CSTO Summit: Rapid Deployment Forces Advance at a Snail’s Pace

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 24

The Presidents of Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan held a session of the Collective Security Council-the top political decision-making body of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)-on February 4 in Moscow, where they signed an agreement on further developing the CSTO’s Collective Rapid Response Forces.

The presidents of Belarus and Uzbekistan disagreed with the rest of the Russian-led group on several issues, most significantly slowing down the process of developing the collective forces. Even so, that process continues to advance.

Under the agreement just signed, each member country will permanently assign one battalion-size unit to the Collective Rapid Response Forces. The assigned units will be based on the respective national territories, under national command, and on call for possible use with the collective forces by decision of the Collective Security Council in the event of a crisis. The council will decide in each situation which national units to call upon.

The assigned units will train under a common program and conduct regular joint exercises. Russia is making two of its air force bases available for the joint training and exercises. Units assigned to the collective forces by member countries will receive compatible armaments, equipment, and communications systems from Russia.

The session of the heads of state approved the CSTO budget for 2009 with a 25 percent increase over last year, despite the financial crisis. Russia’s Nikolai Bordyuzha (a KGB general of the border troops in an earlier incarnation) was reappointed to the civilian post of CSTO Secretary General for another five-year term.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev acknowledged at the concluding press conference that the collective forces "had until now existed primarily on paper and their value was also merely on paper." Now, however, they are "turning into serious forces, with capabilities not below those of NATO" (Interfax, February 4).

Medvedev’s assessment notwithstanding, the collective forces are slow to evolve beyond the realm of paper. Russia and Kazakhstan had proposed that each member country assign a brigade-size contingent to the collective forces. The other five countries disagreed, however. Kyrgyz Security Council Secretary Adakhan Madumarov revealed this and other contentious issues at the end of the Moscow session. Madumarov had earlier been active as a nationalist politician in Kyrgyzstan before being co-opted by the presidential administration.

Thanks to Presidents Islom Karimov of Uzbekistan and Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus, no decision could be adopted about the single command of the collective forces as desired by Russia. This issue is to be readdressed within three months.

The Belarus delegation defended a distinct national position and leaked it to the media. Belarus forces will not serve outside the country’s territory; will not participate in armed conflicts, except in defense of the national territory; and in that case would act as part of the Russia-Belarus group of forces, not as a part of CSTO collective forces. Meanwhile, the Russia-Belarus group of forces exists, as Medvedev might say, on paper. It is essentially a command arrangement to be activated in the hypothetical event of war. Short of that, all Belarus forces are nationally based under national command (except for air defense units on either side of the border under joint Russia-Belarus command).

Karimov also defended a separate opinion at the Moscow summit. The Uzbek leadership will itself decide on a case-by-case basis which CSTO sessions to attend and in which CSTO operations to participate. Uzbekistan resisted Russian proposals to expand the scope of the collective forces by drawing on army special troops, interior troops, ministry troops for emergency situations, anti-drug services, and units of intelligence agencies. With Karimov and Lukashenka resisting such a format, Russia failed to push through the expansion of the collective forces at this summit. Thus, the forces remain limited to one battalion per country, at least for the time being.

Russia had proposed assigning its Ivanovo-based airborne division and Ulyanovsk-based air-mobile assault brigade to the collective forces in the expanded format. Sergei Prikhodko, Medvedev’s top foreign policy adviser, reaffirmed this intention in his briefing to the media only hours before the presidents met. At that point, Belarus and Uzbekistan had already made their positions clear in a session of the ministers of foreign affairs, preparatory to the presidential session. By going public with the Russian proposals, Prikhodko was trying to pressure those two delegations into changing their minds (Itar-Tass, Russian Television, February 4).

The Kremlin had prepared this summit in advance at an informal meeting of the presidents of CSTO countries hosted by Kazakhstan last December. The differences had already emerged at that point. Lukashenka and Karimov stayed away from that meeting. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev supported Moscow’s positions. The other presidents seemed mostly passive on that occasion, as they seemed to be again at the February 4 summit.