The opening ceremony of the CSTO peacekeeping exercise, Unbreakable Brotherhood 2012, in Kazakhstan.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization has begun what it calls its first-ever peacekeeping exercise, in Kazakhstan. According to the CSTO, the exercise will work on standard peacekeeping tasks like separating the parties to a conflict and ensuring compliance to a cease fire. But the scenario of the exercise seems a bit more active than that: "According to the scenario, a crisis situation arises connected with the activity of international extremists and terrorist organizations and conflict between ethnic groups living in the country." And a Kazakhstani military spokesperson is a bit more detailed: "People portraying terrorists will attack a military base checkpoint and retreat to a village, after which the troops will respond to free the village."
In any event, about 950 troops are taking part, the majority (535) from Kazakhstan, 160 from Russia, 50 from Kyrgyzstan and small contingents from Armenia, Belarus, and Tajikistan. This exercise, called "Unbreakable Brotherhood 2012," follows closely on the heels of another CSTO exercise in Armenia. But this one was (ostensibly) about peacekeeping, and observers from the United Nations, with whom the CSTO has agreed to cooperate on peacekeeping, were present.
Deputy General Secretary of the CSTO Valeriy Semerikov said at the opening ceremony that "the opening of the exercise is the beginning of the arrangement of national peacekeeping contingents into a single structure -- comprising the collective peacekeeping force of the CSTO."
Armenia has ratified a protocol that would allow Russia a veto over any foreign military installations in its country, but not without some grumbling. An agreement reached last year by the Collective Security Treaty Organization allows any CSTO member to have a say in whether another member can host a foreign military base. This week, Armenia's parliament ratified that agreement, but with some lawmakers complaining that it infringed on the country's sovereignty, and the parliament's second-largest bloc abstaining from the vote, reports ArmeniaNow:
On October 4, the Parliament ratified the Protocol on the Location of Military Installations in Collective Security Treaty Organization (OSCE) Member Countries that was signed still in December 2011 and under which Armenia is not entitled to host military forces or other infrastructure of other states without the permission of the CSTO...
Opposition Heritage faction MP Alexander Arzumanyan, who represents the Free Democrats party and served as Armenia’s minister of foreign affairs in the 1990s, said during the debate in the National Assembly that the Protocol limits Armenia’s sovereign rights and humiliates the nation’s dignity. In the end, only five lawmakers in the 131-member body, including Arzumanyan, voted against the ratification. The second largest faction in the Armenian parliament, Prosperous Armenia [which holds 37 seats], opted out of the vote.
A Kazakhstan soldier takes part in the CSTO exercises in Armenia
The Collective Security Treaty Organization has wrapped up its annual military exercises, held this year in Armenia, with the group's general secretary saying the group needs to create its own military forces, including air forces, in Central Asia. But at a time of heightened tensions in the Caucasus, the drills took a relatively low profile.
Not much has been said about the scenario of the exercises, called "Interaction-2012," the first of the CSTO to be held in the Caucasus. The scale of these exercises was much smaller than last year's -- about 2,000 troops, compared to 24,000 last year spread out over several countries, half in Central Asia and the other half in Belarus. (The CSTO is led by Russia and also includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.)
It was an interesting time for the exercises to be held in Armenia, just after tensions spiked as a result of the extradition and pardon of Ramil Safarov, the Azerbaijani soldier who killed an Armenian colleague at a NATO event in Hungary. There has been a lot of speculation about whether the CSTO would come to the aid of Armenia in the event of a war over Nagorno Karabakh. Armenia actually postponed the start of the exercises a week, from September 8 to September 15. No explanation for the delay was given, other than that it was due to "technical reasons," but it's no small matter to reschedule, at the last minute, a multi-country military exercise. The announcement of the delay was August 30 -- and the next day, Safarov was released. Was there a connection?
