The CSTO and Collective Security in Eurasia
Dr Pravesh Kumar Gupta, Senior Research Associate , VIF
Background

The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russia-led Eurasian security bloc, has acquired considerable traction in recent years due to the rapidly changing regional security situation in the Eurasian region. The annual CSTO Summit was held in Moscow on May 16, 2022. Even though Armenia currently chairs the CSTO, the Summit was held in Kremlin, Moscow. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Collective Security Treaty and the 20th anniversary of forming this regional security organisation both of which occurred in Moscow. CSTO Secretary General Stanislav Zas, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov, and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon attended the Summit. The speeches given by the Heads of State of the member countries are noteworthy since several relevant issues were highlighted at this Summit.[1]

The Collective Security Treaty Organization emerged from signing the Collective Security Treaty on May 15 1992, in Tashkent (Uzbekistan) by the leaders of Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Georgia later joined this bloc in 1993. On April 20, 1994, the Treaty went into force following the conclusion of the national ratification processes. The collective security agreement was signed for a five-year term with the option of being extended. Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan signed a Protocol on the Extension of the Collective Security Treaty in 1999, which created a new composition of participating nations and an automated system for extending the Treaty for five years. Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Uzbekistan withdrew from the Treaty. [2] Until 2002, the Treaty was primarily a regional pact, and it was critical in maintaining strong military-political cooperation and understanding. On May 14, 2002, in Moscow, the Collective Security Treaty was granted the status of an international, regional organisation by the Collective Security Council. On October 7, 2002, the CSTO Charter was approved. In December 2003, the UN Secretariat formally registered the CSTO Charter. In 2004, the United Nations General Assembly gave the Organization observer status.[3]

Developments in Afghanistan, the volatile domestic situation in Central Asia, and the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine have worsened an already fragile socio-economic, political, and security environment in Eurasia. These difficulties have contributed to CSTO’s concerns, and the security bloc is expected to take concrete actions. Following the CSTO summit in Moscow on May 16, the leaders of the member nations issued a joint statement that emphasised several key points.

CSTO as a Guarantor of Regional Stability

Article 4 of the CSTO Treaty states that, “If any state or group of states attacks one of the States Parties, this shall be deemed aggression against all States Parties to this Treaty. In the case of an act of aggression against any of the participating States, the other participating States will provide them with the appropriate assistance, including military aid, and support in exercising their right to collective defence under UN Charter Article 51.” [4] In Kazakhstan, mass protests began in January 2022, which became violent, burning government buildings and threatening to overthrow the government. Invoking Article 4 of the Treaty, Kazakh President Tokayev had requested that the CSTO send peacekeeping forces to quell the demonstrators, whom the Kazakh administration has identified as foreign perpetrators. [5] The CSTO peacekeeping mission quickly arrived in Kazakhstan and stabilised the situation. This demonstrated CSTO’s readiness to protect its member states effectively. It has also proved the Organization’s capacity to deploy and work expeditiously. Compared to other international and regional organisations, this cemented the CSTO’s high position as a competent security body in Eurasia. [6]

President Tokayev, in his speech at the Summit, emphasized enhancing the capacities of CSTO peacekeeping forces. He proposed engaging the CSTO in United Nations peacekeeping operations to improve the organization’s legal identity and assure the CSTO’s involvement in international peacekeeping operations.[7]

Almost every leader at the Summit emphasised the effectiveness of the CSTO’s peacekeeping operation in suppressing demonstrators in Kazakhstan. This may be seen as a basis for increasing the CSTO's capabilities; nevertheless, it should also be underlined that the CSTO did not accept the request for deploying CSTO troops during the protests in Belarus. Based on the most recent developments and achievements, it is feasible to infer that the CSTO has unquestionably benefited Russia in increasing its influence throughout the Post-Soviet space.

CSTO vs. NATO

The conflict between Russia and the West has persisted for a long time. In this perspective, CSTO is primarily regarded as an anti-Western alliance and a competitor to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The current Russia-Ukraine crisis has deepened the schism between NATO and CSTO. This was a significant subject of discussion during the CSTO Summit as well. Russia and Belarus, both of which have taken an anti-Western position, unequivocally stated that the US is abusing NATO for its gains. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko underlined that the unipolar international order is permanently abolished, but the West is fighting hard to keep its position. And to oppose NATO’s military build-up on western borders and a full-scale hybrid war unleashed against Russia and Belarus, CSTO member nations must come together to combat these threats.[8] He also said that the dreadful sanctions could have been avoided if the CSTO members had spoken united. Among the CSTO countries, Belarus is the only one openly supporting Russia in the Ukrainian conflict. Belarusian President has also accused western forces of instigating instability in Belarus and other post-Soviet countries.[9]

President Putin had the identical anti-western sentiments as Lukashenko. In his speech, he criticized the presence of dozens of specialized bio laboratories and centers in post-Soviet countries like Ukraine. This is extremely hazardous for the nations where these facilities are located and neighbouring countries such as Russia, Armenia, and Belarus. Putin urged for the closest coordination between the CSTO members in their foreign policy, coordinated actions in the UN and other multilateral platforms, and promotion of common approaches to security challenges.

