The summit of the heads of states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) on February 4 in Moscow brought unexpected, yet alarming news for Baku. The members of the organization have decided to create collective rapid reaction forces: the first ever joint military forces between these republics of the former Soviet Union. Regional analysts have immediately labeled it as another attempt by the Kremlin to come closer to the restoration of the Soviet Union. In fact, the news was followed by Kyrgyzstan’s decision to evict the American Manas military base from its territory —another sign of Russia’s growing military domination in the post-Soviet space (see EDM, February 4).
For Azerbaijan, the establishment of collective rapid reaction forces by the CSTO creates a number of potential security challenges. Armenia, engaged in a long-standing conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, is an active member of CSTO and officials in Yerevan do not rule out the use of collective rapid reaction forces against Azerbaijan. Head of Armenia’s Parliamentary committee for defense, national security and internal affairs Artur Agabekyan said, "If the military activities in Nagorno-Karabakh resume, Armenia might use these forces." He also added that "We are happy about this decision, as it will allow us to combat future challenges. Now that this decision is made, it is time now to think about concrete actions about the location of these forces" (Panarmenian.net, February 8).
Another high ranking military official in Armenia, Head of the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the Ministry of Defense, Ayk Kotajyan said that, "the decision at the Moscow summit creates solid political, military and legal basis for the collective defense of members of CSTO" (Panorama.am, February 5). And Armenia’s President Serj Sarkisian, in his meeting with journalists in Moscow, expressed confidence that the establishment of collective rapid reaction forces will further strengthen stability in the South Caucasus (Novosti-Armenia, February 5).
In Baku, this news was met with growing concern amongst the Azerbaijani leadership about the true intentions of Russia in the region. Despite the fact that Moscow is one of the three co-chairs of the so called Minsk group of the OSCE, charged with handling the mediation process, the recent events may bring a cold breeze in bilateral relations between Moscow and Baku. Two months ago, Azerbaijani officials criticized Russia’s $800 million arms donation to Armenia. Then, the news of Armenia asking the Kremlin for financial assistance to overcome the negative consequences of the global financial crisis raised eyebrows in Baku. The initial agreement for Russia to lend $500 million to Armenia led to questions in Azerbaijan as to how Armenia will repay these loans and whether it will prove another step towards the complete purchase of Armenia’s economic assets by Russian state-owned companies, like in the past (www.arka.am/2009/02/10).
The opposition Musavat party in Azerbaijan issued a statement, calling the CSTO’s decision a "threat against Azerbaijan." And the Liberal Democratic Party also urged the government of Azerbaijan to consider pulling out of the CIS. Vafa Guluzadeh, former foreign policy advisor to Azerbaijani Presidents, commented on the current situation by relating the pressures from Moscow to Azerbaijan to the plans to build the Nabucco gas pipeline. "However, Russia will fail to start another Armenian-Azerbaijani war" (Day.az, February 3).
Most analysts in Baku believe that the establishment of the CSTO collective rapid reaction forces will not radically change the military situation in the region, because Russia was and remains Armenia’s strongest ally whether such forces exist or not. In the longer term, Russia will not abandon its support for Armenia’s occupation of Karabakh and even without the CSTO, the Kremlin already has sufficient political and military tools at its disposal to intervene in the event of another outbreak of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.
Vugar Seidov, political analyst and reporter for Azertaj, called the premature cheerfulness in Yerevan as a "pathetic attempt by Armenia to seal the occupation of Azerbaijani lands by others’ hands" (www.vugar-seidov.blogspot.<wbr></wbr>com/2009/02/09). Seidov doubted that Azerbaijan’s friendly neighbors, such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will send any forces against it, should Baku’s government decide to use force to restore its territorial integrity —a right given to it by the UN charter.