Blaming Russia for CSTO’s Impotence

With each passing day, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) only proves its bankruptcy.

The Post-Soviet Paper Tiger

The CSTO Charter states that the Organization “is the strengthening of international and regional peace, security and stability, the protection of independence on a collective basis, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Member States.” “Member States shall coordinate and unite their efforts in the fight against international terrorism and extremism, illicit trafficking in drugs and psychotropic substances, arms, transnational organized crime, illegal migration,” he adds.

However, it is still unclear to what extent the CSTO can achieve the stated goals. The Organization has never participated in any military conflict. Drug trafficking in the territory he is supposed to be in charge of has only skyrocketed, while illegal immigration has exploded. The only precedent for a peacekeeping mission the CSTO has under its belt dates back to January 2022. Then Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev asked for help from allies amid anti-government riots that were bursting.

The CSTO never evolved into a credible alternative to NATO as the Warsaw Pact was in its time since it failed to acquire a fundamental characteristic, namely, an automated mutual defense system. When, in fact, it is crisis situations where the reliability and effectiveness of a collective defense are put to the test.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who chaired the CSTO, even lamented that while his country was waging the 44-day war against Azerbaijan, allied aid never materialized. Armenia had a legitimate follow-up question: why did the “Russian peacekeepers” leave just when Azerbaijan had launched a new offensive and threatened to inflict a crushing defeat on the country?

Nor did the CSTO manage the hotbeds of tension in Central Asia. Among them, the simmering border dispute between two Member States, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, deserves particular attention. The perpetual crisis is decades old and has yet to be defused.

Moreover, the Afghan threat, posed by the Taliban, has not disappeared. The Kremlin warns that if it aborts an agreement with the Taliban, the latter could attack neighboring Tajikistan. This would then oblige Moscow to respect its binding commitments under the Charter. If Russia shirks its allied commitments to Tajikistan, exploiting the loophole it already used in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, it would undermine the entire structure of the CSTO.

With allies like these, who needs enemies

The inter-alliance squabbles don’t stop there. Some members of the CSTO sold Azerbaijani weapons which the country later used in its war against Armenia. For example, Belarus delivered the “Plonez” rocket artillery system to the Azerbaijani armed forces. The fierce debate within the CSTO stems from closer military cooperation between individual member states and Turkey, which has also provided significant assistance to Azerbaijan. If the trend continued, Russia would lose its monopoly as a supplier of military-technical assistance, which would harm the overall reputation of the CSTO.

The decline in interest in Russian weapons is also attributed to the fact that after completing the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan, the United States remained willing to provide part of the stockpile to Central Asian states. It bears witness to the weakened positions of the CSTO and the flaws inherent in the founding Charter of the Organization.

The transparency of Russia’s “allied intentions” is questionable. Moscow has already shown how it treats its allies. The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2022 saw President Tokayev categorically refuse to publicly recognize the “LPR/DPR” pseudo-republics. In response, Russia quickly ordered a halt to oil exports from Kazakhstan and a suspension of transit through the Caspian Pipeline Consortium. However, as soon as Kazakhstan requested assistance from the United States, the suspension was lifted. In the weeks that followed, President Tokayev instructed the government to “Create favorable conditions for the relocation of international companies” which had left the Russian market.

Certain specific developments may condition the Kremlin to designate Kazakhstan as a new territory to “Export Chaos”, using the term coined by Vladislav Surkov, a former aide to the Russian president. He believes that Russia, as heiress to empire and a major global geopolitical player, enjoys an exclusive right to “export chaos” to neighboring states in order to ease the internal tensions that have built up in the over the years.

Russian clay feet

The war in Ukraine revealed Russia’s strategic, operational and tactical impotence. Generally recognized as an aggressor state, it was imposed severe economic sanctions by the international community, which, in turn, could only tarnish Russia’s reputation within the CSTO itself. President Vladimir Putin’s quest for new allies sent him on a trip to Iran to negotiate in person with President Ebrahim Raisi. This high-level visit was indeed a sign of desperation. Putin’s mission in Tehran was do not demand but rather beg for military-technical support (UAV) and complicity in bypassing the technological embargo (electronic devices, microchips and defense industry technology).

All of these factors combined prevent Russia from competing for the role of sole guarantor of the security of CSTO member states. The CSTO itself should only be seen as a prerequisite for Russia to preserve its legacy military installations in the post-Soviet space. These include the Gyumri military base (Armenia); the Baikonur cosmodrome and the Sary Shagan anti-ballistic missile test range (Kazakhstan); the Kant air base and the torpedo test base on Lake Issyk-Kul in Karakol (Kyrgyzstan); the 4th military base and the optical-electronic complex in Okno (Tajikistan).

Few of the integration or alliance-building projects that Russia has championed in the former Soviet republics have succeeded. Moreover, the reality on the ground shows that the Russian-led organizations have completely failed to reverse the main underlying trend of our time: the diminishing influence of Russia in the post-Soviet space.


The opinions expressed in ICDS publications are those of the authors.

About Dianne Stinson

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