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Jun 15, 2009 | 17:36 GMT

6 mins read

CSTO: Political Bickering and Security Issues

The Collective Security Treaty Organization's (CSTO) summit concluded on June 15 with the usual political clamor, as well as the evolving security situation in the region. Current disputes within the CSTO have led to the politicization of several issues, although the former Soviet states have a common concern. The southern Central Asian states — as well as Russia — do not want the war in Afghanistan spilling into the former Soviet territory.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization's (CSTO) summit in Moscow from June 13 to 15 ended with quite a bit of controversy — some of it was the normal former Soviet noise and other parts were serious pieces of an evolving security situation in the region. The CSTO has been a Moscow-driven security organization since 2002, comprised of Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Belarus and returning member Uzbekistan. Since its founding, the CSTO has not accomplished a great deal other than several annual military exercises, coordination of border security and acting as a forum for the select group of former Soviet states on security issues. But in the past two years, the CSTO has been transforming (due to Kremlin nudging) into a much more critical organization for the region, and has become a more prevalent tool for Russia in order to coordinate militarily with the member-states. But this has led to the natural politicization of the CSTO as well. The loudest row at the current CSTO summit occurred when Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko refused to attend because of an ongoing dairy dispute with Russia. Russia banned a list of Belarusian milk and dairy products because they were not up to Russian codes — which are continually changing and very stringent. But the dairy cutoff has hit the already struggling Belarusian economy since Russian imports account for 93 percent of Belarus's dairy exports, which make up 21 percent of agricultural exports. The dairy row — which Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has called "milk hysterics" — should be sorted by the end of the week with a Belarusian delegation already on its way to Russia for negotiations. STRATFOR sources in Moscow, however, said that Belarus used the milk crisis in order to put another issue on the table with Russia: membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). This week, Russia hosted not only the CSTO summit, but is also hosting the SCO (comprised of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) and BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) summits. Belarus is only a member of the CSTO and has long held a "dialogue" status within the SCO — an organization in which Pakistan, India, Mongolia and Iran all have the higher "observer" status. STRATFOR sources have said that Belarus will push for a better standing with the SCO in exchange for its compliance with Russia's security agreements put forth at the CSTO summit. But Russia has not paid much attention to Belarus' disapproval over the milk row or the CSTO security agreements, nor are any of the SCO countries even looking at Belarusian membership into the organization. Russia is moving forward with its security plans under the guise of CSTO with or without Minsk's approval. The plans finalized on June 14 consisted of an agreement on collective forces among the members and creating a rapid-reaction force structure — which has been in the works since February. Under this agreement, Russia has been toying with the idea of deploying more troops to Central Asia. Russia has quite a few idle troops on its hands since the war in Chechnya was declared over and the Kremlin has been creating plans to move the troops to certain "critical" spots around the region. Plans include an 8,000-troop deployment near the border with the Baltic states (who are NATO members) and deploy anywhere from 8,000 to 15,000 troops to southern Central Asia. The purpose of the plan is threefold: The troop deployments help Moscow's plan to put pressure on the West (in terms of the Baltic deployment), lock down its influence in Central Asia and guard against an increasingly unstable situation in Afghanistan. But, at the CSTO summit, Belarus did not sign the agreement (since it did not attend) and Uzbekistan asked for more time to consider the plan — which was a critical move at the summit. Uzbekistan is in a unique position at the moment. It just returned to its membership within the CSTO in March after a decade-long absence. Tashkent has been attempting for years to prove itself independent in the region from Russian, Western or even Eastern dominance. This past year, Uzbekistan has watched Russia increase its troops levels under the guise of CSTO in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and increase its security support in Turkmenistan — essentially all of Uzbekistan's neighbors. It has not signed the most recent security pact because it does not want Russian troops on its soil. But Tashkent is keeping its options open, telling Moscow that it could sign the pact later this summer. Uzbekistan is growing increasingly worried about the chaotic situation in Afghanistan, especially with increasing violence near Uzbekistan and Tajikistan's borders. But there is also something else happening in the southern Central Asian states. Presently, STRATFOR does not have all the information to paint a clear picture, but we have received reports of militant movements into Uzbekistan and Tajikistan from Afghanistan, as well as multiple border closures among Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan. The southern Central Asian states — as well as Russia — do not want the war in Afghanistan spilling into the former Soviet territory. This issue was one of the top items discussed at the CSTO and will also be prevalent at the SCO summit. While the NATO is fighting in Afghanistan, the countries at these summits are the ones who are most concerned since many either border or are close to the war-torn country. Moscow has already laid out its plans to lock down the security situation on its southern flank, but the summits held in Russia this week should be watched closely to see what the other states' plans are as well.
CSTO: Political Bickering and Security Issues

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