MOSCOW: Although the post-Soviet security alliance, Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), is dominated by Russia, other member states appear to be reluctant to support Moscow’s inroads into Syria.

The CSTO general secretary, Russian general Nikolai Bordyuzha announced the organization’s rapid reaction forces would not be deployed overseas. CSTO does not invade other countries, Bordyuzha said on Feb. 12. The organization’s military forces can only be used inside the borders of member states, and CSTO cannot deploy its forces in Syria, he said.

CSTO General Nikolai Bordyuzha
CSTO General Nikolai Bordyuzha

However, the organization’s head would not rule out Syrian membership eventually. If Syria opts to seek CSTO membership, this application will be considered, Bordyuzha said.

The post-Soviet security alliance also apparently preferred not to get involved in Russia’s spat with Turkey. Bordyuzha said that CSTO had no intentions to increase military presence in Armenia near the border with Turkey. The existing forces there, including Russia’s 102nd base, remain sufficient, he said. Bordyuzha also voiced hope that the ongoing conflict between Russia and Turkey would not entail any direct military action.

Bordyuzha’s statements followed his meeting on Feb. 11 with Syria’s ambassador to Russia Riad Haddad. Bordyuzha reportedly briefed Haddad about CSTO’s efforts to counter international terrorism, including Islamic State (IS). Both sides reportedly sought “shared approaches” aimed to achieve a solution of the Syrian crisis. Haddad also hailed CSTO’s role in sustaining international peace and stability.

In recent months, the Kremlin defended Russia’s continued military support of the Syrian government. Moscow insisted that Russian efforts were aimed to counter terrorists and militants in Syria and elsewhere.

The CSTO, which includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan, is aimed to jointly face security challenges. Earlier this month, Russian official voiced concerns that IS could attack Central Asian nations, including Turkmenistan, from Afghanistan.

Bordyuzha argued that the situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating. He pledged to protect Tajik-Afghan border and sustain stability in Central Asia. On Feb. 12, Bordyuzha also pledged to support Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan if these nations seek CSTO assistance.

Initially, the CSTO was known as Tashkent treaty organization. But Uzbekistan left the grouping in 1999, re-joined the CSTO in 2006, and then left again in 2012. Meanwhile, Turkmenistan continues its official policy of neutrality.

The post-Soviet security has repeatedly warned of increasing threats to Central Asian nations from Afghanistan. The heads of states of the CSTO gathered in Tajik capital Dushanbe in September 2015. In a joint statement, they voiced concerns about a possible infiltration of IS militants from Afghanistan into Central Asian states, and probably Russia too.

In May 2015, CSTO’s Rapid Reaction Collective Force (KSOR) conducted exercises in Tajikistan aimed to counter security threats from Afghanistan. Some 2,500 personnel of KSOR representing all CSTO member-states took part in the drill, including strikes against the incursion of militants from Afghanistan. These “sudden exercises” came as KSOR’s largest drill in Central Asia so far.

The KSOR, formed in 2009, currently includes some 22,000 personnel. In April 2011, the CSTO completed formation of the Collective Peacekeeping Forces (KMS). All member states formed the national peacekeeping and the KMS totals some 4,000 personnel.

In the meantime, states other than the former Soviet nations expressed interest in the CSTO. In 2012-2015, India, Iran and Egypt held talks with the CSTO on observer status and possible membership.

However, the CSTO remained focused on the former Soviet nations. Since 2010, the CSTO has been pledging to counter a possible penetration of what the grouping described as the “controlled chaos” from the Middle East and Afghanistan. But although the Syrian crisis appeared to meet criteria of the so called “controlled chaos,” none of the CSTO member states promised, or even hinted at possible support of Moscow’s ongoing military action in Syria.

Instead, the post-Soviet security alliance prided itself with the perceived domestic “stability.” The situation in CSTO member states is more stable and predictable than in other regions of the world, including Western Europe, Bordyuzha said.

 Sergei Blagov is a Moscow-based independent journalist and researcher. In the past three decades, he has been covering Asian affairs from Moscow, Russia, as well as Hanoi, Vietnam and Vientiane, Laos. He is the author of non-fiction books on Vietnam, and a contributor of a handbook for reporters.

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