Russia has hastened to assure its Central Asian allies that they will not be involved in any military moves in Ukraine, a sign that Moscow is aware of the growing worry about its new assertiveness.
The issue is the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Russia-led post-Soviet security bloc that includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. The group thus far has seen a lot more talk than action, and plenty of questions remain about what it will actually do. On Monday, Kyrgyzstani MP Tursunbai Bakir Uulu expressed concern that the CSTO might embroil Kyrgyzstan in the conflict in Ukraine:
"The agreement was ratified, but before the events in Ukraine. I don't want to be a hostage to these agreements. You know, that the [Russian] Federation Council took a decision that, if the need arose, they could intervene militarily in Ukraine. If tomorrow war breaks out between Russia and Ukraine, we would be obliged to fight on Russia's side. We need to withdraw from these agreements so we don't get drawn into a war in Ukraine."
The remarks didn't make much sense: Ukraine isn't a member of the CSTO, and its charter only calls for collective defense. But the interesting thing is that the CSTO felt obliged to respond. "The CSTO Secretariat regards with great surprise the statement by ... Bakir Uulu about the supposed possibility of the use of the CSTO's rapid reaction forces in the resolution of the internal crisis in Ukraine," the group said in a statement. "Ukraine is not a member of the CSTO, and the use of the rapid reaction forces on its territory is not allowed according to the current agreement ... Any action of the rapid reaction force in the region of collective security of the CSTO and the composition of the group is subject to the Council of Collective Security of the CSTO on the basis of consensus and agreement of all member states of the organization, including Kyrgyzstan."
(Though one wonders, in the unlikely event that Ukraine tried to take back Crimea, would CSTO members be obliged to help Russia defend what it considers to be its territory?)
Anyway, the CSTO is not typically not very responsive to the public, and a statement like this pushing back against a comment by a single MP is out of character. But clearly Russia's partners in its Eurasian integration projects, like the CSTO and Customs Union, have been having misgivings. This CSTO statement suggests that Moscow may be a bit nervous that its military allies may be beginning to have cold feet.