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Russia: CIS Collective-Security Council Disagrees On Joint Military Force

The presidents of the six former Soviet states that now make up the Collective-Security Council met today in Moscow to mark the 10th anniversary of the body's creation. But the leaders of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan stopped short of agreeing to reinforce their symbolic security pact with a common military fighting force, under Russia's auspices, to strengthen stability in Central Asia.

Moscow, 14 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The presidents of the six CIS member states of the Collective-Security Council (CSC) gathered today in Moscow for a summit to mark the 10th anniversary of the treaty creating the council.

Opening the session, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the CSC -- which comprises Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, in addition to Russia -- an "effective instrument for defending the security" of its members. He also said the summit would provide the opportunity to improve cooperation among member states and to discuss new security concerns in the evolving geopolitical landscape both within the CIS and beyond.

"We will have the opportunity to meet with a small circle of our colleagues [other CIS leaders] here in Moscow to conclude all the work of the last few years and to look toward the future, to talk about our plans and to discuss the situations in our countries regarding the security of our citizens, to talk about international problems, and to give advice to each other about some aspects of the international situation. And generally, it's a very good opportunity to discuss all the problems that are related to security," Putin said.

Turning his remarks to the current U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan, the Russian president said the geopolitical situation is changing rapidly and that the Collective-Security Treaty should be adapted to meet the new conditions.

"Today, when the geopolitical situation is changing rapidly, the task in front of us is to further strengthen the [CIS Collective-Security] Treaty and to adapt its mechanisms to tackle the new, nontraditional challenges and threats that all of our countries are facing," Putin said.

The heads of state attending today's summit agreed the situation in Afghanistan requires closer military and security cooperation in the region. But the group failed to reinforce their symbolic security pact by establishing a common rapid-reaction force, under Russia's command, to strengthen stability in Central Asia.

The foreign and defense ministers of the treaty member states, who met yesterday ahead of the presidential summit, had advised their presidents to establish a joint military body under the auspices of the Russian General Staff.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov had argued that such a unified military command was especially important now, as extremists from Afghanistan's Taliban militia and the Al-Qaeda network could contribute to destabilizing Central Asia.

The decision not to push ahead with the joint military force appears to be tied to growing unease over the possibility that Moscow will attempt to reassert its domination of Central Asia. Armenian President Robert Kocharian, speaking after the talks, said the group "tried to reach a solution" but put off discussions on the force for a later date.

The creation of a working joint military force would have marked a turning point in the history of the 10-year-old body, which has been a largely symbolic union, with no practical function. Three former members -- Uzbekistan, Georgia, and Azerbaijan -- have all withdrawn from the Collective-Security Treaty, saying the organization was unable to solve regional conflicts. Many expected the new focus on global antiterrorism efforts would give new impetus to the CSC, which over the course of its existence has largely focused on common security concerns in Central Asia.

The group did agree to trade weapons at a single, privileged price and agreed to help each other in military training projects. They also agreed to upgrade the group's status to an official regional organization.

Today's Collective-Security Council meeting in Moscow took place as NATO foreign ministers gathered in Reykjavik, Iceland, to discuss Russia's future role in the NATO-Russia Council.

Also today, the heads of the national security agencies of the CIS are gathering in Tbilisi for a two-day forum on cooperation in the fight against organized crime and terrorism.