Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 April 2014, 10:56 GMT

The CSTO moves quickly to bolster its security role in Central Asia

Publisher EurasiaNet
Author Sergei Blagov
Publication Date 15 March 2007
Cite as EurasiaNet, The CSTO moves quickly to bolster its security role in Central Asia, 15 March 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/46cc31f78.html [accessed 23 April 2014]
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Sergei Blagov 3/15/07

The Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization is moving assertively to expand its strategic influence in Central Asia. Over the past few days, the CSTO has established a security relationship with Afghanistan, and has moved forward with plans to establish a regional air defense system.

A CSTO working group visited the Afghan capital Kabul from March 9-13, according to the official Russian news agency RIA Novosti. The CSTO press office issued a statement March 14 expressing satisfaction with the visit, stating that the talks marked the opening of "direct contacts" between the Moscow-based organization and the Afghan government. According to the CSTO statement, representatives of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's administration expressed interest in developing contacts with the security grouping, which includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Discussions in Kabul focused on the revival of Islamic radicalism and narcotics trafficking. CSTO officials reportedly feel an urgent need to develop strong security ties with Afghanistan because of what they feel is an inadequate response to these issues by the United States and NATO, which collectively maintain over 40,000 troops in the country. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

"The Afghan side is most interested in having their military and law enforcement officers trained in Russia and other CSTO member states, as well as in purchasing Russian weaponry," the CSTO statement said. "Afghanistan's army and law enforcement representatives specifically stressed [a request for] serious assistance in improving the border security of their state, in both technical and personnel training terms."

The CSTO created a working group on Afghanistan in 2005 under the auspices of the organization's Foreign Ministers' Council. Its primary task was to develop recommendations on strengthening Afghan security institutions and improving anti-trafficking measures. The March 14 CSTO statement revealed that the group intends to transform the Channel 2006 anti-drug initiative, which is designed to curb trafficking out of Afghanistan, into a permanent regional program.

If the intensified cooperation between Kabul and the security organization unfolds as envisioned by CSTO officials, it would mark a significant geopolitical setback for US interests in Central Asia. Since the US-led coalition forced the Taliban out of Kabul in late 2001, Washington has enjoyed unrivaled political influence in Afghanistan. But US inattention to Afghan reconstruction has played a role in the revival of the Taliban insurgency in the country. This, in turn, has created an opening for Russia to establish a security presence in the country, which was occupied by Soviet forces from 1979-89.

In February, Sergei Ivanov, the Russian first deputy prime minister and former defense minister, reiterated a Moscow proposal on joint NATO-CSTO stabilization action in Afghanistan. CSTO officials have repeatedly criticized NATO's perceived reluctance to cooperate with the Moscow-based security organization.

On the same day that the CSTO mission wrapped up its Kabul visit, a top Russian military official suggested that the grouping could be used as a vehicle for the expansion of an air-defense network that would cover CSTO member states. Russian Air Forces Commander Vladimir Mikhailov told RIA-Novosti on March 13 that the air-defense "would be of great benefit to all those states bordering Russia, as they have less military capability and funding than we have."

Mikhailov indicated that Moscow was poised to complete an air-defense pact with Belarus. In line with plans for a single air-defense system, Russia has already delivered four anti-aircraft missile systems to Belarus, according to RIA-Novosti. Russia's CSTO air-defense initiative follows US moves to deploy a missile defense shield across Eastern Europe.

On March 13-14, the third session of the CSTO Interstate Commission for Military and Economic Cooperation discussed measures to stimulate military-economic cooperation, Valery Semerikov, the CSTO deputy secretary-general, told journalists in Astana. Kazakhstan has already expressed an intention to modernize its Soviet-era military equipment and purchase new armaments. The upgrades are envisioned under an eight-year state defense development blueprint program, Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pospelov told reporters on March 14. Pospelov headed the Kazakhstani delegation at the CSTO Interstate Commission meeting.

Beyond Central Asia, Russia appears keen on bolstering the CSTO's Caucasian flank. In February, Russia announced plans to modernize the weaponry and other equipment of its troops stationed in Armenia. Gen. Mikhailov said February 14 that Moscow was already repairing technical facilities as part of a "gradual re-equipment" of its military base in Gyumri, Armenia.

Meanwhile, the CSTO is striving to develop a diplomatic and political component. On March 6, a session of the CSTO's Permanent Council convened to develop a foreign policy framework. The meeting issued a draft resolution of the CSTO Foreign Ministers' Council entitled "Improving the coordination of foreign policies of CSTO member states." The inaugural session of the CSTO Parliamentary Assembly is due to be held in St. Petersburg on March 30.

The CSTO also has moved rapidly to promote Uzbekistan's re-integration into the security organization. Semerikov indicated that Tashkent was prepared to have Uzbek forces participate in the CSTO Rapid Deployment Force. The extent of Uzbek participation remained under discussion, Semerikov said March 14. Russia and Uzbekistan were among original signatories of the Collective Security Treaty (CST) in 1992, also known as Tashkent Treaty. However, Uzbekistan withdrew from the pact in 1999, only to rejoin last August, following the collapse of US-Uzbek bilateral ties. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The CSTO was formally established in 2002.

Editor's Note: Sergei Blagov is a Moscow-based specialist in CIS political affairs.

Posted March 15, 2007 © Eurasianet

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