A Russian A-50 AWACS aircraft during 2012 exercises at the Kant Air Base in Kyrgyzstan.
Russia's nascent post-Soviet military bloc, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, is planning to create a joint air force, for both transport of CSTO forces and air cover to support CSTO operations. The announcement was made during a CSTO meeting at the Kyrgyzstan military base at Koy Tash, and as is the norm with the CSTO, the promises here are lofty and the details scanty. But Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, reporting on the news, says that "the 'aviation plans' of the CSTO leadership are significant." And there is already an acronym: CAF, for Collective Air Forces (КАС in Russian).
Nezavisimaya Gazeta quotes Bordyuzha as saying that "We expect that all governments which are today able will share the appropriate air assets for the formation of the collective air forces." The paper suggests that that means that Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan will supply attack helicopters to the CAF. The paper also seems to suggest that the establishment of the CAF is connected to the strengthening of the Russian air force contingent at Kant air base in Kyrgyzstan. Though, as it says, "how the air base will be strengthened was not specified." NG adds:
It had earlier been reported that Kant would be used as a base for long-range aviation of the Russian Air Force. but this hardly means that strategic bombers equipped with nuclear weapons will be part of the CSTO CAF. However fighter and assault aviation, as well as attack helicopters from the air forces of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus (the CSTO countries possessing that military capability), judging from the Russian-Kyrgyzstan agreement on the status of the 999th air base and plans of the CSTO, are likely to be deployed at Kant.
Russian troops participating in the 2012 Peace Mission SCO exercises in Tajikistan
Over the last few years, two large multilateral security organizations that have emerged in Central Asia: the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), dominated by China, and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), dominated by Russia. For the most part, these two groups have looked past one another, staking out complementary, rather than competing, mandates, and including many of the same members (Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan all belong to both). But there is still under-the-surface competition between the two groups.
As the new International Crisis Group report, China's Central Asian Problem, notes, China's ambitious economic moves into Central Asia have not been matched by political or military efforts of the same scope. That's in part because the Russian influence in Central Asia's security structures remains so strong that China is reluctant to try to compete. The SCO, China's main tool for engaging in Central Asian security, has moved away from joint military training -- its 2012 exercise was the smallest since 2003 -- and more toward getting Central Asia to crack down on Uyghur exile groups. The CSTO, meanwhile, claims to be building up a joint military structure, including rapid reaction forces.
Russia is "increasingly distrustful" of the SCO, the ICG writes:
Presidents of all CSTO member states at the group's summit in Moscow. Absent: Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov.
For months, Uzbekistan's erstwhile allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization have been discussing in public what they intend to do in regard to Tashkent's suspension of its membership in the group. When the CSTO finally held its summit meeting last week in Moscow, the group did the only thing it really could: accept the inevitable and try to put the best face on it. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Tashkent just before the CSTO meeting, saying "It is Uzbekistan's sovereign choice [to leave the CSTO]. We regret it, but the decision has been made... However, Uzbekistan, remains our ally, our strategic partner."
The CSTO did suggest that Uzbekistan can't just float in and out of the group, as it did once before, reported Russian newspaper Vedemosti:
“"Regrettably, it did certain damage to the image of the organization," admitted Russian Representative to the CIS CSTO Igor Lyakin-Frolov. "All I can say is that the door back remains open. Membership is Tashkent's for the asking." President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko meanwhile said that certain terms of the renewed membership had to be met... if it ever came to that. "Uzbekistan will have to ratify all our decisions and agreements first," said Lukashenko. When Tashkent returned to the CIS CSTO in 2006 after the suspension in 1999, it never bothered to ratify guideline documents of the organization..
The U.S.'s Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan could be a target for "enemies," there's no way to be sure that corruption has been rooted out from the lucrative fuel contracts for the base, and Russia is Kyrgyzstan's strongest military partner. That's according to Roza Otunbayeva, the former president of Kyrgyzstan who made her first visit as ex-president to Washington this week. She was in town to receive an award from the Eurasia Foundation, and also took a bit of time to sit down with The Bug Pit to discuss some of the big issues in Kyrgyzstan and the region. Below is our interview, edited for clarity.
