Afghan tensions help Russia promote CSTO

Russian newspaper Kommersant has reported that the Russia-oriented military bloc CSTO is now one step closer to international recognition equal to that of NATO.

The report was based on the fact that the United Nations formally accepted for consideration a new memorandum on cooperation that allowed the CSTO to take part in conflict settlement all over the world. This gives further signs that the bloc – which until recently was more of a virtual nature – will be formally recognized.

The news came as members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization held a major military exercise in Kazakhstan. The exercise, which started on October 2, is entering its final stage this week and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev left for Kazakhstan on Thursday to attend it.

The other factor on the background is NATO’s clear indication that it was interested in Russia’s participation in the Afghanistan operation as well as the completion of the so called “northern corridor” – the transport route from Europe to Northern Afghanistan via former Soviet republics. This was the first statement made by NATO after a year of strained relations that came after the brief war between Russia and Georgia in August 2008.

Now, Russia is hinting that the base for the “northern corridor” is ready – and it is called CSTO. The bloc includes all nations that border Afghanistan in the North and it already has some experience in providing security in the region.

Besides, one year ago, the United Nations signed a cooperation declaration in September 2008. The document drew a lot of criticism from Moscow back then. Russia said that the document was signed without being presented to all UN member states and the UN apparatus provided no explanation as to why the paper was made secret.

Nevertheless, soon after the agreement between NATO and the UN was signed, the CSTO nations started to work on a similar declaration. This September, Russia raised the question of cooperation with CSTO at the UN General Assembly Session in New York. The memorandum, submitted to the UN states that the two sides will together stand against new challenges and threats, such as terrorism, drug and arms trafficking and international organized crime. The CSTO also wants assistance in creating a peacekeeping force within it so it can take part in peacekeeping missions under UN command.

No date was set for the memorandum’s approval.

Despite such an extreme early stage of cooperation between the CSTO and the UN, Russian observers were optimistic about its potential. Aleksander Pikayev, the head of the Department for Disarmament and Conflict Settlement with the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, told RT that he expected the UN to eventually sign the memorandum. Pikayev went on to say that after CSTO enters an agreement with UN it might start some form of partnership with NATO if the situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate.

Fyodor Lukyanov, the Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs magazine, expressed even more optimism. Though admitting that the process will take some time, the editor said that the UN and NATO will only benefit from cooperation with the CSTO. “I think that the CSTO, as a regional organization, is gradually drawing more and more attention because it unites the countries in one of the hottest regions in the world today,” he said. “It must be noted that the CSTO in recent months is gradually drawing attention from NATO,” he added.

“Compared to the previous situation, when NATO did not want even to hear about the OSCE, now many officials and experts say that the CSTO can be a very useful partner. NATO has to solve very complicated tasks precisely in the Central and South Asia – connected with Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the CSTO is the organization almost completely focused on this region,” Lukyanov said. He also holds that the recognition from the side of NATO and the UN will benefit the CSTO:

“The CSTO needs partner relations with NATO as proof that the CSTO is a real structure. Now, Russia tries to turn the CSTO into a working military-political alliance and it does not work well, as there are tensions between the alliance’s members, but if NATO looks at the CSTO as a real partner, I think it would bring more interest from the side of other participants.”