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Eduard Poletaev: “CSTO is looking for a way out of the boiler”

“The military-political bloc, uniting six post-Soviet countries, has a lot of objectives, but lately, the participating countries has paid special attention to confronting international terrorism”, said Eduard Poletaev, political scientist, head of the PF “World of Eurasia” (Almaty, Kazakhstan), in an article written exclusively for cabar.asia.

poletaevCollective Security Treaty Organization as a structure: realities and challenges
 Since the times when there began clashes between the ISIS and “Taliban” with the participation of fighters of other armed groups in Afghanistan, the role and significance of the CSTO increased for each its member-country, as well as the importance of a successful fight against terrorism in Central Asia. It is possible that in the near future, the CSTO will take over more serious commitments related to the need to ensure security in the region.

However, this organization includes only three of the five post-Soviet states of Central Asia. Uzbekistan, which prefers bilateral relations to various multilateral unions, left the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Security issues are difficult to solve without the participation of this country, because Uzbekistan borders with all countries of the region, its borders have a convenient access to Afghanistan, and it has the largest armed forces in the region and the largest population. Even isolated and neutral Turkmenistan cannot stand aside if active fighting take place in Central Asia or will threat its national security. The external power centers do not have a common understanding of what “security in Central Asia” is. For example, the United States and the Russian Federation have different understanding of it. As long as there is not a general system and a serious compromise between external actors and countries in the region, the problems of regional instability will remain relevant.

What is the current role of the CSTO in Central Asia? Theoretically, this is an organization that should not intervene in situations like in Afghanistan. The Collective Security Treaty Organization was created to reflect the external threats, but it is constantly assigned other functions and heavily militarized. Now the CSTO has developed as a multi-disciplinary and multi-functional international framework, and in this regard, it is loaded with “pending” objectives of assistance to Afghanistan, which the CSTO is not obliged to perform. Presidents of states that are part of this organization are increasingly talking about the measures to strengthen the contribution to the stabilization of the situation in Afghanistan. In the past year, there were raised questions of strengthening the air defense components, of the establishment of the CSTO military aviation, where the airfield in Kant (Kyrgyzstan) will play a key role. Also, the CSTO member states have pledged to assist in the creation of an infrastructure for the protection of Tajik-Afghan border: the construction of outposts and checkpoints, creating technical barriers. In addition, it is about re-training programs for Afghan police, preservation of the “northern transport route” for the maintenance and supply of various missions, etc.

Now with the changing military and political realities, the Collective Security Treaty Organization is developing as a multi-disciplinary and multi-purpose regional structure. Its multi-functional nature implies the formation of agreements with other entities (such as the SCO and CIS) within their area of ​​responsibility. They are trying to establish a dialogue with each other, and it did not happen earlier. However, the mechanisms of joint decision-making are viewed poorly, especially taking into account that the earlier attempts to even get together were torpedoed in the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization.

The very history of this entity is quite revealing. As we remember, on the 15th of May, 1992, there was adopted the Collective Security Treaty, which for a long time had no consequences in the form of the adoption of landmark decisions. But after the Americans came to Afghanistan in 2001, the Collective Security Treaty was reformatted into Organization. The same thing happened with the SCO. In 2001, Uzbekistan joined the “Shanghai Five”, and it became known as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. By and large, the formation of the CSTO and the SCO is a reaction to the events that occurred south of the borders of the participating countries. Post-Soviet countries and China were simply not ready to many processes. Besides, there appeared completely new challenges – international terrorism, political and religious extremism, the rise of drug trafficking, uncontrolled migration waves which brought about the new challenges and threats to the member-states and their populations.

So in terms of organization, the CSTO turned into a typical regional organization that included the main task (protection of member states from external political-military aggressors and international terrorists), as well as other important tasks (assistance in liquidation of natural disasters, the fight against illegal migration, drug trafficking and illicit arms trafficking). The supreme governing body – the Collective Security Council – consists of the Heads of State. The Secretary General manages the Secretariat. There are many other structures under the “roof” of this organization. Theoretically, any country in the world can join the CSTO, the question is whether it will be accepted. On the other hand, any state can withdraw from the Collective Security Treaty Organization at any time, at its own request.