The Bug Pit: It's been argued that the focus on Afghanistan has distorted the U.S.'s policy toward Central Asia and made it “oversecuritized.” Do you agree?
Otunbayeva: No, it's not fair.... The United States responds to all our needs immediately. When we had the tragedy in 2010, we had two [military] bases, Russian and American. None of them were involved in our internal affairs, but the U.S. responded to our tragedy immediately, with the OTI program. Of course, I can't deny that that Manas is a tool for the U.S. But I don't think Kazakhstan or Tajikistan either will tell you that now only Afghanistan is the highlight of our relations, no.
BP: Manas has strengthened your relations with the U.S. and brought the government a lot of revenue, but it's also led to a lot of corruption, including at very high levels. Overall, is Manas a good thing for Kyrgyzstan?
Uzbekistan will come crawling back into the arms of Russia as soon as the security situation in Afghanistan worsens, says the head of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, Nikolay Bordyuzha. Bordyuzha, speaking at a Moscow event commemorating the 20th anniversary of the organization, emphasized that for the CSTO, Uzbekistan's departure from the Russia-dominated security bloc was no big deal, and even had some positives, he insisted: "For several months we have agreed on many projects and decisions, acceptance of which Uzbekistan was blocking." But its departure from the CSTO will be a big deal for Uzbekistan, he says: "As soon as things get difficult, the situation will change. I don't think this will take long."
It seems that the CSTO doth protest too much. At the organization's security council meeting next month in Moscow, members will "make the final decision" regarding Uzbekistan's membership (apparently without Uzbekistan's input). The frequency with which CSTO officials talk about Uzbekistan reminds one of a guy whose girlfriend dumps him, who then proceeds to constantly talk about how much better off he is without her -- adding that she will probably come back to him anyway when she understands the mistake she's made.
Uzbekistan's government and media have been pretty silent on this issue, but this most recent statement was apparently enough to elicit a response from Fakhriddin Nizamov, writing on Polit.uz.
Apparently, Mr. Bordyuzha rubs his hands with pleasure that the situation in Central Asia will worsen after the announced withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan and events will develop according to a scenario of those whose interests he represents...
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, in Brussels in March.
Armenia has lately been boosting cooperation with both NATO and Russia, prompting questions about how far it can play both sides of the geopolitical conflict.
This fall, Armenia has hosted top NATO officials and the U.S. secretary of the navy, and in September Armenian units trained by the U.S. and NATO countries for deployment in international missions, like that in Afghanistan, conducted an exercise, reported RFE/RL:
[S]ome 600 soldiers of the volunteer unit simulated their participation in a multinational peacekeeping operation in an exercise watched by U.S. military instructors. The exercise also involved what the Armenian Defense Ministry described as a successful “self-appraisal with NATO standards” by the brigade’s Staff Company.
But this fall, Armenia also hosted exercises of the Russia-run Collective Security Treaty Organization and has signed an agreement with Russia on joint arms production, a provision of which requires Armenia to "rely exclusively on Russian-made and supplied weapons," writes analyst Richard Giragosian in a piece at Oxford Analytica:
For the first time, Armenia is being excluded from procuring Western arms, limiting its options and potential partners and, at least in theory, hindering its pursuit of interoperability with NATO standards.
Russia is preparing an aid package of over a billion dollars to Kyrgyzstan's military, and of $200 million to that of Tajikistan, Russian newspaper Kommersant has reported, saying that the Kremlin is trying to counteract the U.S.'s growing clout in Uzbekistan.
According to the report, the aid package was agreed on in August, during Russian Deputy Premier Igor Shuvalov's visit to Bishkek in August and President Vladimir Putin's in September. The specific contents of the aid package will be worked out by March of next year, with deliveries beginning next summer, sources in Russia's general staff told Kommersant.
In addition, Tajikistan is reportedly getting $200 million in air defense system upgrades and current hardware repair. Tajikistan also will be getting a $200 million discount on fuel deliveries from Russia, apparently thanks to its recent agreement to extend the lease of Russia's military base. So if the report turns out to be true, it wouldn't exactly be the "symbolic sum" that Kremlin officials initially claimed they would be paying for the base extension. But $400 million, spread out over the 30-year term of the base extension, still isn't quite the windfall Dushanbe was hoping for.
