THE CIS AND THE IRAQ WAR

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A scheduled meeting of the Committee of the CIS Security Council Secretaries finished in Moscow on March 21. Nothing sensational happened at the meeting. As it was expected, Russian President V. Putin addressed the committee – the main part of his speech concerned the situation in Iraq. Putin noted that the Iraqi crisis “has gone beyond the framework of a local conflict and turned into a potential source of instability in the world”. The Russian president said that “the main task of regional security organizations, including the organization of the Collective Security Treaty, is to minimize negative consequences of military action and retain stability in the region”…

Secretaries of the Security Councils of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan shared the Russian president’s position and signed a joint statement, blaming a war on Iraq. When commenting on this document, Vladimir Rushailo, Russian Secretary of the Security Council, stated that his counterparts agreed that “we must use the entire political and diplomatic arsenal in order to return the situation in Iraq to a peaceful path”. He said; “We will hold consultations regarding these problems on a bilateral and multilateral basis depending on the progress of the situation”. It should be noted that mainly Russian representatives commented on the situation in Iraq. Only Omarkhan Oksibayev, Kazakh Secretary of the Security Council, announced his republic’s initiatives connected with the creation of an anti-drug center within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty. He announced a shocking report on drug trafficking in Kazakhstan: around 35,000 tons of “heavy” drugs $2.2 billion worth are transported via Kazakhstan every year. It is natural that his proposal was supported. Astana’s initiative will be discussed at the April summit of the leaders of the Collective Security Treaty member-nations.

In other words, the activities of the Collective Security Treaty member-nations have become more concrete. In addition to combating drug dealers, the nations are intensifying military and military-technical cooperation. Vasily Zavgorodnii, secretary of the Committee of chiefs of general staffs of the Collective Security Treaty member-nations, stated that a joint staff of the Collective Security Treaty, which will be headed by Anatoly Kvashnin, would be created in Moscow by January 1, 2004. A Russian airbase consisting of 500 servicemen and around 20 warplanes will be deployed in Kyrgyzstan under the aegis of the Collective Rapid Deployment Force. The Russian and Kyrgyz defense ministers at reached this agreement a recent meeting.

However, it is not clear what functions the Collective Rapid Deployment Force (CFRD) and the Russian air group will carry out in central Asia. As is known, the Collective Security Treaty member-nations and their coalition troops do not intend to take part in an anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan. At the same time, a war on Iraq, which began without the UN’s sanction, may destabilize the situation in Afghanistan, and terrorism will again move to Central-Asian republics of the former USSR. In this case the CFRD will play a very important role. In the meantime, there is an opinion that the Collective Security Treaty member-nations are creating their military organization as a counterweight to the US, which has already deployed its bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. A year ago the Kyrgyz opposition demanded that the Kant military airdrome be passed over to the US. Moscow sent its warplanes to this airdrome and Putin stated that Kant will become Russia’s military base when the Pentagon became interested in this airbase. To all appearances, this was a reasonable decision, since the US is strengthening its positions in Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan agree with this.

However, not all CIS member-nations support Russia’s anti-war positions. For instance, Azerbaijan stated that it considers the US as its strategic partner and intends to join the “anti-terrorist coalition”. Ukraine has already sent its military engineering battalion to the conflict zone. It is not ruled out that bombers heading to Iraq take off from the Khanabad airbase in Uzbekistan. President Islam Karimov has supported Washington’s course to “a swift surgical solution of the problem of Saddam Hussein”. Georgia supports the military operation too.

It should be noted that the positions of the Collective Security Treaty member-nations regarding the Iraqi problem have some peculiarities despite their joint statement. For instance, Kazakhstan has taken an ambivalent position. Its Foreign Ministry stated that it supports Washington’s anti-terrorist effort within the framework of the United Nations.

In other words, the CIS’ attitude to the Iraq war is ambiguous. Not all CIS member-nations blame the US for military action. This shows that Moscow is losing its influence on post-Soviet republics.

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