ABANDONING RUSSIA

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INTENDED TRANSFORMATION OF THE CIS COLLECTIVE SECURITY TREATY ORGANIZATION IS COMPROMISED

Russia’s plans are to be frustrated by Russia’s own allies.


Russia’s plans to strengthen the military component of the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization (CIS CSTO) and transform it into an analog of NATO are compromised. Going to the CIS CSTO informal summit on Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan later today, President Dmitry Medvedev hopes to get his Belarussian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko to sign the Strategic Response Collective Forces agreement and Kyrgyz opposite number Kurmanbek Bakiyev to permit establishment of the CIS CSTO military base in his country. What information is available to Kommersant, however, indicates that neither Minsk nor Bishkek intend to meet Moscow halfway.

The informal summit opening today was expected to become a turning point in the history of the CIS CSTO, one marking its transformation from a structure existing essentially on paper into a genuine military bloc like NATO. “The Strategic Response Collective Forces will be the central item on the agenda,” a source in the CIS CSTO Secretariat told Kommersant. Leaders of the member states signed the agreement on the Strategic Response Collective Forces at the summit in Moscow last month. In Kyrgyzstan, they were supposed to start thinking in terms of actual deployment of the contingent in question and perhaps even in terms of military exercises.

Resolved to develop the CIS CSTO into some sort of an analog of NATO, the Kremlin is forcing military construction within its framework. Staff negotiations over the first collective exercise of the Strategic Response Collective Forces began in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on the Russian initiative. Oleg Latypov, Senior Assistant Chief of the CSTO United Staff, said the exercise would take place in Matybulak (Kazakhstan) between August 19 and October 24. The assets and manpower to be involved include more than 6,000 servicemen, armored vehicles, and front-line aviation. The heads of CIS CSTO countries will observe the active phase of the military exercise on October 14.

Along with everything else, Russia is out to establish the first military base of the Strategic Response Collective Forces in Central Asia. Sources in the Russian ministries of defense and foreign affairs confirm that the matter really concerns another Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan.

Realization of these plans encounters obstacles, Lukashenko of Belarus being a nearly insurmountable hurdle. Enraged by the so called Dairy War with Russia in early June, Lukashenko pointedly refused to attend the CIS CSTO summit in Moscow and never signed the Strategic Response Collective Forces agreement therefore. Neither did official Minsk accept chairmanship in the CIS CSTO (Russia had to substitute for it) when its turn came. In fact, Belarus went so far as to proclaim decisions of the Moscow summit “illegitimate”. Formation of the Strategic Response Collective Forces was therefore compromised. CIS CSTO Secretary General Nikolai Bordyuzha admitted yesterday that before proceeding to develop the Strategic Response Collective Forces, the structure had to address the matters of the signing and ratification of the agreement.

Official Minsk announced earlier this week that Lukashenko would attend the Kyrgyz summit. It permitted the Kremlin a hope that the Belarussian problem would be solved after all. “We assume that Belarus will sign the documents all other CIS CSTO members adopted at the Moscow summit. Why would Lukashenko go to the summit otherwise?” Presidential Aide Sergei Prikhodko said. “Lukashenko is going which means that he must sign the documents.” Minsk renounced Prikhodko’s words. “As for Prikhodko’s statement that Lukashenko “must” sign the documents on the Strategic Response Collective Forces… Belarus is a sovereign state. No need to tell it what CIS CSTO documents to sign or when,” said Valentin Rybakov, Aide to the President of Belarus. Also importantly, the Belarussian military turned down the invitation to the military exercise talks in Almaty.

“Signing CIS CSTO documents before all problems of the bilateral relations with Russia are handled will be premature,” a Belarussian diplomat said, off the record. It probably means that Lukashenko is going to drive a hard bargain and demand, for example, another installment ($500 million) of the Russian loan in return for his signature on documents. “No, I do not think that Lukashenko will sign the Strategic Response Collective Forces agreement in Cholpon-Ata. It will complicate participation of Belarus in the EU’s Eastern Partnership,” Belarussian political scientist Victor Martinovich said.

Moscow’s plans in connection with Kyrgyzstan encounter difficulties too. Official Bishkek is stalling, clearly reluctant to sign documents on the military base which the Kremlin hoped to see signed during Medvedev’s visit. An authoritative source in the Kyrgyz Defense Ministry told Kommersant that the political masters had merely instructed the military to consider the matter at this time but no final decision had been made. “The Kyrgyz and Russian military did visit the southern regions of the country but not even the site has been chosen yet,” the source said. There is one other problem. It seems that Moscow wants the future base to replace one of the units of the Kyrgyz regular army posted somewhere near the city of Osh (to spare the necessity to build infrastructure from scratch). Bishkek in the meantime insists on establishment of a base from scratch and somewhere else – with Russian money, of course. Last but not the least, the Kyrgyz leadership objects to the duration of the presence of the base suggested by Russia (49 years with automatic prolongation every 25 years).

It is fair to mention, however, that Medvedev has some arguments to be used to persuade Bakiyev to stop fidgeting. “Do not forget that Kyrgyzstan is still waiting for part of the $2 billion worth of Russian loan,” to quote a source close to organization of the summit. All the same, Bakiyev won the presidential election a short while ago so that his ego is predictably inflated for the time being. There is also Uzbekistan to mind, a Central Asian country whose President Islam Karimov vehemently objects to establishment of another Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan. (Neither did Karimov sign the Strategic Response Collective Forces agreement in Moscow, for that matter). Ferghana.Ru news agency reports that Karimov is going to Cholpon-Ata to tell his neighbors and partners that Uzbekistan is dead set against establishment of new military bases.

All of that means that the Kyrgyz summit might actually become a turning point in the history of the CIS CSTO, just in a sense different from what Moscow expected. The Kremlin has to sweet-talk Minsk, Bishkek, and Tashkent into waiving their objections or its plans and designs for the Strategic Response Collective Forces will be seriously compromised. This failure may even frustrate ambitious projects like formation of an international army group in Central Asia and that will put an end to all aspirations to develop the CIS CSTO into a Russian anti-NATO.

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