An important feature of the CSTO is that it created Collective Rapid Reaction Force (RRF), although with some complexities. This includes the military units of participating countries and the special forces that have been operating for more than five years. They must take part in military actions when the political situation cannot be resolved by peaceful means, and the military operation is required to maintain peace. It is worth noting that during all the years of its existence, the CSTO as a military-political alliance has never participated in combat operations.

Afghan challenge and Russian aid

The organization, however, is preparing for the worst-case scenario. 3 years ago, the CSTO started developing proposals for measures in the event of deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan after the departure of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in 2014. (link)

In November 2012, the participants of the meeting of the working group on Afghanistan, under the Council of Foreign Ministers of CSTO, noted the need for a coordinated policy on Afghanistan, in order to prevent aggravation of the situation in the CSTO zone of responsibility.

“Despite the existence of a common enemy, the trust between the Afghans and ISAF representatives is decreasing, – said then the CSTO Secretary General Nikolai Bordyuzha. – This is evidenced by the increasing attacks and terrorist acts against ISAF troops by members of the Afghan army and police”. Bordyuzha then drew attention to the fact that the situation in the northern provinces of Afghanistan, connected directly to the CSTO zone of responsibility, was complicated, too.

The first public report of the Analytical Association of the CSTO, entitled “Collective Security Treaty Organization and Eurasian security”, was distributed in September 2013. (link)

Here are some recommendations from it. Firstly, there was noted the feasibility of taking on the coordinating role of the CSTO in counteracting modern challenges and threats in Eurasia (counter-terrorism, combating drug trafficking, illegal migration, etc.).

Secondly, in the case of implementation of a “gradual decline” scenario in Afghanistan after 2014, a major priority for the Collective Security Treaty Organization is to strengthen government institutions in Central Asia, their support in terms of border security, the fight against drugs, Islamic extremism, etc., and the CSTO must become the main instrument of coordination of Russian assistance to the Central Asian states. This is one of the four contemplated scenarios, and, apparently, it is being realized now.

The analysis shows that the greatest threats from Afghanistan are, largely, “overlapping” with the internal problems in the Central Asian countries: terrorism and Islamic extremism, drug trafficking, uncontrolled migration, high levels of corruption and weak state structures. Precisely the weakness of state structures and even some potential formation of “failed states” are the greatest concern in terms of growth prospects for cross-border threats and challenges. In this regard, the constant assistance of Russia and other CSTO member states is especially important to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The partnership between Russia and Kazakhstan can and should play a major role in providing this assistance.

Also, according to the report, it is advisable for the CSTO to focus the efforts of member states on the areas such as development of mechanisms for the protection of information space of the participating countries from the spread of the ideology of terrorism; forming the basis of interstate system to counter this ideology and the information and psychological pressure in the blog-sphere and social networks; the creation of national regulatory bodies in the religious sphere, aimed at the information counteraction, etc.

As a main conclusion, it is said that the Collective Security Treaty Organization is a protective “umbrella” of security in Eurasia. The dynamics of the organization’s development gives reason to be optimistic about its future as a powerful protective “umbrella” for the security of the Eurasian Union. There is no alternative, and it is necessary to eliminate some of the shortcomings in the activities of the CSTO.

Militarization as a response to ISIS

The issue of international terrorism has been recognized as a major security threat for the countries of the organization during the summit of the CSTO on December 22, 2014. In particular, it is about the ISIS. According to the Deputy Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization Ara Badalyan, according to the officially distributed information, including of the Russian National Anti-Terrorist Committee, now more than 2 thousand citizens of Russia are trained in the ranks of ISIS. (link)

Taking into account the citizens of other countries in the Collective Security Treaty Organization, this figure is much higher. There is a danger that receiving a good military practice in the ranks of the ISIS and having been armed with extremist ideas of ​​creating the so-called Islamic caliphate, these militants upon returning home will strengthen extremist organizations, such as the “Hizb-ut-Tahrir”, “Islamic Movement of Turkestan” and others that operate underground in a number of CSTO countries.

