Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 71

From April 2 to 7, joint military bodies of the CIS in Moscow held two exercises in parallel: one for conventional ground forces relevant to Central Asia, and one for air defense forces along the perimeter of the former Soviet Union.

The conventional force exercise, Commonwealth Southern Shield-2001, was run on topographic maps by “operational groups” of Russian, Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Tajik officers under the command of Russia’s General Viktor Prudnikov, chief of the CIS Staff for the Coordination of Military Cooperation.

The participants practiced joint responses by their countries to an “Islamic terrorist” attack from the south. The scenario envisaged either an attack on one of those countries, in which case that national political and military leadership would nominally command the joint counteroffensive, or one which straddled the borders of two or more CIS countries, in which case those countries’ leaderships would collectively appoint a command for the “coalitional forces.” All variations presupposed that Russia would supply the bulk of the forces and hardware and that Russian generals would be in charge de facto. The participants in the exercise identified units of Russia and of Central Asian countries which would be used in those contingencies for a joint response.

Turkmenistan, a neutral country, could not be expected to attend. Uzbekistan, which had abandoned the CIS Collective Security Treaty in 1999, was expected for unexplained reasons to attend this exercise, but it did not. The absence of Central Asia’s strongest state forced the participants to modify parts of the prepared scenario. Kyrgyzstan was represented by only two officers. Such lack of interest on the part of the two countries which expect to be attacked again this year suggests that they rely on bilateral defense cooperation with countries within and outside the CIS, not on multilateral CIS measures.

This year’s exercise differed markedly from Southern Shield 1999 and 2000. Those were conducted in the field in Central Asia with motorized and armored units and live fire in real-combat situations, and were watched by defense ministers and top brass from Central Asian and other CIS countries. This time, however, the effort had to be scaled down for financial reasons, in spite of escalating rhetoric in Moscow about an “Islamic terrorist threat” allegedly requiring the creation of “CIS collective forces.”

In another incongruity, Southern Shield 2001 apparently proposed to deploy mostly conventional forces–such as Russia’s 201st motor-rifle division in Tajikistan–for dealing with the “terrorist attacks.” A rapid-deployment antiterrorist force–CIS in form, mainly Russian in content, for possible intervention in Central Asia–is only being discussed. Even the CIS Collective Security Treaty’s member countries are reluctant to create a legal basis for the entry and movement of such a force on their territories.

Central Asian countries prefer to focus their scarce resources on national forces and to diversify their security relationships to the maximum extent possible outside the CIS. While inevitably counting on Russian military assistance, they emphasize the bilateral nature of that relationship and are reluctant to ratify multilateral assistance pacts in the CIS framework. Moscow also places a heavy emphasis on bilateralism for practical cooperation, but insists on a multilateral framework and collective pacts and on periodic demonstrations of such multilateralism to substantiate the role of a bloc leader (Agentstvo Voyennykh Novostey, RIA, Itar-Tass, Khabar, April 5-6; Nezavisimaya Gazeta, April 4, 6; see the Monitor, March 12, April 2; Fortnight in Review, March 16).