RUSSIA STAGES “CIS COLLECTIVE” ANTITERRORISM EXERCISES IN CENTRAL ASIA.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 79

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ambition to construct a CIS collective security organization seems set to make some political headway, in spite of the modest resources Russia is able to muster for the task. The week-long South-Antiterror 2002 exercises, just held in Central Asia, have exposed this discrepancy between Moscow’s goals in Eurasia and its means.

The exercises were held on two overlapping levels: of the security agencies, under the aegis of the CIS Antiterrorism Center (ATC), and of the defense ministries in the framework of the CIS Collective Security Treaty’s (CST) regional structure for Central Asia. This blurring of lines meant that staff officers of the Ukrainian, Moldovan and Georgian state security and related agencies participated in these exercises, because their countries are members of the ATC, though not of the CST. Belarus and Armenia, as members of both, were represented by both army and security service officers, but not by troops, because these two countries belong to the CST’s other two regional military structures. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan stayed away altogether.

Russian Major-General Sergei Chernomyrdin, the Bishkek-headquartered chief of staff of the CST Rapid Deployment Force for Central Asia, and Lieutenant-General Boris Mylnikov, head of the Moscow-based ATC, commanded the exercises. The collective forces exist only theoretically thus far, and the ATC operates with a skeleton staff and without real power or mission. Both organizations are empty political shells for now, designed to be turned into structures modeled on the Warsaw Pact when Russia’s resources and the international context permit. Apparently expecting little Western concern, Putin intends to officially proclaim the formation of a Russian-led bloc–a Collective Security Organization–at next month’s CST summit.

The South-Antiterror 2002 exercises were designed partly to lend the CST some substance in advance of that event. For a planning assumption, the exercises envisaged that remnants of Taliban and al-Qaida forces, beaten in Afghanistan, move into Central Asia. Chernomyrdin had to try hard to accredit such a rationale: “The collective forces are responsible for stabilizing the situation in Central Asia, which remains tense. It cannot be ruled out that there are still some tiny terrorist formations somewhere, that they may perhaps emerge.”

The participants practiced responses to the penetration of small groups of putative international terrorists from Afghanistan to Tajikistan and further northward. This assumption mirrors, however, not so much the current Afghan situation, as the 1999 and 2000 events, when Russian and Tajik forces allowed detachments of the international terrorist Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) repeatedly to cross the Afghan-Tajik, Tajik-Uzbek and Tajik-Kyrgyz borders back and forth. In a recent postmortem, Ahmed Rashid counted no fewer than four such cases of collusion.

The exercise unfolded in three phases. In Kyrgyzstan on April 13-15, the combined staffs rehearsed alerting and mustering CST Rapid Deployment Forces and placing their Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Tajik units under a “unified”–in effect, Russian–command. The main scenario envisaged terrorists fighting their way from Afghanistan via Tajikistan into Kyrgyzstan, where they are finally stopped and pinned down by the Kyrgyz forces just outside Bishkek. This phase of the exercise ended with a combat demonstration by the Kyrgyz “Alpha” commando unit, which drilled freeing hostages held by terrorists in a fortified building near the capital.

In the second phase, in Kazakhstan on April 16-17, the combined staffs rehearsed deploying CST Rapid Deployment Forces in the combat theater and planning an operation to annihilate the intruding terrorist detachment. Additionally, the Almaty phase included the planning of antiterrorist measures–both prevention and combat–in cities. This phase ended with drills by Kazakh state security and interior ministry commando units attacking terrorists in various types of settings: in a building, on a bus and on a grounded plane.

The host agency, Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee, played down the “CIS collective” character of antiterrorist measures, describing them instead as a normal Kazakh mission to protect foreign embassies and companies in Kazakhstan. In a public briefing, National Security Committee Deputy Chairman Baurzhan Yelubaev underscored Kazakhstan’s national responsibility to ward off any potential threats to Western embassies and businesses in the country.

The third phase, held in Tajikistan on April 18-19, centered on carrying out a military operation to annihilate an intruding terrorist force. The venue was a military range in the Kulob district, home of the dominant Tajik leadership faction in Dushanbe, both places being garrisoned by regiments of Russia’s 201st motor-rifle division. A battalion of that division and a Tajik battalion took part in the simulated battle, using live ammunition, under the command of the 201st division’s deputy commander, Colonel Viktor Sidorov, with a Tajik general as nominal deputy to the Russian colonel. Russia’s Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev supervised this phase on scene.

Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan did not send military units to this phase of the exercise, only army staff officers and small units of their state security services, which did not participate in combat practice.

The CIS Collective Rapid Deployment for Central Asia is supposed to consist of four army battalions, one from each of the CST’s relevant members: Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. In fact, only Russia and Tajikistan have earmarked units for that collective force. Russia has resorted to the expedient of earmarking a battalion from the 201st division and labeling that battalion as part of a “collective” force. This Russian unit is a “reinforced battalion”–that is, at one-and-a-half manpower strength and endowed with armor, artillery and communications elements organic to the reinforced battalion. This unit also has standby tactical aviation support available on call.

South-Antiterror 2002 amounted to a somewhat scaled-down version of Southern Shield 1999 and Southern Shield 2000. Those Russian-led “collective” exercises had included a longer and more elaborate combat phase in Tajikistan that involved Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Uzbek military units, besides Russian and Tajik ones. Uzbekistan took part in those exercises–though not within the “integrated” exercise command structure–even after Tashkent had officially abandoned the CIS Collective Security Treaty. This time around, President Islam Karimov publicly deprecated the value of South-Antiterror 2002. Karimov recalled how IMU’s units had been allowed to cross from Afghanistan into Central Asia in order, as he described it, to frighten the region’s countries into accepting Russian protection (Interfax, Agentstvo Voyennykh Novostei, Khabar, AKI-Press International, Asia-Plus, April 16-22; Uzbek Television, April 14).

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