Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 49

On March 6 in Moscow, a session of the CIS Collective Security Secretariat called for “soonest possible” measures to: (1) station “collective rapid-deployment troops in Central Asia,” (2) complete a legal framework for the stationing of “collective security forces” in Central Asian countries and the movement of those forces across borders, and (3) create a collective security mechanism in Central Asia as part of the CIS Collective Security Treaty.

As justifications for its proposals, the secretariat invoked the intensified hostilities in Afghanistan and the prospect of “Islamic terrorist” operations this spring and summer in Central Asia. Within that context, the secretariat underscored the “necessity to provide military and technical assistance to Tajikistan in view of constant attacks by armed groups on that country.”

The Collective Security Secretariat is the standing, senior-staff level organ in Moscow of the Collective Security Council, which consists of top officials of countries which signed the CIS Collective Security Treaty. Largely controlled by its Russian staff, it tends to air Russian or Russian-originated proposals and to speak on the member countries’ behalf without consultation, even–or indeed especially–when those proposals are controversial.

Any rapid-deployment forces in Central Asia at present and in the near term can only be Russian. Labeling them “CIS collective” would follow the precedent set with the purely Russian Army troops in Abkhazia and (until 1999) Tajikistan, officially designated in either case as collective peacekeeping forces of the CIS. As regards rapid-deployment forces, Tajikistan may be the sole Central Asian country legally in a position to host them and politically willing to do so. Collective Security Treaty signatories Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are unwilling, which is why they are not signing status-of-forces agreements with Russia. Uzbekistan abandoned the Collective Security Treaty two years ago and does not accept any foreign troops on its territory. Turkmenistan is permanently neutral.

Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan do not subscribe to Russia’s and Tajikistan’s threat assessments regarding Afghanistan. Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, moreover, view the Russian-backed Tajikistan as a source of threat to themselves because they were attacked from Tajik territory in 1999 and 2000 by the terrorist Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Those divergent and even conflicting threat assessments show that the Collective Security Treaty cannot be considered an alliance–let alone qualify for international recognition as one–and that Russian rapid-deployment forces acting in its name would be no more “collective” than the “CIS peacekeeping” forces.

The Collective Security Secretariat’s recommendations reflect an effort in progress by the Kremlin and the Russian Defense Ministry to reintroduce Russian troops in Central Asian countries under antiterrorism pretenses. For now, Moscow seems prepared to beef up its forces in Tajikistan–the only available host country–for missions yet to be clarified or substantiated.

On February 21, Russia’s Duma ratified the status-of-forces agreements with Tajikistan, signed in 1999 by Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Imomali Rahmonov, and which confer long-term basing and other rights on Russian Army troops in Tajikistan. At present, the 201st motor-rifle division forms the backbone of those 7,000-strong troops. They are stationed for the most part near Dushanbe and have a base also in Kulob, the native area of President Imomali Rahmonov’s clan, which owes its power to the Russian military in the first place.

On February 22, the chief of staff of Russia’s Border Troops, Colonel-General Nikolai Reznichenko, expressed a willingness to augment the Russian border troop contingent in Tajikistan. The proposal departs from the usual assurances–which are well founded militarily–that the existing border troops are more than sufficient for coping with any hypothetical guerrilla incursions from Afghanistan. The proposed measure would make an exception to the scheduled net reduction of up to 30 percent in Russia’s total border troop manpower. And it suggests that Moscow is prepared to tolerate the Tajik government’s notorious delinquency on the financing of Russian border troops. Although the bilateral agreement stipulates that Russia and Tajikistan share those costs on a 50-50 basis, Tajikistan meets only a fraction of its annual obligation.

On March 5, the commander of Russia’s Airborne Forces, Colonel-General Georgy Shpak, confirmed a recent report sourced to the General Staff on plans to dispatch 3,000 paratroops to Tajikistan. That contingent would be assembled from groups specially allocated by various airborne regiments from Russia. This supplementary force would likely be based with the 201st division in purported anticipation of “terrorist incursions” from Afghanistan. Both Shpak and the General Staff professed to expect “Islamic terrorism” to attack Tajikistan and/or Uzbekistan as early as April or May. And they cited the CIS Collective Security Treaty as a justification for the planned deployment of the paratroops.

However, that treaty cannot possibly be invoked with respect to Uzbekistan, which is not a member. It also is far from clear whether that airborne force would be covered or not by the status-of-forces agreements which cover the 201st division and are a purely bilateral Russian-Tajik affair. And intelligence information, partially made public by Tashkent and Bishkek in recent weeks, confirms that fighters of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) have already crossed back into Tajikistan from Afghanistan with the tacit consent of Russian and Tajik troops, as they did in 1999 and 2000, aiming to fight their way into Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

All this suggests that Moscow is poised for the third consecutive year to manipulate and exploit the IMU threat and pump up a Talib threat as rationales for attempting a military return to Central Asia (Itar-Tass, February 22-23, March 2, 5; Kommersant, March 2; STINA, March 3; RIA, March 5; Agentstvo Voyennykh Novostey, February 22, March 6; see also the Monitor, November 9-10, December 22, 2000, January 9, 12, 23, 31, February 9, 21).