Other than spreading Russian influence, the CSTO is a military alliance lacking a clear mission. Opportunities to impose itself and carve out an identity have been missed, writes James Kilner.
NOV. 29 (The Bulletin) — For a military organisation that can pull together regular summits which include Russian President Vladimir Putin, the CSTO is oddly anaemic. On Nov. 28, the heads of states of the six members of the CSTO met in Bishkek for a summit that was only vaguely relevant.
This is a military organisation led by Russia which has dodged intervention on its doorstep and inside its borders. It currently doesn’t even have a permanent Secretary-General to lead it.
The CSTO, or to give it its full name the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, emerged from the ashes of the Soviet Union as something of a Warsaw Pact light, very light. It was supposed to impose a military pact over the rump of the Soviet Union that wasn’t looking West and to NATO. But its origins and ambitions have always been confused.
A CIS military grouping was formed after the Tashkent Pact of 1992, with Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Georgia as members. When it came to be renewed in 1999, though, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan declined. This meant that when the CSTO was finally created in 2002 there were also only six members and it was dominated by Russia.
Recent inaction by the CSTO has also undermined its cause. The CSTO stood by in 2010 when fighting between ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks in Osh, southern Kyrgyzstan, killed several hundred people and forced thousands of ethnic Uzbek to flee. Often too, as in Ukraine and Georgia, Russia is a belligerent, or backs a belligerent, in a conflict, forcing CSTO peacekeeping missions off the table.
Even when there is cooperation within the CSTO, it is couched as bilateral. Armenia has sent 100 deminers and doctors to support Russian rebuilding in Syria but other countries declined and the deal is considered to be between Russia and Armenia directly.
Of course, it doesn’t help that since the start of this year, the CSTO has been without a Secretary-General. Yuri Khachaturov, the Armenian former CSTO Secretary-General, is currently standing trial for “subverting the constitution” in Yerevan in 2008 when police killed at least 14 protesters. Members of the CSTO haven’t been able to agree on a replacement.
The CSTO holds value to Russia for helping it to spread political influence and to sell its military products, but as a militarily operational group it is largely irrelevant.
— This story was first published in issue 430 of the weekly Bulletin.