The Summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, held in Yerevan last Wednesday, ended in scandal: Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan refused to sign the final statement, who justified his decision by the fact that the document lacks “a clear political assessment of the situation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border”. Given the smoldering conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the CSTO’s avoidance of direct support to Armenia is seen in Yerevan as confirmation that the allies are no longer willing to defend it. The contradictions that have matured within the CSTO have come out, questioning the future of this structure.
Forced friendship in the CSTO format
The Collective Security Treaty was signed in Tashkent 30 years ago, in 1992, and is one of the remnants of the era of the collapse of the USSR. Then the former Soviet republics looked for options for a civilized divorce, while maintaining interaction on some vital issues.
One of those problems was defense. Despite the fact that wars were not expected, sovereign countries needed armies, and their maintenance and armament required enormous costs. Therefore, for some time there was a question about Russia’s readiness to issue military guarantees to the former Soviet republics – in the 90s, the CSTO included not 6, but 9 countries.
For Russia CSTO, like the CIS and other post-Soviet integration projects, were necessary primarily to maintain the reputation of a “superpower” – to view the international arena not as one country among many, but as a leader of regional military-political unions that exist on its terms and under its guarantee. Other participants in such alliances accepted the rules of the game and received additional and quite tangible benefits from friendship with Russia. Traditionally, military-political loyalty to Moscow provided opportunities for obtaining loans and access to the Russian market.
Police and security essence of the CSTO
Although the CSTO was founded and positioned as a military alliance, the organization has avoided and avoided participation in military conflicts. Much more effective than the CSTO in the police role: when in January 2022 the President of Kazakhstan against the backdrop of protests in the country turned to partners in the organization for help, he received it. All mechanisms worked quickly and accurately.
A successful police mission in Kazakhstan sheds light on the true goals and objectives of the CSTO. From the very beginning of its existence, it was primarily a protective organization, guaranteeing assistance to the post-Soviet regimes that took part in it in case of a threat to them from internal enemies, the opposition. And it included the countries whose regimes needed such guarantees.
It is quite clear why Armenia does not fit well in this club: the problems are related to the conflict with Azerbaijan and Turkey behind it, with which Moscow, and especially the countries of Central Asia, are not ready to spoil relations. Now if Armenia had to file a revolt of its citizens, then of course they would help her.
CSTO and the Russian War in Ukraine
Russia’s unleashed war on Ukraine has left its CSTO allies in an awkward position. None of the CSTO members had and has no claims over Ukraine, while the course of the war and Russia’s actions raise a number of disturbing questions. First, in the future, would Russia want to change the regime in some of the CSTO countries by declaring it “Nazi” and “anti-Russian”? Second, is Russia strong enough to continue to rely on it as a protector? 9 months of war against Ukraine showed that the idea of the power of the Russian army is far from the truth.
Thirdly, after breaking off relations with the leading Western countries, Russia began to actively deal with the regimes under the slogans of countering the influence of which the CSTO was founded. For example, for the countries of Central Asia, an alliance with Russia was important to keep their distance from China – but Putin has now effectively made Russia a junior partner of the PRC. Another problem in Central Asia was the threat of the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan and the spread of Islamism. But now the Taliban regime in Kabul is an ally of Russia!
Place under the rubble of the CSTO
Alexander Lukashenko outlined all the problems of the CSTO more simply: “If, God forbid, (Russia. – Red.) will not win, the CSTO will not exist.’ And he developed his idea: ‘if… Russia collapses, our place will be under this rubble.’
The leaders of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia are unlikely to take their place in the future the wreckage of the CSTO and are ready to put everything on Russia’s victory. Most likely, each of these countries has already identified and prepared backup options for the scenario of Russia’s military defeat and the decline of its military-political dominance in the region.
There is no doubt that military-political alliances in Eurasia will continue in the future. The Central Asian countries of the current CSTO are doomed to interaction, as neither China nor the threat of Islamism leads anywhere. But Russia’s leading role in such alliances already seems more than doubtful. And if anyone should be blamed for this, then it is only Vladimir Putin, who with his imperial ambitions destroyed both everything that worked relatively successfully on the ruins of the former USSR, and the prospects for new integration projects with Russia’s participation for the coming years.
Author: Fedor Krasheninnikov – Russian political scientist and publicist, was forced to leave Russia in 2020. Telegram: @fyodork
The commentary represents the personal opinion of the author. It may not coincide with the opinion of the Russian editors and German Well generally.