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Central Asia Report: April 18, 2002

18 April 2002, Volume 2, Number 15

MILITARY-SECURITY ROUND-UP. The security council secretaries of the six member states of the CIS Collective Security Treaty (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan) convened in Kazakhstan's former capital Almaty for two days of closed-door meetings on 11-12 April. Immediately afterward, the CIS Collective Rapid Reaction Forces began a week of command-and-staff exercises held sequentially in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan. The juxtaposition of security talks and military action under Russian leadership served as a reminder and reaffirmation, at a time when NATO deployments in the region seem to be eclipsing Russia's influence, that Moscow still aspires to a political and military role in Central Asia.

SUMMIT OF SECURITY COUNCIL SECRETARIES. On 11 April, Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo stressed that Central Asia plays a "priority role" in the international campaign against terrorism, Interfax reported. Consequently, regional cooperation in combating terrorism and the factors that give rise to it, such as organized crime, drug trafficking, and illegal migration, were the focus of the Collective Security Treaty (CST) meetings in Almaty. In order to formalize such cooperation, participants raised the possibility of transforming the CST into a regional collective-security organization, Interfax-Kazakhstan said on 12 April. According to the secretary-general of the Collective Security Council, Valerii Nikolaenko, the creation of such an organization would bind its members together more tightly and permit them as a body to coordinate approaches with other international organizations such as the UN, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Nikolaenko told journalists on 12 April that the idea will be discussed by the presidents of the CST member states at their May summit in Moscow, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Furthermore, both he and Rushailo announced that the CST is open for any ex-Soviet countries to join (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 15 April 2002). Representatives from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine also attended the meeting as observers. Meanwhile, Tajik Security Council Secretary Amirqul Azimov told Asia-Plus that his CST colleagues have resolved to establish an independent staff within the framework of the treaty to bolster military coordination between its members. As such, it could be seen as a first step toward making the CST a standing security organization.

Although the Pentagon's growing role in Central Asia was not overtly on the agenda of the CST meetings in Almaty, it loomed in the background. Russian Security Council Secretary Rushailo insisted that Russia still views America as its strategic ally but that the goals, tasks, and schedule of the Western military presence in the region "must be clearly determined," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 12 April. Making a pitch for partnership with Washington, Rushailo said, "We will conduct the counter-terrorist campaign jointly" -- thus indicating an understanding that the Americans have come to stay for now, while simultaneously signaling that Russia does not intend to simply surrender the region to them as a sphere of influence. But if Rushailo expected his CST partners to fall into line behind him, he was disappointed. His Kyrgyz counterpart, Misir Ashirkulov, told Kazakh TV on 12 April that the basing agreements with foreign contingents to use the Manas air base can be extended beyond December, as long as necessary, if the operation in Afghanistan takes longer than anticipated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2002).

RAPID REACTION FORCES TRAIN AGAINST TERRORISTS. On 13 April, exercises of the CIS Collective Rapid Reaction Forces (CRRF), drawn from the armies of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, opened with three days of command-and-staff drills in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, Asia-Plus reported. The drills, representing the first stage of the exercises, were to practice getting the forces to battle-readiness. They were followed by four days of practicing military operations and live firing in Tajikistan's Khatlon Oblast, Kyrgyz radio added. The purpose of the exercises, named "South -- Antiterror 2002," was to practice fighting separatism and extremism, international terrorists, and "bandit formations" in the region, CRRF commander Major General Sergei Chernomordin told Khabar TV on 13 April. (Since operations of this kind require speed and maneuverability in an army, Kyrgyz Defense Minister Colonel General Esen Topoev said that the country's new military doctrine envisages a shift to a small, compact, and highly mobile army by 2010, Kyrgyz radio reported on 13 April.) The exercises also called for army units to be trained in coordinating their movements with border guards, Interior Ministry Forces, and local authorities, Asia-Plus added.

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan held its own separate exercises at the Saryshagan military training ground and firing range in the country's central Karaganda Oblast, Kazakh Khabar TV said on 16 April. The exercises were attended by President Nursultan Nazarbaev and involved over 6,000 servicemen from the infantry, air defense, rocket forces, and artillery, Interfax reported. (But on 16, April RIA-Novosti said 28,000 servicemen participated.) These exercises, titled "Shield of the Motherland 2002," cost about $1 million and, according to Nazarbaev, proved the high combat-readiness of the national forces. The president also said that Kazakh army officers will be trained in Russian military academies and will be equipped in the future with weapons bought from Russia at concessionary prices, RIA-Novosti added.

