On May 15, 1992, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) was formed following the collapse of the Soviet Bloc in Eastern Europe and shortly afterwards the Soviet Union itself. It was intended to be a collective security organization modeled on NATO where an attack on one country was considered an attack upon all. When six post-Soviet states – Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia,' Tajikistan and Kazakhstan – convened in Moscow on May 16,2022, for a jubilee summit, it was clear that the organization was at best a parody of NATO. The organization was not even the Cold War Warsaw Pact that included the Communist states of Eastern Europe (excluding Albania and the former Yugoslavia) and the German Democratic Republic. The Soviet Union's dominant role assured military, economic and diplomatic coordination within the Warsaw Pact. The current war in Ukraine has highlighted the gulf between the Warsaw Pact and its would be successor, and explains why Mokovskiy Komsomolets described the anniversary meeting of the leaders as a "gloomy summit."
MEMRI's report on the CSTO summit follows below:
The CSTO leaders pose at the Moscow summit (Source: Ria.ru)
Lukashenko Carries The Ball On Ukraine, But Is Isolated
As the host, Vladimir Putin was somewhat constrained. He mentioned Ukraine in the context of historical revisionism regarding World War II. Monuments to heroes were demolished and the murderers and traitors were praised. This historical distortion had reached its apogee in Ukraine. It therefore fell to Belarus' Alexander Lukashenko to press home the point that Ukraine constituted a threat to all in terms of its subversive potential, and ultranationalist character. It therefore constituted a priority issue for the CSTO:
"Today, there is no more pressing or important issue than the Ukraine conflict. Since 2014, all of us have been assisting in every way possible in resolving it. In principle, all of us sitting at this table are ready to do this even now and in any format.
"Clearly, Ukraine was fomented, incited and fed nationalism and Nazism. We saw that in Odessa, when people were burned alive. Ukraine was fed Nazism, Russophobia and weapons. They used every approach to poison it.
"After the election in Belarus in August 2020, regarding interaction with us, Belarus, Ukraine completely succumbed to the West. We have constantly experienced unfriendly actions from our southern neighbor for over two years now.
"Ukraine proactively imposed sanctions on us even before the West, including the Americans. Ukraine was the first to do so. Remember? Their airspace was closed, then railway service, and then they began to train militants and send them to Belarus and ship weapons across the border. Everyone knows that. Provocative actions were carried out with Ukrainian drones conducting reconnaissance missions in Belarus' airspace.
"The facts indicating a threat to our national security are indisputable. This is exactly why we were absolutely right to activate the support mechanism in the framework of our alliance with Russia."
Lukashenko reminded the leaders of the organization's decisive action in January, 2022, when CSTO intervention in Kazakhstan saved the regime of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Russia deserved similar solidarity but was not receiving it:
"But is it possible to claim today that the members of this organization are really united and bound by ties of solidarity and support as before? Recent events suggest probably not. This is from our perspective, and I may be wrong. But it is enough to recall the ban imposed by some of our CSTO partners on the flights to their countries by national airlines of other CSTO members.
"The concepts of unity and solidarity are not always enough, given the brutal, rabid sanctions pressure by the consolidated West. Unfortunately, this is clear from the voting in international organizations.
"With the tacit agreement of our partners, Belarus and Russia are being vilified and expelled from international organizations against all laws of international life, just on a Western whim. Yes, you, CSTO members are subjected to pressure – tough and unprincipled pressure – but this is where collective, mutual support is so helpful. We may not exist tomorrow if we do not unite as soon as possible, if we do not strengthen our political, economic and military ties."
Tokayev, who spoke immediately after Lukashenko, did not mention Ukraine at all and referred to Afghanistan as the priority issue:
" We focus on countering international terrorism and extremism, illegal drug and weapons trafficking, and illegal migration. In this context we attach great importance to the developments in Afghanistan. The unstable situation there as well as the unrelenting activity of armed groups on the territory of Afghanistan continue to threaten the security and stability of our states. I believe the CSTO must consider every potential threat while paying even more attention to ensuring the security of the southern borders of Central Asia."
Kyrgyzstan's President Sadyr Japarov seconded Tokayev in ignoring Ukraine and emphasizing Afghanistan:
" The situation at the southern borders of the CSTO remains alarming, primarily due to the unhindered activities of radical religious terrorist groups in some Afghan provinces. The external sponsors of these groups have far-reaching plans for Central Asia. I think we should keep focusing our attention and analysis on the Afghan issue. It is necessary to carry out an entire package of political-diplomatic and military-technical measures to ensure security in this area. At the same time, it is important to provide humanitarian aid for the Afghan people. Our fellow countrymen are among them."
Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon also ignored Ukraine and emphasized Afghanizstan:
" For example, we can see that negative factors have been accumulating in Afghanistan over the past 40 years, and they have worsened the military-political and socioeconomic situation in that country. In this regard, the CSTO needs to be prepared for various scenarios on the southern borders."
