On February 28 Nikolai Bordyuzha, secretary-general of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), addressed a meeting of students from the Russian-Tajik (Slavonic) University in Dushanbe. Ostensibly he promoted the CSTO as an organization that seeks to create an integrated security system dealing with military and terrorist threats, as well as coping with the aftermath of natural and man-made disasters. But NATO, according to Bordyuzha, strives only for military power. “The CSTO may be considered as an analogue of NATO, but this comparison is very primitive, as the North Atlantic bloc strives only for military power, but for us this task is important but not paramount. We want to create an integrated system without applying or increasing military power,” he affirmed.
Bordyuzha’s criticism of the NATO Alliance stems from U.S. plans to deploy components of its anti-ballistic missile shield in Eastern Europe. He is asserting the Kremlin’s view that this move is aimed against Russia, rather than countering any future threat from rogue states. He repeated the accusation that NATO is not interested in forming a constructive multilateral dialogue with the CSTO, despite various overtures from Moscow to the Alliance since 2000. In his opinion, NATO wants to separate “one by one” the CSTO countries in order to prevent their unity with Russia in security matters, which apparently explains why NATO prefers to deal with individual countries in the region. “CSTO states’ consolidation is unfavorable for NATO. They [NATO countries] are simply going to ‘separate’ us one by one, but our unity prevents them from carrying out their plans,” he said (Avesta, February 28).
Bordyuzha sees potential answers to these Russian security concerns lying mainly in efforts to maximize inter-state cooperation within Central Asia and ironing out the many shortcomings of the CSTO, such as the tendency to reach agreements that are not practically acted upon. Achieving this could also pave the way for an expansion of the CSTO to include new members. In any case, Bordyuzha was more interested in promulgating the recent anti-U.S. rhetoric coming from the Kremlin, offering the CSTO as a viable alternative to NATO expanding its influence within Central Asia and the South Caucasus.
Bordyuzha’s March 1 meeting with Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rakhmonov emphasized the Russian-led push for greater integration within the CSTO. Praising Dushanbe’s commitment to the organization, talks centered on preparations for the CSTO summit in Moscow in June. Afghanistan was high on the agenda of the meeting, particularly the issue of drug production and the sensitivity of assisting with the border security arrangements on the Tajik-Afghan border. Washington’s failure to muster enough support from NATO members for a proposed Alliance campaign aimed at crushing the Taliban before the onset of its spring offensive in Afghanistan, combined with the tone of Bordyuzha’s earlier remarks, suggests the current priority in Russian diplomacy in Central Asia is to promote the CSTO to such an extent that it effectively inhibits NATO’s engagement policies in the region.
He also pursued the theme of improving the organizational effectiveness of the CSTO, ensuring that new security initiatives are implemented quickly. Moscow wants Uzbekistan’s return to the CSTO to play a role in its plans for enhancing the organization. Bordyuzha elaborated, “We, of course, discussed a very significant issue. This is the process of Uzbekistan’s return to the CSTO. You know that Uzbekistan signed a protocol in Sochi in summer 2006, in line with which it undertook commitments on all the requirements of the CSTO. This protocol has now been ratified by the Uzbek parliament and in fact, it is in effect as a law” (Tajik TV First Channel, March 1).
Rakhmonov extolled the development of Tajikistan’s armed forces at a ceremonial meeting marking their 14th anniversary, held at the Kokh-i Borbad state complex in Dushanbe. He pointedly referred to the role played by the CSTO in strengthening Tajikistan’s security forces. Military cooperation has been strongest within the CSTO and at a bilateral level with Russia and Kazakhstan. Rakhmonov went on to include China, France, India, the United States, and Iran as countries with which Dushanbe has expanded military cooperation.
Rakhmonov singled out corruption as the greatest challenge facing the country’s armed forces. Explaining: “It is of primary importance for the heads of all levels and staff members of the security and law-enforcement agencies to purge their ranks of such instances. As defenders of the country’s security, they must make every effort to gradually curb and root out corrupt actions and behavior, and any violations of the law in general” (Tajik TV First Channel, February 23).
Tajikistan, of course, was a relatively safe choice for a Russian diatribe against the U.S. and NATO meddling in Russia’s backyard. Dushanbe is closely reliant upon Russia not only as an economic partner, but also in security matters. On February 26 anti-terrorist exercises involving Russia’s 201st Motor Rifle Division (MRD) based in Dushanbe started in Mumirak in southern Tajikistan. A special motor rifle battalion from the 201st MRD, which represents Russia within the Collective Rapid Deployment Forces, honed their mountainous warfare skills (Itar-Tass, February 26). Russia’s agenda ahead of the June CSTO summit seems predicated on the concept of stimulating CSTO integration as a prophylactic measure to counteract NATO’s strategic interest in Central Asia and the Caucasus.