WASHINGTON, DC – Friday, October 22, 2010 -The Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) is preparing to carry out a series of large-scale military exercises next week. Up to now, the CSTO has been most noted for its failure to exert any direct military or security influence in Central Asia, but that is changing.
Former Soviet Eurasia, especially Central Asia, is now covered by a web of diplomatic and security alliances. But the CSTO is the only one that actually holds out any promise of bringing real support to fragile or threatened governments in the region.
The new exercises are the first coordinated testing of the CSTO’s long-delayed Collective Rapid Reaction Force. They will be carried out from this Monday to Friday at the Chebarkul training ground in Russia’s Urals region of Chelyabinsk.
Russia won the agreement of the other members of the CSTO in February 2009 to create the new Rapid Reaction Force. Kazakhstan, Tajikistan Armenia and Kyrgyzstan all approved the new Russian-led force. Belarus came later into the agreement.
Only Uzbekistan, which is wary of renewed Russian military and diplomatic power in Central Asia, still holds out among the seven alliance members. Uzbek President Islam Karimov pleaded ill health in August when he did not attend a CSTO informal summit in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, that approved the new Rapid Reaction Force plan.
Up to now, the CSTO has been notable only in its absence from Kyrgyzstan, the Central Asian nation that seems most in need of its support.
Russia and the CSTO stood back and did nothing when President Kurmanbek Bakiev was toppled by a nationwide wave of protests on April 7. And they also did nothing when the country was torn apart by the worst ethnic violence in its independent history against minority Uzbeks in the southern Kyrgyz cities of Osh and Jalalabad in mid-June.
However, General Nikolai Bordyuzha, the Russian prominent security expert who is the secretary-general of the CSTO, signaled Friday that this may be about to change.
BordyuzhaFriday told Susan Elliott, deputy assistant secretary (DAS) of the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs at the US State Department, that the CSTO was already sending support to the Kyrgyz government to maintain security in its borders, the RIA Novosti news agency reported from Moscow.
“The Collective Security Treaty Organization takes all necessary measures to support the Kyrgyz government in ensuring external and internal security, liquidation of consequences of mass disorders that occurred in the republic in June 2010,” Bordyuzha stated according to the report, which was also carried by the 24.kg news agency in Kyrgyzstan.
The Kremlin was happy to see pro-American President Bakiev toppled in Kyrgyzstan. And it was disappointed in the government of current President Roza Otunbayeva that took over the reins on April 8. Otunbayeva, like Bakiev, made clear she wanted the U.S. Air Force to continue operating out of the Manas air base near the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek.
However, the Kyrgyz parliamentary elections on October 10 saw the success of political parties which are both eager to strengthen ties with Russia and opposed to letting the United States continue to use the Manas air base. These parties look certain to play a major role in the country’s next government, which is now in process of being negotiated.
Therefore, Moscow seems to have given the CSTO, under Gen. Bordyuzha’s leadership, the go-ahead to actively support the new political leadership emerging in Kyrgyzstan.
That may also mean that the CSTO at last will actively begin carrying out significant military support and security functions for governments in the region that are friendly to Russia, but are also threatened by internal disorder.
Tajikistan is an obvious candidate for such support along with Kyrgyzstan. Tajikistan is now threatened by a revival of the bloody internal and Islamist-influenced civil war that cost between 50,000 and 100,000 lives between 1992 and 1997.
The rise of the CSTO at least will not lessen the significance of the Russian- and Chinese-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), or Shanghai Pact, in the region
The SCO has steered clear of intervening directly in the internal affairs of any of the four Central Asian nations (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) that are members of it.
No other military alliance based in Asia can match the potential military resources of the SCO nations, especially Russia and China.
But although the SCO describes its massive annual joint training operations as anti-terrorist exercises, in reality they are inter-operability maneuvers between the armed forces of Russia and China in case they ever have to work together in any full-scale war or military operation.
But China under President Hu Jintao does not want to get caught up in any expensive and messy peacekeeping operations in Central Asia that might alarm Central Asian governments. They are happy to let the Russians take care of those problems. And the Russians are eager to do so in order to try and reassert their traditional hegemonic role in the region.
That means we should expect the CSTO to be flexing its muscles and exerting its power quite a bit in the years ahead.