On October 14, the Russian business daily "Kommersant" reported a potential breakthrough for Moscow's diplomacy. The news was immediately circulated by other Russian news agencies.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) hopes to sign an agreement within 18 months with the United Nations that will allow the CSTO to act beyond its borders in future joint peacekeeping and counterterrorist operations. CSTO Secretary-General Nikolai Bordyuzha said this might also draw the organization closer to NATO.
The planned agreement and the timescale for its implementation will have important policy implications for NATO and confirms the growing importance that the Kremlin attaches to using the CSTO as a foreign-policy tool.
It also comes at a time when NATO is seeking to expand its cooperation with Russia. New NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has advocated Russian participation in developing a common security strategy with the alliance as the basis of all future cooperation.
Moreover, he strongly supports a more practical approach to relations with Russia, which complements the "reset" strategy espoused by Washington. Rasmussen has also called for greater Russian involvement in NATO's efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, which he sees as centering on providing additional training for the Afghan National Army and supplying equipment.
The draft document, which was agreed at foreign-minister level, as was an analogous NATO-UN agreement signed in 2008, envisages cooperation across a wide range of security issues including counternarcotics, international terrorism, transnational crime, arms trafficking, and peace-support operations. UN cooperation with the CSTO will be based on "the new challenges and threats that the international community faces."
Yet, the significance of the agreement is that the Moscow-dominated security bloc will gain de facto legitimacy from the United Nations, in the absence of a similar CSTO-NATO cooperative dynamic, which will confirm the CSTO as the guarantor of security in Central Asia, Armenia, and Belarus.
Continuing Russian Domination
Moscow's domination of the CSTO has intensified following the Russia-Georgia war of August 2008 and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's efforts to further develop the military component of the organization in order to create the potential for rapid collective intervention in various regional crises. A new military structure has been developed, despite the reluctance of Belarus and Uzbekistan, and the Collective Operational Reaction Force (CORF) has just staged its first active military exercise in Kazakhstan, which ended on October 16.
However, despite the Russo-centric nature of the CORF, reflected in its contribution of a division and a brigade (numerically by far the largest among the CSTO members), Moscow also dominates the underlying security thinking within the organization. In essence, it is being activated by the Kremlin as a way of undermining NATO-led cooperative initiatives with the Central Asian CSTO members. By providing an alternative to cooperation with the alliance, the CSTO is at the same time actively strengthening its peacekeeping capabilities, as well as its capability to meet the challenges of natural disasters and intervene in emergency situations.
In the Central Asian militaries, many officers who have received U.S., U.K., or NATO education or training are often "backwatered" on their return. Many members of the top brass are suspicious of these "Western-trained officers," and often the training simply does not fit their needs. For example, one senior officer in Kazakhstan noted that all Kazakh officers educated at West Point in the United States have since left the armed forces.
Russian analytical structures have assessed the trends and weaknesses in Western military cooperation jointly with their CSTO counterparts and are actively calibrating into the intensification of the organization's "new look" initiatives designed to offer alternatives to cooperating with NATO. Indeed, the interest expressed by the alliance in involvement in Central Asian energy security has proven to be a tipping point, and Moscow has renewed its efforts to ensure no further westward drift toward NATO takes place amongst its CSTO partners.
The cachet of approval stemming from UN legitimacy for future CSTO operations will be a factor in decision making within the Central Asian capitals, with the exception of Tashkent, which is likely to preserve its relative independence within the body.
An additional, and overriding factor, relates to Medvedev's drive to secure support for his new European security-architecture plans. He has already gained approval for this effort at the UN, as all CSTO members offered backing at the 64th General Assembly on September 22.
The CSTO member states declared their support for the equal and indivisible safety of "all states of the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian states, having underlined the necessity of strict observance of the obligations of the states undertaken at the highest level not to strengthen their security at the expense of safety of other countries."
Moreover, during his speech at the UN General Assembly, Medvedev reiterated his call to draft and sign a comprehensive, legally binding treaty on European security. Of course, this initiative has met with much skepticism in Western capitals, not least since it raises questions related to frozen conflicts and implies that the present European security architecture is moribund.
Moscow also links Eurasian and European security, and Russian security thinking is coming to regard the two as indivisible. While negotiating such a European treaty is still a distant perspective, Moscow wants to position itself to benefit from greater levels of multilateral security cooperation, in which NATO is regarded as one potential partner among many.
Transforming The CSTO
Underlying these grand designs, Moscow undoubtedly has more practical policy aspirations, which from a Western perspective appear negative. They include opposing any future eastward expansion of NATO, and convincing its allies in the CSTO not to enter any new military basing agreements with Washington.
However, this is not to say that Moscow opposes any form of cooperation with the West; it offers multilateral and bilateral security cooperation on a wide range of issues, including Afghanistan, but rooted in the appearance of Western recognition of Russian as a great power or equal partner.
WATCH: RFE/RL's Kazakh Service was on hand to film military exercises this week by the CSTO Collective Operational Reaction Forces.
An agreement between the UN and the CSTO might succeed where NATO has hitherto failed. Moscow has previously proposed CSTO-NATO cooperation, which the alliance has proven reluctant to accept, offering no official reasons, while privately saying that the CSTO is too young, or that its secretariat lacks any real independence. Nonetheless, this agreement not only opens the door to potential future CSTO-NATO cooperation, it also serves to strengthen the legal basis for peace-support operations or other UN-backed security operations within the CIS.
In this context, it is likely, given the importance that Russia and its Central Asian CSTO allies have attached to assisting NATO in its efforts to diversify its supply routes in support of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan by developing the northern distribution network, that Moscow will push for "control" over that network to be delegated to the CSTO. This would create a legal mechanism to involve these countries more actively in the supply network, and serve as a more durable multilateral framework to facilitate logistical assistance to Afghanistan.
In short, there are both local and international implications to the CSTO agreement with the UN. At the local level, it helps Moscow in its attempts to convince other CSTO members that the bloc is being genuinely transformed and will play a greater role in regional security in the future.
At an international level, Moscow wants the CSTO to become a body with which other organizations, including the EU, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and NATO, will gladly cooperate. Meanwhile, cooperation with the UN will undoubtedly enhance the reputation of the CSTO.
Roger McDermott is a senior fellow in Eurasian military studies at the Jamestown Foundation. His most recent article on the Russian armed forces is "Russia's Conventional Armed Forces And The Georgian War," ("Parameters -- U.S. Army War College Journal," Spring 2009).