On October 16, Moscow took a step closer to achieving collective security cooperation in its former Soviet domain when Russia and four former Soviet republics coordinated a military exercise at the Matybulak firing range in southern Kazakhstan. The drill, called “Interaction 2009″, was the first of its kind for the new rapid reaction force of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russian-led security group that evolved from the framework of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Founded in 2002, the CSTO consists of seven nations: Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Under Article 3 of the organization’s charter, each member is committed to defending the other if attacked. Since its inception, Moscow has aimed to use the CSTO as a counterweight to what it views as NATO encroachment upon its “near abroad.” In the eyes of the Kremlin, such encroachment includes the NATO absorption of the Baltic states and the former Warsaw Pact countries of Central Europe.
More alarming to Russia, however, has been U.S. efforts to bring Georgia and Ukraine into the NATO fold. To Moscow, these actions amount to a slow, semi-encirclement of Russia’s western frontier. Stoking Kremlin fears has been the shift in orientation of Tblisi and Kiev from East to West, threatening Russia with the loss of an invaluable buffer between itself and the areas under NATO dominion. Moscow experienced added discomfort when the U.S. established military bases in Central Asia following the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
As a result, of primary importance to the Kremlin has been cementing influence over its former Soviet domain. Russia has sought attainment of this goal through the CSTO, a group more malleable to its dictates than the GUAM (Georgia – now removed from the confederation, Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Moldova) countries of the CIS have proven to be since the Soviet Union’s dissolution.
Though CSTO members have not blindly followed Moscow, their own internal weaknesses have forced some members to seek refuge behind the Russian security shield. One such example of this is Tajikistan, which has allowed the stationing of the Russian 201st Motorized Rifle Division on its soil since its period of civil war, from 1992-97.
Many of the CSTO countries are beset with security concerns involving Islamic militant groups, political instability, and, in the case of Armenia’s dispute with Azerbaijan over the ethnic Armenian exclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, unresolved frozen conflicts. The ebb and flow of relations between Russia and several Central Asian nations such as Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan has often proven spasmodic since the founding of the trade-driven CIS in 1991. Yet during periods of duress these countries invariably turn to Russia for support.
Of particular worry for the Central Asian CSTO members is whether the violence and militancy that have emerged from (and been sustained by) the chaos in Afghanistan will reach across their borders and spread northwards.
Aware of the converging attitudes among its Central Asian partners regarding the ongoing tumult in Afghanistan, Moscow steadily pushed its plan for a rapid response force under the CSTO umbrella. From the Kremlin’s perspective, establishing such a force has the added benefit of providing it with the political cover to deploy more of its troops not only in Central Asia, but also along the borders of the Baltic countries.
Moscow made significant progress when an agreement to create the Collective Rapid Reaction Force (KSOR) was reached by five of the seven CSTO members on February 4, 2009, with plans finalized on June 14. Both Belarus and Uzbekistan, each with their individual irritations vis-