From the Middle East to Ukraine, from a terrorist attack to an armed conflict... A growing unrest in the world more and more evidently affects the interests of Russia and its closest political partners, i.e. the military and political alliance of CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization), including Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
By Leonid Nersisyan
Islamic Radicalism and Frozen Conflicts
Which stage of co-operation is the CSTO undergoing at this moment, which challenges do the member states have to face and what is the future of the organization?
The most serious and urgent global threat is Islamic radical movement led by so-called ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). For many CSTO member states, ISIL is not something like the ephemeral universal evil. Without support from powerful neighboring countries, the Central Asia Republics, in particular Tajikistan sharing borders with ever unstable Afghanistan, become a zone of influence and a source of manpower for the Islamic State. Almazbek Atambayev, the President of Kyrgyzstan, gives his comments on the matter, “A direct threat for our region’s security is the tendency of expansion of the ISIL terrorist grouping’s zone of influence in the territory of Afghanistan. Moreover, we are very concerned about multiple cases of recruiting of citizens of our republics and their leaving to take part in armed conflicts on the side of the ISIL.”
Even for such a country as Armenia, Islamists may be a problem – they have not yet appeared in the South Caucasus region but nobody can guarantee that the ISIL fighters would not infiltrate into Azerbaijan or Turkey. For Russia, the main threat is a new wave of extremism in the North Caucasus region. In case actual attempts to make the situation unstable appear, the KSOR forces may be applied or the Russian armed forces may provide direct support to the CSTO member states because Russia has sufficiently large military bases in Tajikistan and in Armenia as well as an air force base in Kyrgyzstan. The KSOR’s combat effectiveness is constantly improved with large military exercises being conducted on a regular basis.
As for frozen conflicts, special emphasis shall be put on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with direct participation of Armenia and Azerbaijan, which is not a CSTO member. To this day, Baku threatens to get even, using military forces. For the time being, both conflict parties have accumulated considerable arsenals of weapons. This means that a new escalation of the conflict may lead to severe effects. In this case, Armenia’s status as a CSTO member state serves as an unconditional deterrent against a new conflict outburst. Another “powder keg” is Vorukh, the Tajikistan’s enclave in Kyrgyzstan. The enclave’s disputed ownership has already caused small local shooting incidents.
Are the CSTO Members Free to Act as They Like?
The analysis of the challenges that the CSTO member states have to face allows to understand that solving each problem requires participation of one of the organization members and Russia. It is very difficult to imagine that the Kazakhstani or Belarusian armed forces may fight the Azerbaijani army supported by Armenia as its ally or, for example, imagine that Erevan is taking part in an anti-Taliban operation at the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. In fact, there are only a few real links between the organization members; basically, all the members are linked with Russia. Besides, the actions of the CSTO members rarely accord with each other – as an example, let us take the voting procedure relating to the Crimea when Russia was supported by Armenia and Belarus only. Another example of such a “freedom of action” is selling arms by the CSTO members to Azerbaijan, the country that is officially in the state of war against their Armenian ally (after cease fire in 1994, a peace treaty was not yet signed).
Probably, that was the CSTO members’ discontent with the above-mentioned facts that eventually led to the decision announced at the CSTO Summit in Dushanbe on September 15, 2015: the position of the CSTO Secretary General is to be based on the staff turnover principle. This would allow the member states to express their opinions on disputable matters more explicitly. Therefore, Mr. Nikolay Borduzha who has been holding office since 2003 is to give up his position to somebody else in the nearest future.
“The last thing I want is a critical situation at our border similar to the European migrant crisis because mass migration of people brings mass problems for the national security and the state”, Nikolay Borduzha, Secretary General of the CSTO
To some extent, this problem is also common for the NATO alliance, but in this case, it’s pertinent to mention certain sub-alliances that have a small scope of authority to act independently (as for Turkey, this scope is quite considerable). Of course, the USA play a defining role in the North Atlantic Alliance.
Military-Technical Co-operation – Basic Motivation to be CSTO Member
The military-technical co-operation is one of the most intense fields of co-operation among the CSTO member states. The basic prerequisite for this co-operation is the possibility to buy Russian arms at reduced prices that are practically comparable to the prices set for the Ministry of Defence of the RF. Major buyers of Russian arms are Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Armenia that regularly buy large arms lots including the most advanced weapons. For instance, Kazakhstan has bought a single lot of multi-purpose Su-30SM fighters and received five divisions of S-300PS surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems for free.
