The visit of Sergei Yastrzhembsky to Tashkent, the rumors about possible arrival of President Putin in the capital of Uzbekistan, the staff-command exercises of Central Asian countries and Russia with participation of observers from Armenia and Belarus organized in late March and early April show that Moscow is attempting to reanimate its relations with former Soviet southern republics. Russia has problems in relations with Caucasus countries of CIS, but it has much less problems in relations with Central Asian republics. There are problems among the countries of the region themselves, and they are unfortunately aggravating. For example, there are border disputes between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is building up it military group on its border with Uzbekistan in the area of the Tashkent Region. Transport lines between the republics have been practically cut. Relations between Tashkent and Dushanbe are also not very simple (We cannot rule out that these circumstances prevented the presence of an Uzbek military contingent at the exercises in Tajikistan). Kyrgyzstan is also in a difficult condition, because it is economically dependent on Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Turkmenistan has also distanced itself from its neighbors.
On the contrary, Moscow has unprecedented warm relations with all Central Asian countries. The need to provide their internal security, combating terrorism and international extremism serve as the uniting factors. These problems are vital because each CIS country has hot spots which are directly connected with the threats of separatism growth, further spreading of instability, religious extremism, attempts of mass taking of hostages, changing of existing borders, and changing of power.
It is evident that the war in Chechnya, inhuman terrorist acts by Wahhabi fundamentalists in cities of Russia, Central Asia and North Caucasus, problems of Trans-Dniester region, Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, separatist organizations in Eastern Kazakhstan (supporters of organization of the so-called “Russian republic”), Crimea (ultra-right nationalists, Crimean Tatar Public Center), Tajikistan (vahhabis, supporters of the Leninabad Region joining to Uzbekistan, and Gorno-Badakhshanskaya Region to Russia), attempts to kill President of Georgia Eduard Shevardnadze, President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov, threats to Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin, all these events condition the vital need for unification of former Soviet republics within the framework of the common security system.
It is known that the summit of CIS leaders held on January 24-25 in Moscow which outlined the real steps in this direction served as a momentum for organization of such system. In February and early March, representatives of security agencies, military counterintelligence, interior ministries, and defense ministries of practically all CIS countries discussed the draft “Special program for combating international terrorism and extremism,” and approved it.
Henceforth this program will be discussed by the council of foreign ministers of CIS countries scheduled for May, and later will be sent for consideration to governments of CIS countries with a view of its further approval by presidents. Along with the draft program some other documents were approved, and practical measures are taken for solving of these problems. Thus, the provisions on the anti-terrorist center of CIS which will be permanently operating in Moscow on the basis of best special units of the Russian Federal Security Service have been approved.
Directors of security agencies of CIS countries decided to start preparation of a multilateral interagency agreement for combating terrorism. They also plan to take coordinated search and investigation measures, first of all, the special operation Border-Barrier for detection and arresting of persons involved into activities of terrorist groups, as well as drug trafficking, and illegal weapon and ammunition trade.
It was also decided to permanently exchange information about terrorist an other extremist organizations operating in the territories of CIS countries. It is also planned to conduct joint exercises of special anti-terrorist units, provide mutual assistance in training of personnel for anti-terrorist organizations, and to take some other measures.
On March 16, the summit of the council of defense ministers of CIS countries was held to discuss the aforementioned issues. Military delegations from all CIS republics arrived to this summit, except for Turkmenistan which traditionally refuses to establish multilateral contacts within the framework of the CIS preferring bilateral relations. Along with this it is interesting that delegations of Central Asian republics were the most numerous and representative, and were headed by defense ministers. Uzbekistan was represented by Lieutenant General Yury Agzamov, Kazakhstan by Lieutenant General Sat Tokpakbaev, Kyrgyzstan by Lieutenant General Esen Topoev, and Tajikistan by Colonel General Sherali Khairulloev.
This is not usual. The Kazakh Defense Minister did not arrive to the last summit which was held on the eve of the New Year. Between 1993 and 1998 Uzbekistan practically ignored collective military bodies of the CIS. However this time Uzbek leaders arrived to the staff for coordination of military cooperation with a large group of officers who would permanently work there. This group will be headed by former Uzbek Defense Minister Khekmatulla Tursunov.
“The reasons of activation of military contacts among CIS countries are understandable. Over the last few years tension and instability in some CIS countries grew, and the common enemy appeared, that is vahhabis. This makes us join efforts and counteract to instability,” says Lieutenant General Alexander Sinaisky, the secretary of the council of defense ministers of CIS countries. As an example he mentions results of the recent joint anti-terrorist exercises Southern Shield of the Commonwealth-2000 aimed at organization of the practical system for counteraction to penetration of vahhabis from Afghanistan to Central Asian republics. It is known that the exercises were started on March 24 in Tajikistan. Lieutenant General Leonid Maltsev, the senior deputy chief of staff for coordination of military cooperation of CIS countries, commanded these exercises. The tasks of the exercises were fulfilled not only through multilateral contacts of defense ministries, but also with the active planing and defining role of the super-state military structures like the secretariat of the council of the defense ministers of CIS countries, and staff for coordination of military cooperation of CIS countries.
The exercises showed their usefulness, which the Russian Defense Minister announced on April 2 summing up their results. Along with this a range of drawbacks and serious material, social, political, an legal problems associated with troops logistics was disclosed. Representatives of the staff for coordination of military cooperation of CIS countries note that training and combat tasks could be fulfilled much easier if the CIS forces represented not a provisional collective system, but a permanent coalition under a united command, and with a common logistics. The staff for coordination of military cooperation of CIS countries plans organization of such units.
Meanwhile Russia is currently reducing its military presence in Central Asia. According to mass media, the Russian 201st mechanized infantry division deployed in Tajikistan is reduced and transformed into a military base.
“From the standpoint of long-term strategic interests of Russia the military base in the region is necessary. Its presence is dictated not only by the problems associated with unstopping war in Afghanistan, internal instability, actions of terrorists and vahhabis, but also with the remaining possibility of inter-ethnic and regional conflicts,” says Sinaisky. He stresses that Russia is currently transiting to a new direction of its foreign policy. The physical military presence of Russia in the region abroad is being reduced, but the main accent is made on provision of long-term military assistance with advisors and armament supply. Military bases are being formed which can protect Russia’s interests abroad at smaller costs. One of such bases is currently being organized in Tajikistan, says Sinaisky.
Thus Russia and Central Asian republics of the CIS join their efforts in combating of the common enemy, such as international terrorism and extremism. According to military experts, this is a real basis which can unite the former Soviet republics, and give a momentum to their further integration into a political-military and economic fields. At this point Moscow demonstrates that it is needed.