forces in Armenia is incomprehensible to Georgia and Azerbaijan. President Haidar Aliev’s top military adviser, Colonel-General Tofig Agahuseinov, publicly confirmed Azerbaijan’s choice–shared with Georgia–to develop military cooperation with neighboring Turkey.
Uzbekistan, for its part, has opted for military cooperation with Russia on a strictly bilateral basis, outside any alliance, and confined to the sphere of technical assistance. That bilateral relationship experiences periodic ups and downs. The only continuity is that of a crisis of confidence between Tashkent on the one hand and Moscow and Dushanbe on the other, due to the fact that Russian and Tajik troops tacitly permit the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) to operate against Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan out of Tajikistan. Both Tashkent and Bishkek have complained in vain about that over the last two years.
Uzbekistan is by far the strongest country in Central Asia. It sits astride the main communication routes between Russia and Tajikistan, and borders on Afghanistan, as do Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. Without Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, any CIS collective security arrangements in Central Asia are militarily ineffective and politically unpersuasive. Both Tashkent and Ashgabat openly disagree with Moscow’s version that a threat to Central Asia from the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan necessitates collective CIS military measures.
Less forthrightly or openly, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan share Uzbekistan’s and Turkmenistan’s assessments. Even as the Yerevan summit convened, Kazakhstan called at the United Nations for an end to the policy of isolation and unilateral sanctions against Kabul, and offered to host political negotiations with the participation of all Afghan sides. Kyrgyzstan is also on record with a similar offer. In the wake of the Yerevan summit, officials in Bishkek reaffirmed the policy of pursuing military cooperation on distinct tracks with Russia and CST countries, and with Turkey, the United States and China. The goal of such diversification is to avoid dependence on Russia and the Moscow-led CST.
A credibility problem haunts the planned creation of CST rapid-deployment troops in Central Asia under Russian command. There already are some 16,000 Russian troops in Tajikistan with assault aviation, armor and artillery at their disposal. Yet they could not or would not stop the IMU in Tajikistan for the third consecutive year. The planned formation of a 2,000-strong “collective” force–including one Russian battalion already based in Tajikistan–would not make any difference, in the absence of a political decision in Moscow to cease tolerating the IMU’s movements.
The Yerevan summit inadvertently highlighted the absence of an economic underpinning to this political-military alliance. Trade takes place between Russia and each member country in five strictly bilateral channels, with no bearing on any multilateral relationships. Meanwhile, there is little economic cooperation, or literally none, among the non-Russian member countries.
Belarus and Armenia are a case in point. Each of these countries functions as the sole ally of Russia in Central Europe and in the South Caucasus, respectively. In spite of that shared status and of existing agreements on military-technical cooperation, Armenia-Belarus trade totaled a risible US$2 million last year. At the Yerevan summit, Presidents Robert Kocharian and Alyaksandr Lukashenka signed a friendship and cooperation treaty and a set of economic agreements, by which they hope to jump-start economic cooperation. The agreements envisage mainly barter exchanges of Belarusan tires and potash fertilizer for Armenian synthetic rubber and brandy. With each country keen to salvage its Soviet-era specialized industries, the two presidents agreed on production cooperation whereby Armenia would supply the rubber for Belarusan truck and wheeled tractor plants. Such arrangements, if feasible at all, are a prescription for isolation and backwardness (Itar-Tass, Belarus Television, Snark, Noyan-Tapan, Mediamax, Prime-News, Turan, Habar (Astana), Kabar (Bishkek), May 25-29; see the Monitor, October 16, December 4, 2000, March 12, April 2, 10, 17, May 30; Fortnight in Review, December 15, 2000, March 16, April 13).
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