An unnamed Russian government source told Kommersant the aid package was intended both for security and geopolitical gain (translation via Johnson's Russia List):
Uzbekistan may have suspended its membership in the Collective Security Treaty Organization this summer, but the CSTO wants the final word: the organization's collective security council is holding a meeting in Moscow on December 19, where the presidents of member states "will make the final decision and we will state our position on that step" by Uzbekistan. That's according to CSTO Secretary General Nikolay Borduyzha, on a visit to Belarus, adding that he hoped Uzbekistan's suspension was temporary.
And Russia's representative to the CSTO, Igor Lyakin-Frolov, said "the door was open" to Tashkent: "We are moving toward a suspension of Uzbekistan's membership, bu we would hope that the door would not be closed for the return to the organization in the case of a change in the political situation in that country," he said.
And he added that Uzbekistan's move "wasn't unexpected," and had to do with Uzbekistan's concern about where the organization was heading:
"The fundamental reason for Uzbekistan's suspension of its membership in the CSTO is principally different views toward the development of the organization. Uzbekistan's leadership put the fundamental accent on rendering support in the case of aggression against one or several CSTO members," the diplomat said.
But lately, a course was discussed and supported by the majority of governments, including Russia, on turning the organization into a multi-profiled structure not only acting against external aggression, but also repelling contemporary threats and challenges -- terrorism, drug trafficking, illegal migration, and cyberterrorism, said Lyakin-Frolov.
The opening ceremony of the CSTO peacekeeping exercise, Unbreakable Brotherhood 2012, in Kazakhstan.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization has begun what it calls its first-ever peacekeeping exercise, in Kazakhstan. According to the CSTO, the exercise will work on standard peacekeeping tasks like separating the parties to a conflict and ensuring compliance to a cease fire. But the scenario of the exercise seems a bit more active than that: "According to the scenario, a crisis situation arises connected with the activity of international extremists and terrorist organizations and conflict between ethnic groups living in the country." And a Kazakhstani military spokesperson is a bit more detailed: "People portraying terrorists will attack a military base checkpoint and retreat to a village, after which the troops will respond to free the village."
In any event, about 950 troops are taking part, the majority (535) from Kazakhstan, 160 from Russia, 50 from Kyrgyzstan and small contingents from Armenia, Belarus, and Tajikistan. This exercise, called "Unbreakable Brotherhood 2012," follows closely on the heels of another CSTO exercise in Armenia. But this one was (ostensibly) about peacekeeping, and observers from the United Nations, with whom the CSTO has agreed to cooperate on peacekeeping, were present.
Deputy General Secretary of the CSTO Valeriy Semerikov said at the opening ceremony that "the opening of the exercise is the beginning of the arrangement of national peacekeeping contingents into a single structure -- comprising the collective peacekeeping force of the CSTO."
Armenia has ratified a protocol that would allow Russia a veto over any foreign military installations in its country, but not without some grumbling. An agreement reached last year by the Collective Security Treaty Organization allows any CSTO member to have a say in whether another member can host a foreign military base. This week, Armenia's parliament ratified that agreement, but with some lawmakers complaining that it infringed on the country's sovereignty, and the parliament's second-largest bloc abstaining from the vote, reports ArmeniaNow:
On October 4, the Parliament ratified the Protocol on the Location of Military Installations in Collective Security Treaty Organization (OSCE) Member Countries that was signed still in December 2011 and under which Armenia is not entitled to host military forces or other infrastructure of other states without the permission of the CSTO...
Opposition Heritage faction MP Alexander Arzumanyan, who represents the Free Democrats party and served as Armenia’s minister of foreign affairs in the 1990s, said during the debate in the National Assembly that the Protocol limits Armenia’s sovereign rights and humiliates the nation’s dignity. In the end, only five lawmakers in the 131-member body, including Arzumanyan, voted against the ratification. The second largest faction in the Armenian parliament, Prosperous Armenia [which holds 37 seats], opted out of the vote.