Saturday, February 7, 2009

The CSTO: Missions, Capabilities, Political Ambitions

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 25
February 6, 2009
Category: Eurasia Daily Monitor, Vlad’s Corner, Military/Security, Central Asia, Russia, Home
By: Vladimir Socor

The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which adopted decisions to develop Collective Rapid Response Forces at a summit in Moscow on February 4 (see EDM, February 5), owes its existence to Russia's ambition to cast itself as the leader of a political-military bloc on the Eurasian landmass.

From Russia's perspective, the CSTO must symbolize to the outside world the continuity of Moscow's claim to primacy in the "post-Soviet space" following, and notwithstanding, the Soviet Union's demise. Vladimir Putin, who has described the Soviet Union's disintegration as "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century," initiated the creation of the CSTO in 2002 when he was president. Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan joined that year and Uzbekistan in 2006. [...]

Those forces consist of 10 battalions in Central Asia--five Russian battalions stationed in Tajikistan and another five battalions contributed in theory by Central Asian countries but based in practice permanently at home. Designated as "rapid-deployment forces," they seldom exercise together and their on-call, rapid-deployment capability is dubious.

The CSTO also lays claim to a western zone of responsibility (Belarus-Russia) and one in the South Caucasus (Russia-Armenia), each with its own "group of forces." In a more tangible sense than other CSTO countries, Armenia regards this arrangement as beneficial to itself. Yerevan welcomes the February 4 decision to create rapid response forces in Yerevan's own frame of reference: these would provide "collective defense in the event of aggression against any CSTO member country" and deter "certain leaders who hope for a military solution to the Karabakh conflict," said General Haig Kotanjian, head of the Defense Ministry's Strategic Studies Institute, in commenting on the Moscow summit's decision (Interfax, February 5).

As this statement suggests, Armenia views the CSTO primarily as a conventional military actor as well as a framework for Russian protection of Armenian territorial gains against Azerbaijan. This traditional view contrasts with that of Central Asian governments, which expect the CSTO to deal with asymmetrical threats and challenges, such as those associated with terrorism, from non-state sources.

The full article is here

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