On March 18, in Moscow, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Collective Security Treaty Organization’s (CSTO) Secretary-General, Nikolay Bordyuzha, signed a declaration on cooperation between the two secretariats. The document, and the UN’s steps preceding it, can be interpreted as UN recognition of this Russian-led bloc in the “post-Soviet space.” The Russian side will doubtlessly construe the UN’s blessing as a full and unambiguous recognition of the CSTO (Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan).
Bordyuzha introduced the declaration as UN “recognition of our organization’s authority.” Ban Ki-moon termed the document “a very big step to strengthen the UN’s cooperation with regional organizations” (ITAR-TASS, March 18) – a formula placing the CSTO on the same footing as genuine alliances such as NATO that exist outside the CSTO-claimed area of responsibility.
The joint declaration enumerates “possible” objects for UN-CSTO cooperation such as: “conflict prevention and conflict resolution [and] combating terrorism, transnational criminality, illegal arms trafficking,” in that order of priorities. The sides shall further broaden their cooperation, “taking into account the respective spheres of competence and procedures of either organization” (Interfax, March 18).
In an accompanying press conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reminded the UN that Moscow attaches high priority to interdicting the drug trafficking from Afghanistan, and wants international organizations to work with the CSTO in Central Asia toward that end. Bordyuzha took the opportunity to air Moscow’s standard complaint that NATO refuses to interact with the CSTO in ways that would imply recognition of this grouping. NATO “evidently does not wish to support integration processes in the post-Soviet space,” Bordyuzha complained (Vremya Novostei, March 18).
The issue of CSTO recognition constitutes a political layer at the surface of this debate.
The core issue, however, is that of a de facto division of responsibilities for conducting peacekeeping operations and authorizing military intervention. Moscow seeks to carve out a zone of responsibility for itself in Eurasia, under the flag of the CSTO, its political mechanism, and its collective forces. In such a zone, Russia (acting either through the CSTO, the latter’s regional subgroups, or unilaterally) would initiate and lead peacekeeping, military, or “anti-terrorism” operations.
Russia would not have to await an international mandate from the UN or some other organization for such operations. It would, however, welcome any form of endorsement to legitimize its initiatives, even short of an international mandate (which it cannot realistically expect from the UN in the foreseeable future). The declaration just signed is a significant step in that direction.
Russian officials discussing CSTO issues routinely differentiate between, on one hand, operations in the member countries’ territories, necessitating internal CSTO decisions, and on the other, CSTO countries’ possible participation in UN-mandated operations beyond the CSTO’s presumed zone of responsibility.
Moscow declares itself willing to contribute troops to UN-mandated peacekeeping and related operations in the rest of the world on a selective basis (definitely not in Afghanistan). Moscow reaffirmed that often-stated willingness to Ban Ki-moon during his visit. According to Bordyuzha, CSTO-flagged peacekeeping troops may be deployed in various parts of the world at the UN’s request, “beyond the zone of applicability of the Collective Security Treaty” (Vremya Novostei, March 18).
However, Russia insists on a “peacekeeping” monopoly in CSTO territory and even in the “post-Soviet space” beyond the CSTO, such as Moldova. CSTO documents stipulate that any troop deployments and operations are triggered by decisions of the CSTO’s Collective Security Council (the top political authority in the CSTO), rather than by UN mandates (EDM, February 5, 6, June 16, 2009). Bordyuzha clearly stated that CSTO documents will not be amended after the UN-CSTO declaration’s signing.
Just three days before the declaration’s signing, CSTO spokesman Vitaly Strugovets announced that "the United Nations [presumably, the secretariat] has completed the procedure of registering the CSTO agreement regarding the CSTO’s peacekeeping activities." Such registration is also a form of de facto recognition. According to the spokesman’s summary, that CSTO agreement envisages the creation of standing CSTO “peacekeeping” forces. Thus, “the CSTO’s collective forces may now participate in peacekeeping operations on the territories of CSTO member countries and also, by a UN Security Council decision, in other regions” (Interfax, March 15). The statement is consistent with Moscow’s policy of setting a Russian (or “CSTO”) zone of peacekeeping responsibility apart from the rest of the world, albeit in a cooperative arrangement with the UN that would legitimize such arrangements.
The CSTO received observer status at the UN General Assembly in 2004. That did not imply recognition. On March 2, 2010, the UN General Assembly adopted without opposition a resolution on “cooperation between the UN and the CSTO.” Russia and the CSTO member countries initiated the resolution to show support for the UN Secretariat’s steps toward the recognition of the CSTO. According to the Russian permanent representative to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, this step and the Moscow Declaration-in-waiting (now signed) completes the formation of a legal basis for UN-CSTO cooperation (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, March 4; Kommersant, March 17).
During Ban Ki-moon’s visit, Moscow and the UN downplayed the fundamental issue of a potential carve-out of zones of responsibility for security. However, this issue will undoubtedly continue to fester particularly if it remains unaddressed and unresolved.
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