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Russian-Led CSTO Grouping Adds Military Dimension


Cross-border crime and trafficking are among the threats the grouping intends to fight

Cross-border crime and trafficking are among the threats the grouping intends to fight

(RFE/RL) -- A summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) has produced an agreement to set up a joint rapid-reaction force intended to respond to the "broadest range of threats and challenges."

At a CSTO summit in Moscow on February 4, leaders of the member countries -- Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan -- signed a draft document calling for each of the seven member states to provide one battalion for the formation of the force.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said leaders of the regional grouping had deemed security threats serious enough to establish a joint rapid-reaction force.

"We spent a long time today discussing the central question of today's extraordinary session of the CSTO about a mechanism of rapid response to the broadest range of threats and challenges," Medvedev said. "Generally I would like to say that everyone present here agreed about the need to make the necessary decision."

However, the terms of Uzbekistan's participation are still to be worked out, and the country has indicated that it does not want to delegate military units on a permanent basis. Uzbek President Islam Karimov said that, "at the current stage," his country is prepared only "to join operations dealing with territorial drug threats and other global problems."

Uzbekistan's position did not come as a surprise to the seven presidents in attendance, as it has been discussed in previous CSTO discussions.

The Russian president's foreign policy adviser, Sergei Prikhodko, said in a statement published ahead of the summit that the collective-rapid reaction force "would deflect military aggression, and carry out special operations against international terrorism and extremism, trans-border crime, and drug trafficking."

Afghanistan, which shares common borders with two member states of the organization -- Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- is considered the main security threat to the organization, according to Prikhodko.

Aleksei Malashenko, an expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Moscow, has assessed the move as part of an effort by Moscow to strengthen its influence in former Soviet territories.

But Malashenko expressed doubt that CSTO would have an active role in regional security. "Generally, [the CSTO] exists as Russia's political tool to keep this area under its own control," Malashenko said. "Russia pays the expenses from its own pocket; it pays through the sale of its weapons at domestic prices. That is what the CSTO means. I cannot imagine the CSTO taking any real action. For instance, it would not fight against NATO in Abkhazia and [within] Georgian borders. Likewise, it would not save one of the presidents, for example, in the case of a revolt by Islamists."

The agreement does not mark the first time the CSTO has declared its intention to add a military dimension by setting up joint forces.

In September 2008, the security organization announced plans to establish an 11,000-strong regional military force to deal with possible "challenges to the sovereignty" of its member states.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev used a visit to Moscow one day earlier to suggest that his country could evict U.S. troops from a strategic base at Manas, used to supply counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan, if Washington did not agree to pay more to lease the facilities.

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