An August 28 meeting of the heads of CSTO member militaries in Moscow
The Collective Security Treaty Organization has vowed to "seriously strengthen" its military capacity, the group's general secretary said Tuesday, after a Moscow meeting of chiefs of general staffs of CSTO member militaries. According to a report in RIA Novosti, CSTO General Secretary Nikolai Bordyuzha:
noted that in December of this year a meeting of the Collective Security Council will be held. "The main agenda item which will be proposed in December is first of all to consider military questions. This will be a discussion of the development of the military component of the CSTO," the secretary said.
"And today's discussion led to many decisions, which will likewise be presented to the presidents for approval. I think, if today's decisions are approved, this organization will take a very big step forward with respect to the strengthening of the force component of this international structure," Bordyuzha said.
The general secretary did not specify precisely what decisions were made.
The CSTO is led by Russia and also includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan -- though no longer Uzbekistan. The military chiefs of Russia and Kazakhstan spoke approvingly of the unspecified decisions made at this meeting, but it looks like we'll have to wait until December to find out what they amount to. Until then, the CSTO is scheduled to carry out military exercises in Armenia in September, and in Kazakhstan in October.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization is taking on emergency management as one of its priorities, the group's secretary general, Nikolay Bordyuzha, announced during a CSTO meeting in Minsk last week:
Cooperation in prevention and mitigation of emergencies should become a priority in the CSTO, Nikolai Bordyuzha, CSTO Secretary General told media in Minsk following the fifth meeting of the CSTO Coordination Council on Emergencies.
“The issues regarding emergency response and mitigation should make a priority in the CSTO. In December we will submit the relevant proposals to the Presidents,” Nikolai Bordyuzha said.
Also at the Minsk meeting, it was announced that the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations, under the auspices of the CSTO, would set up a "regional humanitarian center" in Armenia. The center would open next year.
The CSTO has lately been taking on -- at least rhetorically -- a whole bunch of new priorities, including cybersecurity, quashing color revolutions, creating a unified foreign policy, even drone manufacture. It's not clear what has actually been concretely achieved with any of these, so who knows how seriously we should take this newest "priority."
The CSTO will hold its annual military exercises in September in Armenia, and attention will likely be focused less on emergency management than for hints on how the CSTO might act in case of a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Uzbekistan has adopted a law banning foreign military bases on its territory, ending feverish speculation that a rapprochement with the United States – and recent distancing from Moscow – was the precursor to Tashkent welcoming the US military back in.
Uzbekistan’s new foreign policy doctrine, passed by the lower house of parliament on August 2, specifically prohibits foreign military bases from operating on its territory, the government-run Uzdaily.com website reported.
Speculation that President Islam Karimov was preparing to welcome the US military had been fed by Washington’s courting of Uzbekistan ahead of the drawdown of troops from neighboring Afghanistan. Uzbekistan is a key cog on the Northern Distribution Network supply route into and out of Afghanistan, and the US operated a military base in the country until 2005, when Tashkent ejected it following Washington's criticism of the shooting of protestors in Andijan.
In June, Tashkent’s abrupt suspension of its membership in the Russia-led regional Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) also fed the rumor mill.
It wasn't exactly a surprise when Uzbekistan pulled out of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, Moscow’s alternative to NATO, this week. But while many Russian commentators appear offended, some are asking if a new CSTO rule on hosting foreign bases was just too much for Tashkent to stomach.
Tashkent has long been the nebulous body’s sulking brat, refusing to participate in joint military exercises and antagonizing fellow members such as neighboring Tajikistan. At the same time, Uzbekistan has become critical to the NATO war effort in Afghanistan. So the withdrawal, for those who see the CSTO in direct competition with NATO, stings.
Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of the CIS Institute in Moscow, told RIA Novosti that Uzbekistan’s choice displays "a clear desire of President [Islam] Karimov to flirt with the United States."
The Voice of Russia calls the move “risky.” Andrei Grozin, the head of the Central Asia Department at the CIS Institute, told the outlet that “Tashkent’s foreign policy is zigzagging” while it tries to “win the love of NATO.”