“Today, we have to face the escalation of tension in ongoing conflict zones, the overt acts of war, and formation of trouble spots including zones near our borders. In a situation like this, we must reinforce the CSTO’s military power and crisis response mechanisms”, Alexander Lukashenko, the President of the Republic of Belarus
For the last two months, Belarus has signed few contracts, including one contract for delivery of five Tor-M2K short-range SAM systems. A distinctive feature of this contract is that the SAM system is mounted on a wheeled chassis made by Minsk Wheeled Tractor Plant (MZKT), i.e. this system is a product of co-operation. Moreover, Belarus becomes one of the main foreign buyers of the advanced Yak-130 jet trainer-light attack fighter aircraft that are able to simulate behavior of various modern aircraft. Minsk has already received four aircraft (of eight aircraft to be delivered under the contract), placed an order for a next lot of eight aircraft, and is going to purchase eight Yak-130 fighters additionally, to get 20 aircraft of this type in total. Moreover, Belarus has purchased the “Protivnik-G 59N6М” radar station and few modified BTR-82A APCs. In addition, Belarus, along with Armenia and Kazakhstan, has received few divisions of the S-300PS SAM systems for free.
Despite reduced prices, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan cannot afford such large purchases because their defence budgets allow to cover only the costs of the basic outfit and to maintain the minimum acceptable level of the armed forces’ combat effectiveness. These countries receive small arms supplies from Russia, but these are basically stock military equipment and ammunition delivered for free.
Co-operation in Defence Industry Sector – Shall Belarusian Products Substitute Ukrainian ones?
With regard to sanctions imposed by Western countries against Russia and termination of military-technical co-operation between Russia and Ukraine, which produces a number of important components required for Russian arms production, along with the import substitution that often takes a long time, new suppliers are needed. Thus, despite a large number of signed documents related to co-operation in the field of arms production (either within the scope of CSTO or directly between the organization member states), achievements leave much to be desired. Let us take a closer look at each CSTO member.
No doubt, Belarus is the leader in the field of military-technical co-operation. A perfect example here is Minsk Wheeled Tractor Plant (MZKT) producing chassis for various types of Russian military equipment, ranging from the “Topol-M” and “Yars” intercontinental ballistic missile mobile systems to the S-400 SAM systems and the “Iskander” tactical ballistic missile systems. Belarusian enterprises have business relations with at least 400 Russian plants. Among the new products developed under sanctions, we shall mention thermal imaging sights for the “Khrizatema-S” anti-tank missile self-propelled systems, production of which has been launched in the shortest possible time. These thermal imaging sights are intended to substitute the Ukrainian equivalents. In addition, Belarus is taking part in new Russian projects. For example, at MAKS-2015 International Aviation and Space Salon in August 2015, Almaz-Antey demonstrated a helicopter-type radar intelligence drone based on the Belarusian helicopter-type UAV with operating attachments such as cameras and a radar station made in Russia. As for newly developed Belarusian products, they are equipped with many Russian components. However, we are not sure that Belarus will be able to substitute the majority of components produced by Western countries and Ukraine.
Kazakhstan makes the minimum contribution to the Russian defence industry. It is better to mention here Russian companies operating in Kazakhstan and manufacturing products for the Kazakhstani army. An obvious example is Uralsk Plant “Zenit”, JSC (located in Uralsk, Kazakhstan) involved in the licensed production of the Project 0250 missile gunboats. There are companies specializing in military equipment repair, production of ammunition, communication equipment, etc. However, Russian arms makers are not actually interested in all these products for now.
“Our actions shall be based on the need to consider the allied obligations and the partners’ opinion, along with joint countermeasures against those initiatives that are contrary to the interests of one or few CSTO member states”, Serzh Sargsyan, the President of Armenia
Armenia’s defence industry is also mostly oriented to the domestic market, while some supplies to Russian manufacturers are maintained at the minimum level. Basically, these are certain electronics components. A number of Armenian defence industry enterprises are bought out by Russia but they have not yet been developed intensely. In recent years, several service centers for military equipment repair have been open in Armenia, many official statements have been made and many documents have been signed, but no real breakthrough has been made so far.
As for Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, the main problem is a very low economic level of these countries, which are not likely to be able to produce competitive military equipment in the nearest future.
It is clear that the problems related to co-operation in the defence industry sector among the CSTO member states do not fully comply with the official statements, while the import substitution problem cannot be solved by means of Belarusian products supplies only.
In this respect, another question may be raised – does Russia, which used to be dependent on the Ukrainian defence industry, need to be dependent on Minsk at the present moment? In a current political situation like this, an ally may change amicability into hostility in the blink of an eye. That is why the top priority shall be given to launching of production of key military equipment components in the territory of Russia even if it takes more time, more efforts and more money. It is not Russia that is to be blamed for the existing situation but Russia must take maximum advantage of it.
The history of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) dates back to 1992 when the Collective Security Treaty was signed in Tashkent. In 2002, this treaty was used as the basis for establishing a new international security organization, alongside with the Collective Rapid Reaction Force (KSOR), comprising about 20,000 troops.