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NATO: Alliance Praises Efforts Of CSTO States, But Cool To Offer Of Cooperation

The six countries which form the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) have declared their intention to cooperate more closely with NATO. The CSTO states say their aims are basically the same as those of the Atlantic alliance.

Prague, 3 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- NATO officials say they plan no specific response to the offer of closer cooperation from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Alliance officials in Brussels, when asked to comment, also said there is no move by NATO to formally work with the CSTO as an organization. However, they did praise the level of individual cooperation with NATO by each of the countries in the CSTO.

That grouping comprises six diverse nations -- Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. At a meeting in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, on 19 November, foreign ministers from the six nations pledged to develop further cooperation with the Western alliance.

As Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov put it, both defense blocs are facing common threats.

"These two organizations [CSTO and NATO] pursue the same objective today, and that is the neutralization of the threats of international terrorism and religious separatism, which our region has been facing for quite a long time," Aitmatov said.

At the same meeting, CSTO Secretary-General Nikolai Bordyuzha said his side realizes that NATO is a much larger organization than the CIS security group, but he said they are fundamentally similar.

"We are not going to compete with NATO. We are going to cooperate with NATO, especially on security problems. NATO and the CSTO might be in different weight categories, but in essence they are similar organizations because they include military components, political components, and components that deal with today's challenges. That's why we are going to cooperate," Bordyuzha said.

In Brussels, NATO spokesman Robert Pszczel noted that all six CSTO members are already members of NATO's wide-ranging Partnership for Peace program. And he says they are valued partners.

"They are our very important partners, very valued partners in the fight against terrorism, particularly if you look at the fact that a number of them are neighbors of Afghanistan, in which we in NATO are conducting an operation," Pszczel said.

However, a NATO official who preferred not to be named said that while NATO foresees continued bilateral cooperation with the six nations, it has no plans to recognize the CSTO as a group.

Elaborating on the situation, the official said that each of the six CSTO states has a slightly different form of cooperation with NATO because of their different military proficiencies. But he stressed their importance, saying that among them are countries providing bases, airspace, transit routes, and other support to the NATO-led operation in Afghanistan.

Singling out the alliance's relationship with the biggest CSTO member, Russia, NATO spokesman Pszczel said ties have reached a new level of warmth, which he said represents "a brave new world."

"We have achieved a pretty high level of political confidence [with Russia], which is not to say there are not issues upon which we disagree. Of course, there are. But it is quite a warm relationship. We are moving ahead from political consultations, some sorts of seminars, into very concrete activities. Just as an example, in this political atmosphere, one could easily think these days of a situation where we could consider a joint action, even a joint operation [with Russia]," Pszczel said.

The unnamed NATO official said that both NATO and the Russians have come to realize that if any such operation is to take place, there has to be a minimum level of military interoperability. He said Russian Defense Minister Igor Ivanov just this week characterized communications and staff interoperability as key to advancing the NATO-Russia relationship.

In view of this, the NATO official said the two sides have an "ambitious program" for next year, including procedural exercises, and more military-to-military contacts across a wide front.

In London, security analyst Mark Joyce of the Royal United Services Institute says one of the problems for the CSTO is that it is so little known, which hinders its efforts to gain status and recognition.

"I think you would be hard-pressed to find many people in the West who are even aware of its existence. It has hardly registered at all. Maybe now that it is pursuing cooperation with NATO, it will start to come unto the radar a little bit more," Joyce said.

Joyce says a partnership between NATO and the CSTO could, in principle, suit the Western alliance well: "[NATO] is certainly interested in establishing strong links in that part of the world. This actually fits in very well with the new role that it sees for itself as being an out-of-area actor, and one that will go and pursue the security interests of its members wherever they happen to arise in the world."