ASTANA - Tuesday, April 24, 2012 -
On April 6, Astana hosted another meeting of foreign ministers representing the member states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). This high-level gathering was organized a month before the Moscow summit of the CSTO heads of state, which will officially mark the 20th anniversary of the Treaty, and touched upon a series of issues ranging from bilateral relations to the organization’s international agenda.
As regards the situation in Afghanistan, the ministers agreed to take concrete measures to strengthen the Tajik-Afghan border, considering that a gradual transfer of security responsibilities to Afghan authorities will further aggravate the pending risks in hardly controllable border areas. For this purpose, it is envisaged that Tajikistan will receive additional support, in financial or technical terms, to fight unwarranted intrusions.
The ministers also commented on the latest sanctions imposed by the European Union on Belarusian authorities and state-run companies, in response to the government’s crackdown on opposition forces. These sanctions, in force since February 2012 and later supplemented by stronger restrictions, were designed to prevent official representatives of the Belarusian government from traveling to Europe and to limit the scope of economic cooperation with Minsk.
In the view of the CSTO member states, including Belarus itself, such actions do not create a positive ground for improving the bilateral relationship and further undermine the potential for renewed dialogue.
A few other statements were made in Astana with regard to the ongoing hostilities in Syria, Iran’s nuclear problem, and relations with NATO. The CSTO Secretary General Nikolay Bordyuzha voiced his colleagues’ unanimous support for Kofi Annan’s peace mission to Damascus and underlined Russia’s special role in conducting negotiations within the Arab League or in direct contact with Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
He reconfirmed the organization’s interest in bringing the situation under control whilst Moscow insists on concluding a truce with rebel forces, which will not set any preconditions for the dismissal of the current Syrian government.
As far as Iran’s nuclear program is concerned, Bordyuzha warned against any decisive steps to compel Iran to give up its long-time plans.
“What I want to say is that military action should not take place. The international community must exclude the possibility of using force to resolve its problems with Iran, because it may entail tectonic shifts on a global scale in terms of security; it will destabilize not only the region but the whole world,” Bordyuzha said.
He specifically mentioned potential environmental problems as well as the issue of refugees, among the first direct consequences of an air strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. On behalf of the CSTO, its Secretary General expressed hope that forthcoming negotiations in Istanbul could deliver tangible results.
Finally, the CSTO foreign ministers made a joint statement about enlarging their cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). As Bordyuzha recalled, this was not their first attempt to establish good working relations with NATO on issues of mutual concern. Previously, it was rather the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that was regarded by Western observers as a logical counterpart for NATO in Central Asia, but as Russia is trying to “re-conquer” privileged positions with its post-Soviet allies, the CSTO is now visibly taking the lead.
Despite the generally amicable content of the CSTO’s message to NATO, relations between these two organizations have always been far from friendly.
In late February, Bordyuzha heavily criticized the U.S.’s so-called Central Asian Anti-Narcotics Initiative, which aims to provide support for NATO’s Partnership for Peace partners in combating drug trafficking from Afghanistan. According to the CSTO Secretary General, this plan is purely political and does not take into account the existence of analogous projects piloted by the CSTO itself.
In a press release, the U.S. Embassy to Kazakhstan officially clarified the goal of the plan by denying any rumors that U.S. experts will gain access to confidential information, including state secrets, on foreign territory. Such experts are expected to operate under the full control of local authorities, as it is now being implemented in Afghanistan.
At the same time, Russia’s ties with CSTO partners are rapidly strengthening. Recently, Kazakhstan authorized CSTO military contingents to access and exit its territory without visas and exempted the use of any material from applicable taxes or charges. It also responded favorably to Russia’s request concerning the “military specialization” of 19 Kazakh enterprises, which allows Russia to maintain a solid client base for its military-industrial complex.
In turn, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Armenia will benefit from advantageous contracts with 420 Russian companies producing armaments and spare parts. Another privilege, which Russia has recently managed to secure, is the consent given by CSTO member states to use the Russian ruble as the sole currency for intra-CSTO transactions related to military purchases. This is expected to further strengthen the formal structure of the organization.
(This article was first published in the Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst (www.cacianalyst.org), a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center.)