Representative Plenipotentiary of Russia to the CSTO Viktor Vasilyev said that during 2014, the number of shootings on the Tajik-Afghan border has increased 20 times compared to 2013. The diplomat believes that there is a likelihood of breaking the borders of the Central Asian states, as the terrorists “flow from the Middle East into the southern “underbelly” of the Collective Security Treaty Organization” (link)

Therefore, there have been special command and staff anti-terrorist military exercises “Frontier” within the framework of the CSTO. The program provides for an exercise of conducting a special border operation, strengthening and protecting the state border, conducting search operations to identify members of extremist groups, evacuation of the civilian population and release of the hostages.

All member countries of the CSTO adopted special laws to combat terrorism and established criminal and administrative responsibility for terrorist and extremist activities. In recent years, there has been made an emphasis on improving the legal framework for combating the financing of terrorism, for anti-terrorist propaganda, for measures to ensure the inevitability of punishment of both terrorists and their sponsors. Within the framework of the CSTO, there has been established an exchange of information on the organizations recognized as terrorist in the territory of each Member State. An International center of inter-agency training and retraining of specialists in the fight against terrorism and extremism has been established on the basis of the All-Russian Institute for Advanced Training of the employees of the MIF of Russia.

CSTO is actively cooperating with the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee, takes part in the implementation of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy of the United Nations. In 2015, a memorandum was signed between the Secretariat of the Parliamentary Assembly of the CSTO and the CIS Antiterrorist Center, the coordination of policies with the SCO was established.

A characteristic marker of the growing influence of the CSTO is the recent statement by President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko that this organization is the most demanded in the post-Soviet space.

According to Lukashenko’s opinion, expressed at the plenary session of CSTO Collective Security Council in September 2015, it is necessary to strengthen the military power of the organization and the mechanisms for crisis response. Therefore, in the near future, it is necessary to build some elements of the military component, in particular – to finalize the measures connected with the regional air defense systems and peacekeeping forces. At the same time, in 2009, Belarus blocked the idea of creation of the CORF because of a private economic conflict, the so-called “milk war” with Russia.

Now Lukashenko considers very important to create a CSTO Collective Security Strategy: “The introduction of common standards for defense products, equipping troops of CSTO with unified weapons and logistical support will significantly strengthen the military potential of the organization” (link)

It should also be noted that in 2015, the success of the exercise of the CSTO Collective Rapid Reaction Force, which took place in Tajikistan at the site “Harbmaydon” on May 12-19, was the completion of a long and difficult way of formation of the 22,000-international military contingent of the organization, which includes, in addition to the CORF, the Collective Rapid Reaction Force (CRRF) of the Central Asian region, the Collective peacekeeping forces and Collective air force and Special operations forces. (link)

Kazakhstan: do it yourself, support others

Kazakhstan was among the first six countries that signed the Collective Security Treaty in 1992. The first joint military exercises after the creation of the CORF in 2009 took place in Kazakhstan, on a military training ground of Matybulak. Kazakhstan believes that confronting current threats (first of all, extremism and terrorism) alone is quite a difficult task. Therefore, Kazakhstan is an active participant in all regional security structures, designed to help maintain stability.

