CSTO Rapid Reaction Forces drill in Kazakhstan. (photo: CSTO)
Russia and its allies are practicing military drills involving a "separatist" force supported by sympathetic co-ethnics across the border, trying to provoke the central government into a disproportionate use of force, justifying an invasion by the bordering country.
That scenario may sound a lot like what's going on in Ukraine. But in the ongoing exercises, Russia is on the otherside: fighting against the separatists, carrying out what might be called an "Anti-Terror Operation" to regain control of the border territory.
The exercises, of the Collective Security Treaty Organization's rapid reaction forces, took place this week in Kazakhstan, and involved about 3,000 soldiers from CSTO members Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. And the public description of the scenario for the exercises is much more detailed than it has been in past years, providing an intriguing look into what Russia (the dominant power in the group) sees as the threats it could be facing in its region.
The parallels to Ukraine are far from exact -- in the CSTO exercises, the conflict is in Central Asia and there is fighting on both sides of the border. And here, the separatists are supported by the West and are known as the "brown" forces, presumably an allusion to the fascists that Russia believes it's fighting in Ukraine. The scenario, published on the CSTO website, is worth quoting at length:
A joint operation [is undertaken] to localize an armed conflict on the territory of a CSTO member state, 'Karania,' which according to the scenario of the exercise, has appealed to the CSTO with a request for military assistance."
The scenario took place under conditions of an escalation of interethnic conflict and strengthening of separatist movements on the territories of several governments in the Central Asian region of collective security of the CSTO. None of the states bordering the Organization members are considered as the enemy, the military threats characteristic of Central Asia are connected with the expansion of international terrorism and ethnic extremism are resolved by the joint efforts of all governments of the region regardless of whether they belong to regional or other formations.
Under the scenario of the exercise, 'brown' forces supported by the military-political leadership of several leading governments of the West begin a campaign to forcibly overthrow the government of 'Irtyshia.' Illegal armed groups from the 'browns' engaged in armed conflict with the 'blues' -- armed forces of Irtyshia, which borders on Karania.
The 'blues' will carry out a special operation to restore constitutional order in the western provinces of their territory. The illegal armed groups pressing on the border regions frequently cross the border of Karania, where they sharply destabilize the social-political situation as it threatens to grow into an international conflict. Failing to succeed in their armed conflicts with the 'blues,' the 'browns' intensify the activities of their underground organizations in creating hotbeds of instability in the populated centers of the eastern provinces of Karania in which their kindred diaspora predominate. They set up a network of bases and camps for preparation of fighters in the difficult-to-access mountains of Karania bordering Irtyshia, organize and recruit volunteers including sympathetic residents of neighboring countries, carry out terrorist acts in the large population centers of Karania, provoke the authorities to disproportionate use of force and as a result -- they prepare an invasion and seize regions of Karania bordering on Irtyshia. The 'reds' -- armed forces of the CSTO member state Karania -- are forced to carry out a special operation in the region bordering Irtyshia to limit the area of the illegal armed groups' activity and to neutralize them.
The authorities of Karania introduce a state of emergency in these territories. The president of Karania prepares and issues an appeal for military assistance to the Collective Security Council for consideration. In a special session of the Collective Security Council a decision was made to work out and implement military-political measures aimed at prevention of destabilization of the circumstances in Central Asia and the provision of military and military-political aid with respect to the threat of armed conflict on the territory of Karania. In accordance with the decision of the Collective Security Council it is planned to strengthen the armed forces of Karania in the border regions with units of the CSTO Rapid Reaction Forces and special forces units.
Aside from the oddity of the Ukraine parallel, the most striking thing about the scenario is the explicit mention of the support of the enemy from the West. One wonders if that's a fight the other members of the CSTO are really signing up for.