CIS, NATO ANTITERRORIST FORCES ARE COMPLEMENTARY, RUSSIANS SAY. CRRF commander Major General Sergei Chernomordin categorically denied that the show of strength by the CIS forces represented in any way a response, much less a challenge, to the build-up of Western troops at Manas, Khabar TV reported on 13 April. He set out to explain instead how the two sets of troops could actually complement one another, saying that the U.S.-led international coalition's task was "destroying fighters in Afghanistan," while the CRRF under his command "are responsible for the stability of the situation in Central Asia." In fact, as Kazakh TV reported on 12 April, Tajikistan's Security Council Secretary Amirqul Azimov had already hinted at a complementary role for the CRRF by pointing out things it could do more successfully than NATO forces based in Central Asia had managed to achieve. Azimov noted in particular that America's campaign against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda did nothing to stop the flow of drugs northward into Central Asia from Afghanistan, and that its operations there have failed to destroy a single narcotics depot, the television said. Preferably, Azimov hinted, drug interdiction should be a mission for CIS troops. (On 16 April, the Russian Federal Border Guard Service, responsible for protecting the Tajik-Afghan frontier, said that Russian guards have been attacked by smugglers over 10 times this year and have confiscated more than 350 kilograms of drugs, 85 percent of which was heroin, Interfax reported. The same agency said the previous day that the Tajik Interior Ministry's antidrug department made a public bonfire of 341 kilograms of drugs in the capital, Dushanbe.)

Boris Mylnikov, the head of the CIS Counterterrorism Center in Bishkek, which was helping to coordinate the exercises, also suggested that his center's work could be complementary to that of the antiterrorist coalition, for example by exchanging information, Interfax said on 15 April. He added, however, that U.S. deployments in Central Asia served chiefly America's own interests rather than those of indigenous states, and opined the U.S. presence acted as a check to Chinese ambitions, according to ITAR-TASS.

RUSSIAN SECURITY CHIEF IN BISHKEK. Director of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Nikolai Patrushev arrived in Bishkek on 16 April for talks with Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev and Security Council Secretary Misir Ashirkulov on approaches to combating international terrorism, religious extremism, and narcotics trafficking, Kabar and RIA-Novosti reported. Bilateral cooperation on these issues within the framework of the CST and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) were also on the agenda, Kabar said. Also on 16 April, RIA-Novosti reported, Akaev had a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin about security cooperation and preparations for the Moscow summit in May.

EXERCISES CONTINUE IN TAJIKISTAN. On 16 April, Rapid Reaction Forces were redeployed to Almaty for two days and then to the Mumirak training ground (where the Russian 201st Motor Rifle Division usually practices) near Kulob in Tajikistan for exercises involving armored vehicles, heavy artillery, and aircraft, Asia-Plus reported. The exercises, whose final day was scheduled to be 19 April, were co-directed by the motor rifle division's deputy commander, Colonel Viktor Sidorov, and Commander in Chief of ground Forces of Tajikistan Major General Abdulnazar Abdulasanov. But only the Russian and Tajik division were given live ammunition to fire, while Kyrgyz soldiers and the Kazakh battalion merely observed, Interfax said. This raises the possibility that funds were tight and economies were needed. All in all, despite Russian-driven attempts to position the CST and CRRF as alternatives or complements to NATO forces on the ground in Central Asia, their military component is weak, as evidenced by the fact that defense ministries are looking abroad for help. For instance, Tajik Defense Minister Sherali Khairulloev returned to Dushanbe on 15 April after a two-day trip to Paris, where he met his French counterpart, Alain Richard, and signed a cooperation protocol between their two ministries, Tajik television said. Richard stressed that Tajikistan has an important role to play in the international campaign against terrorism, and said that France is willing, therefore, to train Tajik officers to European standards. On 14 April, the television offered insight into the quality of Tajikistan's armed forces with a report that more than 10 percent of Tajik troops serving in the State Border Protection Committee have been sacked following appraisal of their performance by a government examination board. Others were put on suspension or strongly advised to move into other professions, the TV said. Khairulloev, breaking the journey home from Paris, then stopped in Moscow. There he discussed upgrading the Tajik army's weapons and other aspects of military-technical cooperation with Colonel General Viktor Zavarzin, Russia's chief official for coordinating military affairs between CIS countries, Asia-Plus reported on 16 April.