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Strains Visible In CIS Military Alliance

Belarusian Alyaksandr Lukashenka at the CSTO meeting last week
Belarusian Alyaksandr Lukashenka at the CSTO meeting last week
Belarus is proving again that the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) is not exactly a cohesive military alliance.

The CSTO was back in the news last week when, at a summit, the leaders spoke about the group's rapid reaction force in Central Asia.

At the same time, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev, in Russia for the summit, mentioned his country wanted to know when the United States was planning on leaving the military base at Manas International Airport.

The CSTO rapid reaction force, numbering now between 1,000 and 2,000 troops almost entirely from Russia and under Russian command, have been at the Kant military base in Kyrgyzstan since 2002.

Under a new plan aired at the meeting last week, all the CSTO countries -- Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan -- will contribute one battalion each (totaling some 15,000 troops).

However, Belarus had a rapid reaction of its own when Minsk announced that it would not send any of its troops outside Belarusian borders. This isn't the first time Belarus has refused to send troops.

In 1998, with Taliban forces gaining strength and on the borders Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, the Uzbek government talked about invoking the CSTO agreements on mutual defense, just in case Taliban forces strayed into the CIS.

Then Belarus made clear none of its soldiers would come to fight in Central Asia. That was one of the reasons Uzbekistan announced later in 1998 that it was withdrawing from the CSTO.

Uzbekistan is now in the process of rejoining the CSTO (President Islam Karimov was at the summit).

But all the formalities for Uzbekistan's reentry into the CSTO are not complete and the Belarus announcement may remind President Karimov how much comfort he found in past CSTO pledges of mutual defense.

-- Bruce Pannier

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