Medvedev’s Think Tank Proposes Reinforcing Russia-Led CSTO (Part One)

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 164


President Dmitry Medvedev’s think-tank, the Institute for Contemporary Development (INSOR), has worked out proposals for reorganizing the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to raise its effectiveness and expand its role. The proposed changes would accelerate decision-making procedures in the CSTO; establish a right of intervention for Russian-led “collective” forces on the territories of member states “and adjacent ones;” and seek Western recognition of a lead role for Russia under the CSTO flag in Central Asia at least.

Apparently, INSOR was tasked with this work following the CSTO’s December 2010 annual official summit. INSOR’s chairman, Igor Yurgens, presented the draft to Medvedev for the CSTO’s annual informal summit in Astana on August 12. The product is a purely Russian one. This work was not mandated by the CSTO as such, and Moscow did not submit the resulting document for the approval of member countries (Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan). According to Yurgens, the report has in the meantime been cleared with Russia’s president, Security Council, government, and relevant ministries. A declassified version (omitting the most controversial proposals) is expected to be unveiled at the Yaroslavl world political forum in Medvedev’s presence.

Previewing the version authorized for publication, Yurgens has unveiled three of its salient proposals for reorganizing the CSTO (Kommersant, Interfax, September 5-7).

First, decision-making by consensus would be replaced with decision-making by a majority of CSTO’s member countries. This change of procedure is avowedly designed to circumvent vetoes from Uzbekistan and Belarus, and silent resistance or foot-dragging by other member countries. The consensus principle has often in the past frustrated Moscow’s initiatives to turn the CSTO into a compliant instrument of Russian domination.

At present, Moscow plans to field “collective” rapid-deployment forces for possible intervention under Russian command in conflict areas. Generating and deploying such contingents through the CSTO would, in INSOR’s view, necessitate “more effective” decision-making procedures. These would affix a CSTO flag on Russian-commanded, largely Russian-manned operations.
Second, Yurgens envisages turning the CSTO into “the principal peacekeeper in Central Asia and adjacent regions,” as well as a troop contributor to international operations “beyond the CSTO’s area of responsibility.” All this seems to imply a sweeping free hand for Russia in most of the “post-Soviet space,” using the CSTO as a flag of convenience.

Russia seeks unilaterally to accredit the concept of a “CSTO area of responsibility.” INSOR proceeds from the view (promulgated by Medvedev at CSTO’s December 2010 summit) that the CSTO may decide on its own to intervene within “its area,” irrespective of international (UN) mandates. Russia (singly or on CSTO’s behalf) would only seek UN mandates for hypothetical interventions outside its declared “area of responsibility.”

Third, the report proposes endowing the CSTO with “functions of monitoring, early warning, and conflict-prevention.” In practice (given the discrepancy in capabilities), this can only mean collective endorsement of Russian threat assessments and possible (“preventive”) intervention decisions in line with Russian interests. INSOR lists three main potential threats, in this order: “color revolutions” in the post-Soviet space, instability in North Africa and the Middle East, and “likely extremist activities” following the withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan.

On this listing, the specters of color-revolution and of Islamist expansion from Afghanistan serve to exacerbate threat perceptions among CSTO state leaderships. In effect, Moscow offers protection via the CSTO against those purported threats. By manipulating threat perceptions it seeks to legitimize a Russian-led bloc and, henceforth, potential interventions in its name. From the CSTO’s inception to date, Russia has instrumentalized the problem of Afghanistan to justify the bloc’s existence. “Color revolution,” however, is now being invoked for the first time to justify the CSTO’s existence and, moreover, its reinforcement under Russian leadership.

Fourth, INSOR envisages “coordination” between CSTO’s doctrinal documents and NATO’s Strategic Concept, adopted at the Alliance’s November 2010 Lisbon summit. According to Yurgens, such coordination could facilitate “at least partial operational compatibility between CSTO and NATO forces. Russia and the Alliance need each other, particularly in light of the situation in Afghanistan. It is a matter of political will, first and foremost by the Russian and the American presidents.”

These recommendations are designed to elicit Western recognition of a Moscow-led military bloc and a nod to Russia’s model of “peacekeeping” operations. That specific model can include territorial occupations, ethnic cleansing, mass-distribution of Russian citizenship (“passportization”) for entitlement to Russian protection, and claims to an exclusive right of intervention in Russia’s declared sphere of interest. At its most intensive, such intervention can take the form of “coercion to peace” through full-scale conventional war operations, as executed in August 2008 in Georgia.

Thus far, NATO and the US have steadfastly refused to recognize a Russian sphere of interest, or its organizational embodiment in CSTO. However, they have de facto tolerated Russia’s “peacekeeping” monopoly, a key element of Russian sphere-of-influence building. Any form of NATO-CSTO consultations, or experiments with inter-operability as INSOR proposes, would go beyond silent tolerance. It would add a stamp of Western acceptance on Russia’s peacekeeping model and, now, its bloc-building efforts.