The security model formed by Kazakhstan is most clearly represented at the regional level in the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which allows solving the problem of early warning and prevention of emerging threats on the basis of international law. Kazakhstan’s priorities in security issues have been clearly reflected during its presidency in the Collective Security Treaty Organization in 2012. Among them, there are the protection of information space of the Member States, the development of the CORF, collective defense of the airspace in the region and the fight against drug trafficking. (link)

In addition, Kazakhstan is making every effort for the development of the military component of the CSTO. A further joint work, in its opinion, will contribute to the strengthening of international security. (link)

At an enlarged meeting of the session of the CSTO Collective Security Council, held in September 2015 in Dushanbe, Kazakhstan once again expressed its support for capacity building of the military units within the organization. “We consider it necessary to hold regular exercises, including in the form of unannounced inspections”, said Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

In his speech, he noted that one of the main issues on the agenda of the CSTO is the potential threat posed by international terrorist and extremist organizations. In addition, the Kazakh leader confirmed the strict compliance with all obligations of Kazakhstan in the framework of the CSTO, as well as to provide the necessary humanitarian assistance to allied countries. (link)

As a result, it should be noted that the CSTO seems promising for Kazakhstan’s system of collective security. Perhaps, the most important but not the only one. Kazakhstan participates in other formats of cooperation, such as in the framework of anti-terrorist structures of the CIS and SCO. Before complications of Russia’s relations with NATO countries, it was active in the framework of “Partnership for Peace”, established bilateral military-technical cooperation with various countries of the world.

At the same time, Kazakhstan has taken a lot of independent steps in the fight against extremism and terrorism. However, they were not clearly marked in the 1990s, although no serious threats arose at that time. At the beginning of the 21st century, especially after the Batken events in Kyrgyzstan in 1999, and the attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, Astana became aware of new security threats pretty clearly.

In 1999, the country adopted a law “On Combating Terrorism”. In 2002, it was amended. In 2011, a law “On religious activity and religious associations” was passed, which regulated government-confessional relations. It sharply reduced the number of recognized religions – from 46 to 17. The decision was made with the aim of the fight against extremism. The Law “On Countering Extremism” was adopted in 2005.

In the same year, the missionary activities in the country were regulated by the law “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations”. In 2004-2005, Kazakhstan’s Supreme Court recognized a number of organizations terrorist, including “al-Qaeda”, “Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan”, “Hizb-ut-Tahrir al-Islami”, etc.

Currently, in Kazakhstan, the main work is focused on prevention of religious extremism and terrorism, primarily through outreach work among various population groups. This type of activity is one of the most important in the state program on combating religious extremism and terrorism for 2013-2017. Particular attention is paid to the wide public involvement in preventive work and modernization of outreach work among target groups. For example, in 2014, about 15 thousand events of various formats were carried out, covering about 1.5 million people. (link)

Currently more than 600 persons in Kazakhstan involved in religious extremism are already serving their sentences. Intensive ideological work is being done with them. Thanks to it, more than half of the convicted, who previously adhered to non-traditional radical religious ideas, have become more moderate with the initiation to the traditional Islam. (link)

One of the most effective ways of countering the propaganda of terrorism and extremism in the Internet space in the country is not only the request filtering, blocking websites and timely removal of illegal information, but also the increasing of religious literacy of today’s youth through the promotion of Internet resources of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan and the spiritual educational sites «E-islam.kz» and «Islam.kz». (link)

In June 2015, Astana hosted a regional conference for the representatives of the countries of Central and South Asia on combating violent extremism. During his speech, the Attorney General of Kazakhstan Askhat Daulbayev noted that the work of state bodies and non-governmental organizations, laws and public interests in Kazakhstan were aimed at combating all forms of radicalism. “Kazakhstan fully supports the need for a collective and coordinated effort to combat extremism”, he concluded. (link)

“Hot spots” around us

As for the CSTO, it is no secret that the generator for activation of the CSTO is Russia’s leadership. Even when Dmitry Medvedev was Russian President, he expressed the desire to establish a military-political bloc, which would be “no worse than NATO”. At the September summit of the CSTO in Dushanbe, a question about the Secretary General and Chief of Staff was discussed behind closed doors. So far, these positions are occupied by Russians Nikolai Bordyuzha, who was head of the administration of Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and Lieutenant General Alexander Studenkin.