NATO expansion is often seen as a threat to Russia and its allies. Two Nordic countries, Finland and Sweden, have expressed their desire to join NATO.[10] Finland and Sweden have a lengthy land border and a marine border with Russia. Increased threat perception would drive both sides to strengthen their defences, ultimately leading to vulnerabilities and animosity. However, on the issue of these Nordic countries joining NATO, President Putin said that “Russia has no problems with these states as there is no immediate threat for Russia. But the expansion of the military infrastructure to these countries will certainly call for our response, and we will look at what it will be based on the threats that will be created for us.” [11] Nevertheless, Putin’s principal objective in publicising NATO’s expansion threats was to encourage closer coordination among CSTO member nations on such matters, which had been lacking during the Russia-Ukraine war.

Afghanistan: A Common Concern

Afghanistan has long been a matter of concern for the CSTO. Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are three Central Asian countries that share a direct border with Afghanistan and are subject to the security challenges post-Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. Two of them, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, are CSTO members. Undermining the Taliban region, ultra-radical terrorist groups such as the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) have gained momentum in Northern Afghanistan and launched attacks on Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. [12]

Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan’s leaders have also emphasised the security threats posed by Afghanistan. Terrorism, extremism, transnational crime, and drug trafficking are among the challenges requiring the CSTO’s immediate attention. To address these difficulties, all member nations agreed in a joint declaration to conduct joint military exercises in Central Asia along the Afghan border. The member states agreed to work closely together in the security sector, which is also a top priority.

The present sanctions against Russia have generated new problems for low-income countries like Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. During the CSTO Summit, Kyrgyz President Zhaparov raised this issue. “The Kyrgyz economy has yet to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, and sanctions are now jeopardising food and energy security, macroeconomic sustainability, and social stability,” he added. He emphasised that Afghanistan should be at the centre of CSTO’s attention, but coordinated efforts must be taken to address these difficulties.[13]

Challenges

Even after two decades of existence and a protracted period of under-appreciation, CSTO has made substantial progress in recent years. CSTO has positioned itself as a security guarantor in the Eurasian region as a result of its effectiveness in quelling unrest in Kazakhstan. There are still several challenges that must be addressed in order to enable CSTO to succeed. Russian supremacy in this organisation is frequently viewed as a threat to other members, as evidenced by the present crisis in Ukraine, in which no other member has publicly backed Russia except Belarus. Another issue that CSTO faces is a lack of coordination in international organisations such as the UN. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are not members of this group, which is a key problem undermining CSTO’s credibility. Therefore, efforts should be made to encourage them to join this group. Defence coordination is also lacking in CSTO. All member countries must work together to improve defence capabilities, which is vital in minimising security threats. To achieve this objective, regular military exercises and training are required.

Conclusion

This year marks the 20th anniversary of CSTO’s foundation. Although its progress has been modest, several notable achievements have been achieved in recent years. Now that the regional security situation in the Eurasian region is quickly changing, there is considerable potential for CSTO to build its capacities and credibility. This is also necessary to deter the expansionist goals of Western-led security blocs like NATO. However, as the group’s leader, Russia must proceed with caution so that other members do not feel threatened but rather support Moscow’s efforts.

Endnotes :

[1] “CSTO leaders adopted a joint statement following the summit in Moscow”, News, BB CNTV, May 16 2022. Available at https://bb-cntv.com/news/csto-leaders-adopted-a-joint-statement-following-the-summit-in-moscow-45914/
[2] “From the Treaty to Organization”, Collective Security Treaty Organization Secretariat, Moscow, Available at https://en.odkb-csto.org/25years/
[3]Ibid.
[4] “From the Treaty to Organization”, Collective Security Treaty Organization Secretariat, Moscow, Available at https://en.odkb-csto.org/25years/
[5] Olzhas Auyezov, “Kazakh president fails to quell protests, ex-Soviet states offer help” Reuters, January 6, 2022. Available at https://www.reuters.com/markets/commodities/kazakhstan-government-resigns-after-violent-protests-over-fuel-price-2022-01-05/
[6]Tatyana Kudryavtseva, “Leaders of CSTO countries adopt joint statement”, 24.kg news agency, 17 May 2022, Bishkek. Available at https://24.kg/english/233748__Leaders_of_CSTO_countries_adopt_joint_statement/
[7] “Kazakh President Tokayev proposes including CSTO in UN peacekeeping efforts”, Interfax, International Information Group, 16 May 2022. Available at https://interfax.com/newsroom/top-stories/79167/
[8] “CSTO summit: The Kremlin hosted a meeting of the heads of state of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation”, May 16, 2022. The Kremlin Moscow, Available at http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/68418
[9] “Lukashenko accuses West of full-fledged hybrid aggression against Belarus and Russia”, TAss, Russian News Agency, May 16, 2022. Available at https://tass.com/world/1451581?utm_source=google.com&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=google.com&utm_referrer=google.com
[10]Johanna Lemola, “The leaders of Finland and Sweden say they will jointly submit their NATO applications”, Newyork Times, May 17, 2022, Helsinki, Finland, Available at https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/17/world/europe/sweden-finland-nato.html
[11] “CSTO summit: The Kremlin hosted a meeting of the heads of state of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation”, May 16, 2022. The Kremlin Moscow, Available at http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/68418
[12]Abubakar Siddique “IS-K Ramps Up War Against The Taliban By Attacking Central Asian Neighbors”, RFE-RL, Gandhara, May 11, 2022. Available at https://gandhara.rferl.org/a/islamic-state-khorasan-taliban-central-asia-attacks/31844898.html
[13] “CSTO summit: The Kremlin hosted a meeting of the heads of state of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation”, May 16, 2022. The Kremlin Moscow, Available at http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/68418

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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