Leaders of Uzbekistan and Belarus did boycott the Collective Rapid Deployment Forces exercise in Kazakhstan.

Joint exercise of the CSTO Collective Rapid Deployment Forces established earlier this year ended in Kazakhstan last Friday. It was the first exercise of the international contingent formed on Moscow’s initiative. Presidents of Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan turned up to observe the final phase. Their colleagues from Uzbekistan and Belarus made a point to miss the event.

The exercise was organized at Matybulak, a training ground 200 kilometers from Alma-Ata. The military dealt with the invading enemy, released hostages, and neutralized saboteurs. By and large, the military did fine – unlike its political masters torn by petty grievances and discord. Politicians came up with the idea of the Collective Rapid Deployment Forces last year and signed the necessary agreement at the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) summit in Moscow this June. Unfortunately, establishment of the coalitionist force encountered trouble right away. Leaders of two CSTO members flatly refused to sign the agreement. Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan found fault with some clause of the agreement or other. Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko avenged Russia for dairy import ban.

Lukashenko would not sign the agreement even when the Russian-Belarussian trade war became history and relations between Moscow and Minsk took a turn for the better. The impression was that he eventually overcame bad feelings. Lukashenko was quite cordial at the meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev in the course of West’2009 (another joint exercise run on the territory of Belarus in late September). He made Medvedev a firm promise to sign the Collective Rapid Deployment Forces agreement and accept CSTO chairmanship. On October 2, however, Lukashenko went public accusing Russian Premier Vladimir Putin of deliberate interference with the bilateral military cooperation, pressure on Minsk, and circumvention of the processes of Russian-Belarussian integration.

In a word, Lukashenko chose to ignore the key CSTO event and sent Defense Minister Leonid Maltsev to Kazakhstan in his stead.

A source in the Russian delegation went out of his way to prove that Lukashenko’s absence this time had nothing to do with the relationship between Minsk and Moscow. “It is Nazarbayev he is mad at President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev. Lukashenko had refused to visit Nazarbayev near Astana last December and opted against accepting the invitation again now,” the source said. He added that Lukashenko endorsed the Collective Rapid Deployment Forces agreement (to the best of his knowledge) and that the parliament of Belarus was initiating its ratification.

In any event, the discord and friction among CSTO allies are unlikely to promote development of the Collective Rapid Deployment Forces into an efficient contingent. Its deployment is something to be decided by consensus so that friction will almost certainly paralyze the Collective Rapid Deployment Forces. Besides, Uzbekistan appears to be through with the whole idea of international contingents within the framework of the CSTO.

Not even the CSTO countries that signed the agreement in the first place and participated in the exercise appear all that willing to commit themselves. According to official reports, 105 servicemen represented Armenia in the exercise and 86 represented Kyrgyzstan. Tajikistan was represented by 3 (!) servicemen and Belarus by 2 observers. The Russian and Kazakh contingents were the largest of them all (each approximately 1,500 men strong).

Presidents of Russia and Kazakhstan would not be stymied. Both commented on the speed with which the CSTO had developed the Collective Rapid Deployment Forces. “The idea was first aired last December, but here we are – with all documents already signed and the contingent running its first exercise,” Medvedev said. “That’s an unprecedented pace for our relations.”