The fact is that there are not so many connections between the participants of the organization; they all are basically united by Russia. Actions of the CSTO member states are rarely coordinated with each other in foreign policy. For example, during the vote on Crimea in the United Nations, only Armenia and Belarus supported Russia’s position. Perhaps, that is why it was decided at the CSTO summit in Dushanbe that in the future, the position of General Secretary of the organization would be rotational. This will facilitate the participating countries right to clearly express the position on “slippery” questions. So far, Russia has to solve its problems of foreign policy largely on its own.

“If we sum up Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Ukraine and the aggravation of the situation on the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan, it turns out that we are in a boiling pot, – said recently Secretary General of the CSTO Nikolai Bordyuzha in an interview for the Russian defense ministry’s newspaper “Krasnaya Zvezda”. – “Hot spots” are around us, which in any case, whether we like it or not, will affect the stability and security of our countries”. Naturally, the member states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization take this into account in their practical activity aimed at strengthening the force capacity. (link)

This statement by Bordyuzha has something like an appeal to the countries of the CSTO to involve them, at least, in the enthusiastic support for the Russian military action in the Middle East. Russian leader Vladimir Putin also said it at the CSTO summit in Dushanbe. “We support the government of Syria, and we will provide it with the necessary military and technical assistance and encourage other countries to join us”, said Putin in his statement on Syria.

In an interview with “Krasnaya Zvezda”, Bordyuzha said that “The CSTO approves the actions of Russia to fight against the ISIS in Syria”, despite the fact that the countries of the CSTO are very cautious in public statements in terms of direct support of the Russian hostilities.

However, special attention should be given the following quote. “However, among the primary risks, we have long predicted the return home of our citizens from the war zones in the Middle East, – explained the Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. – Their return after undergoing combat internship with completely “washed” brains to the territory of our countries is the direct formation of criminal or terrorist cells in the CSTO countries. Now the detention and prosecution of such persons are already widespread in the countries of Central Asia”.

The return of fighters to their home countries is really much feared of. In the circumstances of the current economic crisis, returnees can quickly expand the circle of their supporters, thus creating a solid social and ideological base, especially among those who are most affected and suffer as a result of the crisis: the rural population, the urban poor, the unemployed graduates of secondary schools and universities and internal low-paid migrants. It will be easy to give a sense of solidarity and strength to those suffering from obvious or contrived injustice, which they did not have in the “pre-recruitment” life.

With specific regard to Kazakhstan, it, like other members of the CSTO in connection with the strengthening of its impact factor, receives an additional guarantee for its security on the part of Russia and other partners in the alliance. In addition, in the future, Kazakhstan can position itself as an active supporter of international cooperation and integration through collective security. After all, CSTO makes the armed forces of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan stronger. These countries with difficult geographic terrain are easily susceptible to terrorist attacks.

In the summer of this year, making the presentation of the report on Afghanistan by CSTO and MGIMO experts, editor in chief of the journal “Problems of National Strategy”, Ajdar Kurtov said that the deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan gives CSTO a chance to prove itself as a strong organization.

According to him, the CSTO in new conditions becomes the primary mechanism for strengthening government institutions in Central Asia in the support of border security, the fight against drug trafficking and Islamic extremism. (link)

“CSTO must continue to improve the set of anti-crisis measures to combat cross-border threats emanating from Afghanistan and from the ISIS”, said the expert, suggesting recommendations for the prevention of unwanted scenarios.

“Inevitably, it strengthens the role of the CSTO as a mechanism for coordination of Russian policy in the sphere of security in Central Asia. It is therefore necessary to specify the priorities of Russia’s policy in the region, to formulate a strategy and to enhance the interagency coordination”, he added.

Also, according to him, the CSTO, “in the circumstances of shortage of international cooperation and the exacerbation of conflicts, needs to intensify efforts to find allies to advance the issues of security in Central Asia”.

Eduard Poletaev, a political scientist, head of the PF “World of Eurasia”

The views of the author do not necessarily represent the views of cabar.asia