If the Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Tajik leaders chose indirection in replying to Lukashenko's appeal to CSTO solidarity, Armenia's Nikol Pashinyan claimed that in light of his country's experience in its recent war with Azerbaijan, such an appeal rang hollow:
"With regard to interaction as well as response and rapid response mechanisms, this is also a critical issue for Armenia, because, as you are aware, last year on these days, Azerbaijani troops invaded the sovereign territory of Armenia. Armenia turned to the CSTO for it to activate the mechanisms that are provided for in the Regulations governing the CSTO response to crisis situations of December 10, 2010 which is a document approved by the Collective Security Council. Unfortunately, we cannot say that the organization responded as the Republic of Armenia expected.
"For a long time now, we have been raising the issue of sales of weapons by CSTO member countries to a country that is unfriendly to Armenia, which used these weapons against Armenia and the Armenian people. This is also a problem.
"Frankly, the CSTO member countries' response during the 44-day war of 2020 and the post-war period did not make the Republic of Armenia and the Armenian people very happy, but I want to emphasize the special role played by the Russian Federation and President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin personally in halting the war in Nagorno-Karabakh."
Pashinyan chose to omit the fact that Belarus was one of the countries selling arms to Azerbaijan.
Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (Source: Primeminister.am)
Reactions– Making The Best Of It Or Abandoning The Illusions
Given the apparent isolation of Russia and Belarus at the summit the issue is what to make of it. One approach was to accept the situation rather than aggravate the issue further. CSTO Secretary General, Stanislav Zas told journalists following the summit that the issue of CSTO involvement in the special operation in Ukraine wasn't discussed during the summit.
According to Vasiliy Kashin, Director of the Center for Central Asian Studies, what happened at the summit was no cause for alarm. It was typical for each CSTO member-state to talk mostly about its own issues. The Central Asian countries are concerned about the Afghan issue and don't want to be affiliated in any way to the events developing in Ukraine. From that it was a leap to suggest that a strong divergence of opinions existed among the CSTO allies.
Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed that CSTO collective force would not be used in Russia's "special operation" in Ukraine. The problem was not political but legal: "This [Ukraine] is not our territory. The CSTO rules do not imply the use of funds in these territories. The peacekeeping forces operate only within the framework of the mandate."
Alexander Vorobyov, a researcher at the Center for the Study of Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Volga Region of the Russian Academy of Sciences, claimed that the CSTO's work was currently of debatable effectiveness. This was due to "a certain restraint" displayed by of the CSTO leadership, and collegial decision-making. However, the greatest impediment to the organization's effectiveness was the lack of obvious tasks, whose solution would require the legitimate intervention of the CSTO.
"Discussions about the CSTO's can be compared with the discussion about the effectiveness of NATO, whose 'brain death' was declared by the top leadership of France several years ago. In the end, the effectiveness of any military-political union is determined by the cohesion and high level of mutual understanding of its members, the presence of common goals, tasks that follow from common challenges for all. If it exists, the association will be effective; if it does not, then it will not be very effective. The CSTO is no exception to this rule." Vorobyov stressed.
Alexander Vorobyov (Source: Media.az)
Dmitry Orlov, director of the East-West Strategy analytical center, agreed that the CSTO is still not active enough. Even in the Kazakhstan intervention there were problems.
"In general, the CSTO still justified itself, but with some nuance. Not all members of the organization decided to participate quickly and unconditionally in a peacekeeping mission. In Kyrgyzstan, particularly they argued for a long time whether to send their military to suppress protests that began due to economic problems. The CSTO showed that the only guarantor of the security of the Central Asian region is Russia, because its contingent was the largest. And as events have shown, the CSTO is able to defend interests." Orlov conceded that the CSTO had not become the equivalent of the Warsaw Pact – a serious alternative to NATO.
In contrast to the writers, who urged patience with the CSTO, Alexander Savelev decried the situation in the Central Asian CSTO members and claimed that Russian policy had made the situation worse:
"Excessive diplomacy in relation to the former Soviet republics, the accentuated observance of the protocol formalities replaced the essence of interstate relations and did not benefit either the Russian Federation or the republics themselves."
Salevev believed that the multinational organizations contributed to Russia's self-deception:
"In relations between the post-Soviet states of Central Asia, there are many mutual claims and conflicts, including armed ones. Russia's withdrawal from this most important geostrategic space has not been compensated by various integration associations. Nationalist myths, ideas of national and ethnic superiority have gained currency in each of the former Soviet republics, and Russian bureaucratic formalism often makes integration associations a harmful and dangerous illusion, and self-deception. The growing influence of China and Ankara's pan-Turkic ambitions are objectively weakening Russia in countries that were once part of a common, unified state."