On May 13-14 in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin made his clearest and most purposeful attempt to date at forming a post-Soviet, Russian-led military-political alliance. Chairing a summit of the six member countries of the CIS Collective Security Treaty (CST), Putin initiated the CST’s upgrading into a Collective Security Organization (CSO) with a defining military component. The change would operationalize the CST, much as the Warsaw Treaty Organization did for the Warsaw Treaty of old. Most of the other five leaderships displayed a clear lack of enthusiasm for the idea.
Also on May 14, the North Atlantic Council at the foreign affairs ministers’ level was meeting in Reykjavik to confirm NATO’s enlargement and to decide the immediate admission of Russia into a new, “NATO at 20” body (see first story in this issue). Putin’s move, carefully timed to coincide with NATO’s meeting, appears designed as a response to it and a signal that Moscow feels entitled to set up its own bloc. It is one based on the Soviet past.
In the run up to NATO’s Reykjavik meeting and to the upcoming NATO and U.S. summits with Russia, the allies have been holding a wide-ranging public debate on their relations with Russia. Conspicuously absent from the points of debate is the alliance’s position on Moscow’s equally public intentions to line up the CST member countries into a bloc. From the May 2001 CST summit in Yerevan to last month’s meetings preparatory to this one, Putin and his team of officials had elaborated on the intention to advance from the largely declarative CST to an operational CSO with a military structure.
The NATO allies, at the public level at least, did not seem to pay attention. Should Putin’s move succeed–which, given Russia’s meager resources, is far from certain–then Russia will be sitting in “NATO at 20” not as a normal country–“between Portugal and Spain,” as has been said–but as the leader of a political-military bloc of mostly unwilling countries. NATO’s recognition of the CSO, which Moscow seeks, appears highly unlikely. But will NATO in its collective capacity forestall the creation of a past-oriented sphere of Moscow’s influence, in an area stretching from Poland’s border to that of Afghanistan?
In much of that area, the United States bears a disproportionate share–in some cases indeed “unilaterally”–the alliance’s and Europe’s burdens. Even CST countries that attended the Moscow meeting–and even more so the neighboring CIS countries that did not attend–look to the American presence as an assurance against their reabsorption into the old sphere of influence. The challenge before NATO is to devise a collective political and diplomatic response that would substantiate the alliance’s continuing relevance, out-of-area relevance included.
Addressing the leaders of Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in the Kremlin, Putin declared that the world situation has changed since the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union and the “Eastern Bloc.” The CST countries, Putin argued, must “adapt to the new situation and new types of security threats,” lest they themselves experience attacks like that of September 11, 2001. Outwardly, much of Putin’s discourse borrowed from that of the Western debate. His recipe, however, remained vintage post-1991 Russian: creating a CIS collective military structure.
As part of his argument, Putin described the desired military structure as intended to resist terrorism and related threats, most of which are however of a nonmilitary character. He mentioned also the mission of “stabilizing the situation in the Caspian region.” There, Putin has ordered naval, air and land force military exercises to be held shortly. Even as the summit convened in the Kremlin, Russian troops–with token participation by CST countries–held an exercise in which hypothetical terrorist groups, infiltrating a border, were attacked by Russian battle tanks. On the whole, Putin’s and his military’s approach reflects the familiar tendency toward military solutions to nonmilitary problems, and indeed toward military overkill, rather than the declared adaptation to the new types of security threats.
At the summit, Putin took over the CST’s rotating chairmanship from Armenian President Robert Kocharian. The takeover ignored the organization’s rule requiring rotation by country in alphabetical order. A joint statement on the six countries’ behalf affirmed the goal of setting up three “regional groups of forces”: in the West, Russia and Belarus; in the Caucasus, Russia and Armenia; and in Central Asia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Of these three groups, only the one for Central Asia is designated as a rapid-deployment force; it is also the smallest by far, and even so is starved of funds and troops.
The summit failed to announce the creation of an integrated military structure. On the first day, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov–who is one of Putin’s closest associates–proposed the creation of a CSO joint command, “on the basis of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces,” and to be headed by Russia’s General Staff chief, General Anatoly Kvashnin. On the second day of the summit, however, the proposal ran into resistance from some of the attending presidents. Publicly, all of them made terse, cautious remarks, in which they did not mention that proposal. Only Putin and Belarusan President Alyaksandr Lukashenka supported it.
The summit postponed a solution to that matter, on which Putin has staked his entire project. The presidents decided to empanel a working group, to be headed by deputy defense ministers and deputy chiefs of security agencies, which will convene by July 1 and draft proposals by November 1. Meanwhile, the chiefs of the general staffs in each member country will appoint delegates to a “coordinating group,” which should oversee “current work on developing the CSO’s military dimension.” This last decision suggests that the Kremlin may attempt to blindside the political leaderships of the other countries and create faits accomplis on the military level in the weeks and months ahead, before the presidents reconvene (Interfax, RIA, ORT Television, Armenpress, May 13-14; see the Monitor, April 23-24, May 1, 9).
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