Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 183

On October 2 Russia’s Nikolai Bordyuzha, secretary-general of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, told mass media that the CSTO is creating its own “peacekeeping” forces. The member countries are Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Bordyuzha outlined the political and military concepts underlying CSTO peacekeeping, to be approved at the organization’s October 6 summit in Dushanbe.

CSTO peacekeeper troops are to be used if necessary on the territories of member countries, by collective decision of the member countries’ presidents. Such use would not require a United Nations mandate. Those troops could also be used on the territories of “other countries of the world, in any region,” in such cases under a UN mandate. However, in both eventualities, Bordyuzha allowed a possibility of sending CSTO peacekeeping troops “on some country’s request.”

Deployment of CSTO troops to conflict areas shall be subject to consent by the local parties to the conflict. To illustrate, Bordyuzha singled out Georgia: “CSTO peacekeepers may be used in the Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-Ossetian conflict zones only with mutual agreement of the sides.”

The organizational model of the force resembles that of the CSTO’s Rapid-Deployment Force (mainly a conventional-type force billed as “anti-terrorist”) and is thereby a descendant of the former Warsaw Pact model. Units assigned by each member country to the Collective Force shall each be based on the respective national territory. They would remain under national command in peacetime or when not on collective mission. Those units shall undergo special training and receive Russian equipment on preferential terms (preferential also in relation to the rest of national forces). This implies presence of Russian officers and advisers.

The national units would convene periodically for joint exercises in one or more of the member countries under “joint” command. If a “peacekeeping” operation is undertaken, the units would be transferred from national to a “single” command. The terms joint and single imply Russian command with decorative deputy positions from member countries and a Russian-dominated staff in full control of the operation.

Constitutive documents of this “peacekeeping” force were prepared at the August 21 Moscow meeting of CSTO countries’ deputy defense, foreign affairs, and finance ministers and security council secretaries. The documents were apparently finalized at the September 28 Bishkek meeting of the member countries’ defense ministers, in time for the presidents’ signature at the Dushanbe summit. At each step along the way Bordyuzha lifted, if slightly, a corner of the curtain on these plans.

The CSTO lays claim to a “zone of CSTO responsibility” that, in Moscow’s view, clearly extends beyond the territories of the seven member countries. This claim transpires in the offer to deploy peacekeepers to Georgian territories, even as Moscow rules out any genuine international peacekeeping troops there. Although Georgia is not a CSTO member, Russia de facto includes Abkhazia and South Ossetia — and even the nearby Georgian areas beyond demarcation lines — in an exclusive zone of Russian “peacekeeping” responsibility. From this point on it would like to place it under a CSTO flag.

Russia could also try this tactic in Moldova’s Transnistria, where Russian “peacekeeping” troops are also stationed without any valid mandate. Offers to “internationalize” those contingents under CSTO colors might serve as a propagandistic counter-move to Western, Georgian, or Moldovan proposals currently on the table for genuine transformation of those Russian operations. In the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict — an inter-state conflict, as are Russia’s in Georgia and Moldova — no peacekeeping troops were ever deployed. The OSCE created such an option, back in 1993; but this organization could never be expected to manage such an operation credibly, given the built-in veto system that takes hold even before mandate drafting. Armenia is the only CSTO member country other than Russia involved in a military conflict against a non-member country, Azerbaijan.

At the ongoing UN General Assembly session in New York, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov declared that Russian peacekeeping troops in Abkhazia operate on a “collective” mandate and “not through Russia’s will, but through a multilateral format”; thus any changes to that operation can only be made through that format. Russian state media reports tried to construe Lavrov’s reference as meaning the CSTO. That statement is misleading on a number of counts, of which Lavrov — long involved with Georgian affairs — must have been aware.

Russia in 1994 forced a prostrate Georgia on a purely bilateral basis to accept the deployment of Russian “peacekeeping” troops in Abkhazia, following Russia’s own military intervention there. After creating those facts, Moscow brought the matter to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which then simply rubber-stamped the prolongation of that Russian operation year-after-year. There was never a clear record of voting on this issue at CIS summits, which were often chaotic. In many cases, Moscow drafted and published the communiqués unilaterally on the organization’s behalf, including on the Abkhazia “peacekeeping” issue. In 2000, then-president Eduard Shevardnadze gave up the empty right of Georgian consent to prolongation of the mandate at six-month intervals. Instead, he agreed to automatic renewal. All this illustrates the lawless environment prevailing in CIS internal arrangements as long as Russia took the CIS seriously as its instrument. But it is academic in terms of mandate-conferral, because the CIS was not recognized as a full-fledged international organization and has no right to authorize “peacekeeping” operations. Russia has long campaigned for this at the international level, unsuccessfully. Thus, the Russian operation in Abkhazia has no mandate and is purely Russian in its composition. In Moldova’s Transnistria there is not even a CIS mandate for the Russian troops.

Now with the CSTO launching in a “peacekeeping” role, complete with “collective” troops, Moscow can be expected to try using a CSTO flag of convenience over Russian “peacekeeping,” or at least to try obstructing genuine internationalization by offering CSTO “internationalization.”

(Interfax, August 21, September 26, 28, 30, October 2; Itar-Tass, RIA-Novosti, September 21, 26-27, October 2)