Feb 16, 2012 | 03:02 GMT

4 mins read

Russia Remakes the CSTO

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The main charters of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) are being revised to change how decisions inside the security alliance are made, Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov said Wednesday. The current charter requires unanimity to pass a decision, but Denisov said only states with an interest in a given decision would be allowed a vote under the revised charter. The change is directed at a particular CSTO member, Uzbekistan, which has continually blocked the organization from expanding and becoming more integrated.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, its military was haphazardly divided among the former Soviet states. Seeking to retain influence over its neighboring states, Russia began building up various alliance structures, from political alliances like the Union State with Belarus to more recent economic alliances like the Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan.

The CSTO is Russia's military alliance with the former Soviet states. Born of the Collective Security Treaty, which was signed in 1992 under the framework of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the CSTO took shape in 2002 with Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as members. (Azerbaijan and Georgia withdrew from the Collective Security Treaty in 1999.) Most of the former Soviet states that were not members had either joined NATO, like the Baltic states, or tried to create their own military alliances to resist Russian influence, like GUAM, the alliance formed by Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova.

Unlike the other alliances Russia created, which have been relatively successful, the CSTO has never fully developed into the grand military organization Moscow envisioned. Russia has established military bases on some CSTO members' soil, but even then Moscow had to rely on its bilateral relationships rather than the CSTO itself. The main problem is that Russia has been unable to get all of the CSTO members to agree on a direction for the alliance, or even whether to strengthen the alliance at all. All of the CSTO members — even Russia — continue to have their own serious internal military and security challenges.

But beyond the issues within individual alliance members, Uzbekistan has been a serious hindrance to the evolution of the CSTO. In fact, Tashkent left the CSTO in 1999 to try to join anti-Russian military groups like GUAM. It was only when those alliances broke down or revealed themselves to be ineffective against Russian pressure that Uzbekistan returned to the CSTO. From Uzbekistan's perspective, if it was a member of the CSTO it could at least veto any of the alliance's efforts to become a stronger Russian tool in the region. Over the years, Tashkent has successfully inhibited the development of the CSTO.

In 2011, CSTO members began to quietly discuss the possibility of ousting Uzbekistan from the organization. Instead, Russia has decided to revise the CSTO's laws to ensure that Uzbekistan only has a vote when Russia wants it to. (And there is still the possibility that Uzbekistan could choose to leave the organization.) 

Assuming the revisions occur, the question will become whether Russia can reform the organization to give it more power. Russia has already been resurging its military presence and signing military pacts with former Soviet states on a bilateral basis. Under the revised CSTO, Moscow would have a mechanism to do the same with countries that previously could veto the measures. Russia could also use the CSTO to strengthen military industrial integration or to expand the agreement with Belarus in which Russia can deploy the Collective Rapid Reaction Force to that country should it so choose.

But Russia's goals are not only about further institutionalizing its military relationships with CSTO states. Moscow's larger objective is to create a unified military alliance that could counter other military alliances in the region. Russia is primarily concerned with NATO, which borders the CSTO states in the west and south, but it is also worried about military groups that are still forming, such as the Visegrad Group and Nordic Battlegroup, which will encompass many Central European states.

Denisov acknowledged Wednesday that the CSTO is not even recognized by NATO as a real organization. In many ways the CSTO has not been sufficiently organized to be a real counter to NATO in the region. But with the proposed reforms under way, Moscow has a clear intent to try to change this reality over the long term.

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