While Washington is pre-occupied with Iraq, the Middle East and North Korea, Russia has pushed ahead with moves to re-integrate the CIS and thereby re-gain some of the regional influence it lost to the USA after 11 September. JID sources have predicted that Russia will continue to gain ground throughout the CIS. The only exception will be Uzbekistan which has developed a bilateral security relationship with the USA.
As the record of CIS states on democratisation has continued to deteriorate, Russia has stepped in to support authoritarian regimes and their leaders in the face of Western criticism over stalled reform and the worsening human rights situation. To Russia, geopolitics is the over-riding issue and the type of regime that is in power in CIS member states is effectively irrelevant. In the aftermath of the ousting of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq many authoritarian leaders in Central Asia feel threatened by the rise of US unilaterism and are turning back to Russia in search of security guarantees.
CIS states, such as Armenia, Ukraine and Belarus have also agreed to Russian demands for strategic assets to be exchanged for debts owed to Russia for energy. This is the price they are willing to pay for Russia’s diplomatic support for their embattled leaders. The Kremlin is willing to offer support to the leaders of Armenia (Robert Kocharian), Ukraine (Leonid Kuchma) and Belarus (Aleksandr Lukashenka) – all under varying degrees of pressure from the West.
In January, Ukraine’s president Kuchma became head of the CIS Council of Heads of State, the first time a non-Russian has headed this body, in a move interpreted as a public way for Russia to show its solidarity with Kuchma whose reputation in the West hit an all-time low in September 2002 after he was accused by Washington of authorising the sale of Kolchuga radars to Iraq during a meeting held in July 2000. In return for Russian support for Kuchma, Moscow is actively seeking to extend the 20-year lease of Sevastopol naval bases for the Black Sea Fleet, signed in 1997, to 99 years.
At a recent meeting held in Tajikistan the six members of the CIS Collective Security Organisation (CIS CSO) – Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan -agreed to establish a Warsaw Pact-style rapid reaction force. This step had been a key objective for Russia since the creation of the CIS CSO in 1992, which is intended to combat terrorism, drug trafficking and threats to the security of member states.
In reality, the CIS CSO (known as the Collective Security Treaty until 2001), proved ineffectual. Belarus preferred to co-operate with Russia bilaterally through the Russian-Belarusian union. There are Russian peacekeeping units in Tajikistan and Armenia already has a bilateral military treaty with Moscow. In addition, Belarus and Armenia were not interested in other regions of the CIS. The former focused on NATO enlargement to its western border, while the latter has been pre-occupied with its conflict with Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh and the role of Turkey, a close Azeri ally. Only Russia regards the entire CIS as a zone of its security interests and for Moscow the CIS – the ‘near abroad’ – is more important than other regions or countries of the world, including its relations with the USA.
The new CIS CSO military organisation will, for the first time, have a joint general staff, the composition and financing of which has now been agreed. As with all CIS organisations, the new CIS CSO will be headed by a Russian, Nikolai Bordyuzha, a former secretary of the Russian Security Council.
Vladimir Mikhailov, the Russian air force commander-in-chief heads the CIS air defence co-ordination committee. The CIS Anti-Terrorist Centre, established in June 2000, is headed by Major General Boris Melnikov, who served in the KGB from 1975-91 and was the first deputy head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) department responsible for the “protection of constitutional order and the struggle against terrorism”.
The doctrine of the new CIS CSO military structure is also modelled on that of the Warsaw Pact. Belarusian president Lukashenka has openly claimed the new organisation was set up as a direct response to US and British military intervention in Iraq without explicit UN Security Council authorisation.
Russia has also actively worked bilaterally with members of the CIS CSO and with non-members of the CIS, such as Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Although these three states are not members of the CIS CSO they are members of two other CIS military and security structures, the Air Defence Agreement and Anti-Terrorism Centre. In addition, military officers from Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan regularly attend CIS CSO military exercises as observers.
In January, Armenian president Kocherian signed a military-technical co-operation agreement with Russia, as well as economic agreements. Kocherian described Russia’s military bases in his country as a “strong stabilising factor” in its relations with Turkey. In March, Moscow backed the re-election of Kocherian in an election that the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe described as having not being conducted in a “free and fair” manner. In 1997, Russia and Armenia signed a wide embracing treaty in which they agreed to provide mutual assistance in the event of a military threat to either side. Russian border guards patrol Armenia’s borders with Iran and Turkey.
Russia has also successfully courted CIS member state Turkmenistan, a neutral country which is therefore not a member of the CIS CSO. Russian Security Council secretary Vladimir Rushailo visited Turkmenistan in January and offered Russia’s support to the Turkmen regime and its ‘President for Life’ Saparmurat Niyazov. Niyazov is seeking Russian support in dealing with his political opposition which he accused of trying to assassinate him in November 2002. In return, Turkmenistan has agreed to become more conciliatory in its insistence on the division of the Caspian Sea into national sectors, a demand that Russia and Iran have long opposed during the continuing negotiations. In April, Russia and Turkmenistan signed two agreements on security and energy exports. As a concession Russia agreed to end the 1993 dual citizenship treaty with Turkmenistan.
The new Turkmen-Russian security agreement foresees an increased Russian presence in Turkmenistan, a country that borders Afghanistan and Iran. After the signing of the agreements, Russian president Vladimir Putin stated that they will “make our efforts to counter outside threats more systematic and efficient”.
Russia has made a significant effort to re-assert its influence in Kyrgyzstan where its president, Askar Akayev, also feels increasingly embattled by his political opposition and is therefore seeking Russian support. A CIS air-rapid deployment force will be stationed in the country from June.
Closer ties with Russia will allow Akayev to crack down on anti-government protestors against whom he has threatened “drastic measures”.
Specialist counterterrorism troops will be deployed at the new base for future operations. They could be sucked into a civil war if Kyrgyzstan was to go the way of neighbouring Tajikistan where Russian forces supported the government against Islamic guerrillas. In Kyrgyzstan the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which was backed by the Taliban regime, was active for a while and the Kyrgyz armed forces proved inept at dealing with the problem. Moscow’s troops can be expected to take a more robust line with any rebels – or political opponents of its allies.