Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 82

On April 24-26, high-level representatives of intelligence and security services from nine CIS countries conducted a command-and-staff exercise in the city of Osh, Kyrgyzstan. Code-named “South-Antiterror 2001,” and planned as the first in a series of such exercises, South-Antiterror 2001 rehearsed joint responses to possible attacks by “terrorist” and “extremist” armed groups on the territories of CIS member countries. Exercise participants drilled both the planning and the execution phases of joint operations that are envisaged to deal with those contingencies.

In what looked like a political gesture, Russian and Belarusan representatives flew in together and conducted a distinct phase of the exercise, on a bilateral basis, reflecting their privileged ties as part of the Russia-Belarus Union. That phase had been planned in advance by the Union State’s Committee on Security Issues, as part of that committee’s own “antiterrorism program.” Shortly before the Osh exercise was held, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta–often a conduit of leaks and trial balloons from Moscow’s intelligence services–suggested that the nascent Russia-Belarus joint military forces can be used for anti-insurgency operations across the post-Soviet territory, and that the military union of Russia and Belarus can be brought to bear in remote non-European parts of the former Soviet Union more effectively than in a NATO-dominated Europe.

The Osh exercise was held amid forecasts that Islamist rebels would attack Central Asia this spring and summer for the third consecutive year. By the same token, the exercise was overshadowed by discord between Russia’s ally Tajikistan on the one hand and Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan on the other. These two countries accuse Tajikistan of tolerating the presence of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan guerrillas on Tajik territory. The IMU guerrillas, moreover, keep moving with seeming impunity across the Russian-guarded Afghan-Tajik border in both directions.

Tajikistan rejects and Russia ignores the recriminations. But they cannot dispute the fact that IMU’s forces did cross Tajikistan in order to reach Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in 1999 and in 2000. Moreover, CIS and Central Asian contingency planning for 2001 assumes that IMU would again attack from Tajikistan. Meanwhile, Uzbekistan hints that it might in that case mount hot-pursuit operations inside Tajikistan. Even Kyrgyzstan, weaker by far than Uzbekistan, inspired last week the ethnic Kyrgyz refugees from Tajikistan to “demand” that Kyrgyz forces enter Tajikistan to suppress IMU bases there, in the event that the guerrillas attack again this year.

For its part, Moscow finds it useful to maintain a degree of ambiguity concerning Russian intentions. Russian military aviation in Tajikistan could easily suppress IMU camps, and at the very least could reconnoiter them from the air to verify either the Uzbek and Kyrgyz accusations or the Tajik denials. But Russia has done neither, and has supported Tajik objections to the use of Uzbek aviation against suspected IMU sanctuaries in Tajikistan. All this generates a perception that Moscow is in a position to unleash of restrain the IMU. It also feeds the suspicions that Russia’s military and intelligence services manipulate the IMU threat in order to render Central Asian countries insecure and dependent on Russian support.

Concurrently with the Osh exercise, it was announced in Moscow that the CIS Collective Security Treaty signatories have decided to set up a joint rapid-deployment force. Russia’s Security Council Deputy Secretary Oleg Chernov made that announcement on the eve of a meeting in Yerevan of the signatory countries Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The initial authorized strength of that force will be 1,500 to 1,700. The six treaty signatory countries would each contribute units of battalion size and below.