The Kremlin, General Shamanov and Transforming the CSTO

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 179

General Shamanov (Source: Russia Defense Policy)

On September 21, Russian Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov announced that Moscow plans to nominate the controversial Commander of the Airborne Forces (Vozdushno Desantnye VoyskaVDV), Colonel-General Vladimir Shamanov for the post of Chief of the Joint Staff of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Moscow-based observers interpreted this as caused by ongoing differences between Serdyukov and General Shamanov, with the potential move to the CSTO seen as sidelining the senior officer who protected the VDV from some of the minister’s reforms. Shamanov had been reprimanded by Serdyukov in September 2010 following the former attempting to use a VDV unit in family business squabble (Interfax, September 21). 

However, the expert consensus that Serdyukov may be using the nomination of Shamanov as a way to bounce him for his own political reasons is contradicted by a number of important factors. Foremost is the whole process of strengthening the CSTO and its link to President Vladimir Putin pursuing a policy of Eurasian integration. Many commentators overlook how much Putin relied upon Shamanov to deliver “success” in the second Chechen War and the friendship between the two individuals. Despite the reprimand being on Shamanov’s service record, President Putin promoted him to colonel-general soon after returning to the Kremlin in May 2012. Shamanov is quintessentially Putin’s man, and as such unlikely to be open to predation by another member of “team Putin.” But the move to the CSTO, if agreed by other member states in December 2012, needs to be seen in the context of ongoing efforts to reform the organization. Colonel (retired) Anatoliy Tsyganok, the Director of the Moscow-based Center for Military Forecasting, sees a potential glimmer of hope: “Were he to be appointed, this could be interpreted as Shamanov’s preparation to replace the present defense minister. Particularly if the position of chief of the CSTO Joint Staff is now made a regular establishment position. The experience that he would acquire within the framework of cooperation with the CIS countries would be in demand in the Russian Armed Forces also,” though Tsyganok admits that the general frequently indirectly criticizes the defense minister concerning the equipment being sent to the VDV (, September 25; Svobodnaya Pressa, September 20). 

The CSTO has undergone radical transformation since late 2008, with the Kazakhstani initiative to establish the Collective Rapid Reaction Forces (KSOR), which were formally created in June 2009, and steps to activate a CSTO peacekeeping component. In December 2012, the CSTO summit in Moscow will formalize the estrangement of Uzbekistan and go much further than Tashkent could ever have accepted by forming a new CSTO unified command, bringing the KSOR and peacekeeping forces as well as other bilateral forces under a common and integrated “CSTO Forces” structure (Interfax, September 20). The post of Chief of the Joint Staff in the CSTO will be greatly enlarged and strengthened placing the occupant of the post in overall charge of all CSTO military forces (Interfax, September 18). 

Indeed, the CSTO Secretary-General Nikolay Bordyuzha announced during the CSTO military exercise Vzaimodeistviye 2012 that the Moscow summit in December 2012 will herald the creation of “CSTO Forces.” However, this latest development in the transformation of the CSTO to form a combined headquarters was first discussed in Moscow by its respective chiefs of the General Staffs in August 2012. Bordyuzha believes this will unite the existing forces as well as a new CSTO collective air defense component under one integrated command. Russian military specialists dismiss this latest CSTO monolith as a Kremlin-inspired plan to re-create a form of the Warsaw Pact, while others claim that it was envisaged in the original signing of the Tashkent Treaty in 1992, but was never implemented by member states (Interfax, Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, September 20). 

In the aftermath of Vzaimodeistviye 2012 in Armenia from September 1519, some commentaries in the Russian military press accepted that close cooperation among members depends upon strict adherence to sustaining interoperability with the Russian Armed Forces. However, beyond this, problems of enhancing existing levels of defense and security cooperation to achieve real reform in the CSTO were also faced. Acknowledging the problems facing the Russian defense ministry to procure modern weapons and hardware for the Armed Forces, linked to the weakness and lack of price transparency in the domestic defense industry, Alexander Karavaev admitted this also mitigates efforts to extend privileged prices to CSTO members; there is little incentive for the Russian defense industry to honor such political commitments. Overcoming these limitations may involve creating military storage facilities and joint ventures in the CSTO defense industries, though Karavaev called for concrete action to remedy these issues. The author also questioned the Kremlin policy of Eurasian integration without being grounded in systemic measures to popularize such efforts among the populations of member states (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, September 25). 

Alexander Bartos, the Director of the Information Center for International Security Affairs at Moscow State Linguistic University, examined the evolution and gradual transformation of the CSTO. Bartos highlighted the continued impasse between the CSTO and NATO on formalizing relations, and suggested that the organization needed to prioritize forming or deepening multilateral links with the UN, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and even the EU to cooperate on post-conflict settlement and conflict prevention. Bartos proposed that the CSTO should form its own strategic concept setting out its goals, but in the longer term it faces the challenge of co-opting international partners capable of assisting in the promotion of real security initiatives on Russia’s periphery. He concluded by calling for a Eurasian alliance with the CSTO as its core model in order to integrate Russia and other CIS countries in a common security system (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, September 21). 

Fresh impetus among the CSTO members to pursue closer foreign policy positions on key questions as well as positioning the organization to more closely cooperate with the United Nations emerged in the 67th session of the UN General Assembly in New York on September 28. The foreign ministers from CSTO member states issued a joint statement on the situation in Syria and Iran. Such joint policy statements are becoming more frequent and were one of the issues Tashkent found objectionable. Also, in the same session, the CSTO secretariat signed a memorandum of cooperation with the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations paving the way for the organization to participate in such international peacekeeping operations and encouraging its members to pursue such involvement (RIA Novosti, September 29; BELTA, September 28). 

Thus, Shamanov being nominated to lead the CSTO Forces should be understood in the light of Putin’s efforts to strengthen any Eurasian integration policy, including through the CSTO, and the seriousness attached to the post by Moscow is underscored in the high-profile generals on the candidates list leaked to the Russian media. If Shamanov is appointed to this post his critique of the modernization being conducted by Serdyukov is likely to become louder.