Central Asian nations prepare for “big war”

Armenian special troops stand in an order during Russia-Armenia joint military exercises of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (AFP Photo / Karen Minasyan)
Russia and its allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) are to merge their joint troops in Central Asia into one huge military force capable of waging a large-scale war.

The CSTO is a regional security alliance – made up of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – which was formed in 1992. Russia has recently been pushing to give the organization a greater role.

The sides agreed in February on forming a rapid response force with a single command in Moscow to tackle small-scale conflicts and natural disasters wherever they may happen on the territory of the alliance. A treaty on the Collective Rapid Response Forces (CRRF) is to be signed in June.

However, the CSTO has a bigger project in mind, as Kommersant newspaper reports on Friday. The organization may greatly enlarge its military capabilities in Central Asia by forming a strong, joint armed force operating there. It will become the third regional CSTO military force after the European force formed by Russia and Belarus and the Caucasian force formed by Russia and Armenia.

“We expect it to be a combined force including four or even five participants. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia will create it for a big war. For a serious threat to our territorial integrity and sovereignty,” said CSTO Secretary General Nikolai Bordyuzha in an interview to the daily.

The idea is not new, but now it has reached the stage of practical implementation.

“We have work on all directions. The force is being created, and it’s a practical issue. It will be a purely military structure and it will ensure security in Central Asia in case of an invasion,” said a source in the Russian Foreign Ministry supervising CSTO cooperation.

The participant countries will provide units of higher-than-brigade scale for the force, including armored units, artillery and navy units in the Caspian Sea region.

Details of the exact strength of the future force or the timing of its creation are not known yet, but if its scale will be comparable to that of the two outer regional forces, it will be big. For instance, the European collective force includes all Belarusian military and all troops Russia has in the western direction, as CSTO spokesman Vitaly Strugovets told Kommersant.

The ambitious project is in line with Russia’s new security strategy which was published earlier in May. The document points out that military conflict over energy resources may see a surge in the future and points out at Central Asia and the Caspian Sea as one of the possible goals for warring nations. It also says the CSTO is a key instrument of security for Russia and its allies.

When Dmitry Medvedev was announcing the creation of the CRRF, he mentioned that they “will not be less powerful than those of NATO,” indicating Moscow’s intention to turn the CSTO into a powerful military block to balance the presence of the North Atlantic Alliance in the region.

The biggest obstacle for the new Central Asian force will probably be the big number of contributors with their own agendas, the newspaper believes. The smaller-scale project to create the CRRF took much negotiation before it could be put in action. Establishing a strong joint force in the energy-rich region with a great potential for conflict will be a trickier plan to put into action.