Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 64

CIS Collective Security Council (CSC) Secretary Valery Nikolayenko visited Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan on March 28-31 to drum up support for a Central Asian “regional security system” with its “collective security forces.” The Russian diplomat Nikolayenko, a former ambassador to Kazakhstan, heads the Moscow-based and Russian-dominated CSC, the standing political coordinating staff of the CIS Collective Security Treaty (CST) signatory countries.

As outlined by Nikolayenko, the concept for Central Asia is subsumed to an overarching, nominally CIS structure which would–as Moscow envisions it–include three “regional security systems” or “directions” (napravleniya, Soviet/Russian military term denoting groups of forces which become “fronts” in wartime): the Western, to consist of Russia and Belarus; the Caucasus, to consist of Russia and Armenia; and the Central Asian, to consist of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. In the last region, Uzbekistan abandoned the CST in 1999, and Turkmenistan is permanently neutral.

Moscow currently attaches top priority to setting up the system and forces in Central Asia. Nikolayenko urged the Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Tajik leaderships to take, on the respective national levels, three immediate measures. First, order the formation of a rapid-deployment battalion in each country, to be nationally based and available to join the Russian-led “collective security forces” as needed. That would be an “initial” step toward the formation of larger forces. Second, to ensure the enactment of national legislation that would allow the entry, deployment, and cross-border movement of “collective security forces”–that is, mainly Russian forces–on the territories of these Central Asian countries. And, third, to ratify the agreement on “principles of military-technical cooperation” among CST signatory countries. Kazakhstan became on March 19 the first country to ratify the agreement.

That document, originally signed in 1992 as a supplement to the CST, and amended last year, concerns the procurement and delivery of arms and military equipment. It mainly stipulates that member countries’ national units which are dedicated to “collective forces” shall enjoy priority access to arms and equipment at substantial discounts. For the most part, this means Russian deliveries on a preferential basis to those selected units in CST countries.

As usual with CIS documents, the imprecise terms of this agreement have given rise to conflicting interpretations. First, whether it applies to older items in stock, or also to modern items that come off the production line, and which Moscow prefers to sell to more solvent, non-CIS customers. And, second, whether the marked-down prices would be equal to the production costs or to “internal prices,” the latter entailing a presumably narrow profit margin for the producers. In either case, the non-Russian member countries, struggling to revive and overhaul their Soviet-era defense industries, dislike the prospect of having to deliver their products at slashed-down prices for “collective forces” in which they themselves have little say. Russian producers themselves seem less than keen on the proposed system. Only that can explain why Russia’s Duma is dragging its feet on ratification of this agreement.

Those three rapid-deployment battalions would be national in name only, inasmuch as their mobility would depend entirely on Russian aviation. Their creation is envisaged as an initial step toward developing larger collective forces that would be used not only in antiterrorist operations but also, according to Nikolayenko, in “combined-arms operations”–a old-style formula implying conventional operations by general-purpose forces. The Russian envoy asked the Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Tajik leaderships to work out plans for possible allocation of national units if necessary larger than battalion-size to the collective forces.

For its part, Russia’s Defense Ministry is currently considering a deployment of 3,000 paratroops in Tajikistan as reinforcement to Russia’s 201st motor-rifle division there. That division has received substantial reinforcements of tactical aviation from the Voronezh, Russia-based 105th Air Force division, as recently disclosed by that division’s commander, Major-General Nikolai Patrakov, in an interview with a Voronezh publication. Those Russian forces in Tajikistan would undoubtedly constitute the mainstay of any “collective forces” in Central Asia. Any Tajik, Kazakh or Kyrgyz units could only be of a token nature for political window-dressing.

Still open is the issue of locating the headquarters of the “collective” forces. Kyrgyzstan, fearing a return of Islamist insurgents this spring and summer, has asked for an antiterrorist headquarters to be located in Bishkek or in Osh. At the same time, President Askar Akaev seeks to diversify his country’s security relationships by enlisting Chinese, American and Turkish support. Kyrgyzstan seems in no hurry to enact or ratify the Russian-desired legislation that would allow “collective”/Russian forces to enter the country. For its part, Moscow wants Kyrgyzstan to pass such legislation as a precondition to siting an antiterrorist headquarters in Kyrgyzstan.

Moscow now insists that the three Central Asian countries rush into those decisions in time for the meeting of presidents of the CIS Collective Security Treaty member countries in May in Yerevan (Itar-Tass, Habar (Almaty), Kabar (Bishkek), Hovar (Dushanbe), March 28-31; Bereg (Voronezh), no. 8, February 23; see the Monitor, September 13, October 16, December 4, 2000, March 12).

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