Regaining lost influence in the former Soviet republics is a primary goal of Russian foreign policy. In Europe and in Central Asia, Russian diplomacy is scoring some quiet successes.

The Collective Security Council of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) brings together the secretaries of the security councils of six former Soviet states: Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. As with essentially all CIS bodies, the Collective Security Council is led by a Russian, diplomat Valery Nikolayenko.

As Nikolayenko tells the tale, the Council in its May and June meetings agreed to set up three “regional groups of forces:” a western group (Russia plus Belarus), a Caucasus group (Russia plus Armenia) and a Central Asian group (Russia plus Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan). “For the time being,” Nikolayenko explained, the regional groups are to consist of national units designated by each country, stationed on the respective national territories and subordinated to the national political and military leaderships. But over time much closer integration is expected. According to Nikolayenko, each regional group will set up a joint staff, institute command and control arrangements, standardize training and equipment, and establish common programs for military procurement. The regional groups respond to specific threats, which Nikolayenko identified as “the threat from Afghanistan,” NATO’s enlargement into central Europe and the development of a U.S. national missile-defense system.

The same threats figured in declarations issued by the foreign ministers of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, who met in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, at the beginning of July. The five countries announced their opposition to a U.S. missile-defense system and their support for Russia’s military campaign in Chechnya and China’s reunification with Taiwan. More significantly, they pledged cooperation against terrorism, a code word that covers a range of internal dissent, ethnic separatism, and militant Islamic fundamentalism. Islamic groups with ties to Afghanistan’s Taliban are active in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and the restless Islamic Uighur population of China’s Xinjiang province has ties to Uighurs across the border in Kyrgyzstan.