Moscow's new anti-NATO, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, has promoted itself as a tool for putting down Arab Spring-style uprisings in the post-Soviet space. But now backers are going a step further, proposing the CSTO deal with the Arab Spring at its source, by sending CSTO peacekeepers to Syria.
The proposal was made by Igor Yurgens, the head of Kremlin-affiliated think tank Institute for Contemporary Development, according to a report in the newspaper Izvestia:
“We should take a more flexible stance on Syria,” he said. “Let’s propose sending CSTO peacekeepers to Syria. The unit has 20,000 well trained and armed servicemen. Let’s send them to the assistance of Kofi Annan – at our expense.”
Ahead of last year's CSTO joint military exercises, Russia's Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov said the exercise's scenario would deal with "possible negative developments following the example of events in Libya and Syria." But it's a big step from putting down those uprisings at home, and another to put them down in another part of the world.
If the CSTO has 20,000 well trained peacekeepers, 19,000 of them are Russian. The remaining CSTO member states -- Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- have shown only occasional enthusiasm for Russia's ambitious plans for the alliance, and it's hard, if not impossible, to imagine any of those countries sending their soldiers to Syria.
Yurgens's proposal came the same day that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly blamed Russia for blocking international assistance to Syria. Yurgens alluded to the fact that Russia's position on Syria is doing it no favors in the international arena:
Central Asia's presidents would have a lot to talk about at the NATO summit taking place in Chicago, given that the summit is focusing on Afghanistan and the Central Asian states play a key role in NATO transport to the theater. But all five of Central Asia's presidents are a no-show at the NATO summit in Chicago, in spite of being on NATO's official list of "leaders expected to attend" and being regular attendees of the last few summits. Instead, they all seem to have sent their foreign ministers.
It's a strange snub, and intriguing because these five countries never do anything in coordination. Information on their decisions are of course hard to come by, and so it's not certain if they are in fact coordinated, but it sure seems that way.
One Kyrgyzstan analyst, Orozbek Moldaliyev, told KyrTag that it's because of Russia:
"One can make various guesses and speculation about why none of the leaders of Central Asian countries responded to the invitation and why all of them are sending their foreign ministers. One of the main reasons, which is on the surface, could be solidarity with Russia," Moldaliyev told KyrTAg.
Moldaliyev pointed out the recent CSTO directive to harmonize members' foreign policies, which is as reasonable explanation as any for the collective no-show, especially since Armenia's Serzh Sargsyan also seems to be skipping it.
The Interstate Corporation of Development's booth at KADEX 2012
Perhaps the most intriguing exhibit at Kazakhstan's KADEX defense expo was a sleek, modern booth showing off several mockup drones in front of a backdrop advertising the "Business Council of the International Commission for Military-Economic Cooperation of the Collective Security Treaty Organization."
The CSTO, the political-military alliance? Was selling drones? Well, sort of. I inquired further and discovered that the booth actually belonged to a new company (established at the end of last year), the Interstate Corporation for Development. The company's aim is “Development of Scientific-Industrial and High-Tech Cooperation in the CSTO Countries,” according to its website, and its CEO is Ivan Polyakov, also a senior official in the CSTO. The company was formed from two Russian defense firms as well as one in Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan, Ak-Maral, and the company is also looking to expand into Armenia and even non-CSTO member Ukraine, company spokesman Sergey Demensky told me.
He didn't mince words: "Our aim is to recreate the traditional links and cooperation that existed in the Soviet era," he said. To this end, the company is now marketing military communications equipment, as well as the drones they were showcasing. As is often the case with the CSTO, the details behind this ambitious goal were hard to come by. Why did the CSTO need its own defense manufacturing? Kazakhstan is setting up its own drone manufacturing with Israeli companies, and is building its own communications equipment with French firm Thales. (Demensky suggested that his company was competing with Thales, and complained that the "French lobby" was exerting undue influence in Astana.)