The Collective Security Treaty Organisation and its limits on integration

_ Elia Bescotti, double degree master student, International Relations and European Studies, “Cesare Alfieri” Political Science School, University of Florence; World Politics, MGIMO. Guest researcher, Eurasian sector, CCEIS, Higher School of Economics. Florence, 2 January 2017.*

On May the 15th 1992 the former Soviet republics of Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan signed in Tashkent the Collective Security Treaty (onwards, CST) in the framework of security cooperation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (onwards, CIS). Azerbaijan, Belarus and Georgia joined the treaty in the following year and it came in force in 1994. According to Art. 11 of the treaty, it is concluded for five years and in 1999 Azerbaijan, Georgia and Uzbekistan refused to renew their adherence. Thus, participation to the treaty was prolongated by Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan. On October the 7th 2002, during the tenth anniversary of the treaty, these latter States established the Collective Security Treaty Organization (onwards, CSTO) to strengthen their ties in security integration and after the 2001 intervention in Afghanistan. The organisation was temporarily (re)joined by Uzbekistan from 2006 to 2012, while in 2013 Serbia and Afghanistan joined the organization as observer States.

The main tasks of the CSTO are the collective defence against common threats, both external and internal, in particular the joint cooperation and coordination against “international terrorism and extremism, illicit trafficking of drugs and psychotropic substances, weapon, organized transnational crime, illegal migration and other menaces to safety of the Member States” as listed in Art. 8.1 of the CSTO charter.317 Furthermore, worth to be mentioned are the collective defence against external aggressions outlined in Art. 4.1 of the 1992 treaty318 and the new 2025 CSTO strategy adopted on October the 14th 2016 where coloured revolutions and hybrid wars are addressed as new threats the organisation is aimed to deal with.319 The CSTO is also based on respect of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the member States and “exercise of the right to collective defence, including creation of coalition (collective) forces of the Organization, regional (united) groups of armies (forces), peacekeeping forces, united systems and the bodies governing them, military infrastructure.”320 Some of the most important collective military operations held by the CSTO are operation Канал (kanal – channel in Russian), aimed to contrast drug trafficking and observed by the UN, Interpol and countries such as Bolivia, China, Colombia, Iran, Italy, Pakistan, Poland, Ukraine, the US and others;321 operation Нелегал (nelegal – illegal in Russian) aimed to contrast illegal migration from non-CSTO States and operation Proxy, aimed at closing extremist websites and boost cyber-security cooperation among the members of the organization.322 Furthermore, the CSTO periodically holds military exercises, last of which was the Russian-Belarusian exercise Запад-2017 (Zapad-2017 – Zapad means West in Russian) held in September 2017, which brought to some major critics from NATO and, generally, the West, which were mostly overreactions.323 More precisely, the drill was conducted in the framework of the State Union of Russia and Belarus, established in 1996. Nevertheless, the CSTO is articulated in three directions of action: Eastern Europe, based on the bilateral Russian-Belarusian cooperation, Southern Caucasus, in which Russia and Armenia are involved, and Central Asia, where the Collective Rapid Deployment Force have been established and operates from the Kyrgyz military base of Kant.324

The CSTO is characterised as a military alliance between six of the twelve countries belonged or belonging to the CIS, and out of fifteen former Soviet Republics. This group of countries has been often addressed as the pro-Russian group, although each of these States pursue an (almost) independent foreign policy, at least in the framework of the organisation.325 However, an important issue worth to be underlined is the competence of the CSTO in dealing with the domestic affairs of each State: if extremism, terrorism, drug traffic and illegal migration encompass transnational threats, which involve both the internal and external dimension of action, domestic affairs have hitherto been left to the exclusive competence of the member States, although the recent 2025 Strategy can change this attitude according to the kind of domestic turmoil occurring within a member State. The clearest example of this “disinvolvement” were the June 2010 ethnic clashes between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in southern Kyrgyzstan, when the Kyrgyz government requested help from Russia and the CSTO to solve the problem through the employment of the jointed forces in the critical area. Officially, the possibility to intervene in the domestic affairs of a State was firmly rejected by the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, while the CSTO Secretary General Nikolay Bordyuzha justified the non-intervention also because of the lack of juridical instruments of the organisation.326 Furthermore, a Russian intervention in those territories would have been probably opposed by Uzbekistan, still a member of the organisation at the moment, and it probably would have stopped the correct functioning of the council. Yet, some instruments to deal with such an issue were introduced in December 2010.327 However, a Russian intervention in a CSTO State would not be new: the civil war in Tajikistan required the Russian intervention, although we must keep in mind that it was done within the CIS framework.

The respect of domestic affairs of the member States constitutes one of the “shared values” on which the CSTO is based, together with the respect of territorial integrity and State sovereignty as the most important. The CSTO however, does not provide any true instrument to settle disputes and conflicts between the member States besides the natural reflection of solutions provided by collective security systems. Thus, it is mostly aimed to securitise three conflictual dimensions: the external, the transnational and, after the recent developments the inner-State/domestic. Hence, to understand why the CSTO has been established, these dimensions of conflict should be explored.

Concerning the external threat, we need to underline the fact that this dimension has been pointed out in Art. 4 of the CST but not in the CSTO charter, or at least not directly. Art. 4 of the CST says that “[i]f one of the Member States undergoes aggression (armed attack menacing to safety, stability, territorial integrity and sovereignty), it will be considered by the Member States as aggression (armed attack menacing to safety, stability, territorial integrity and sovereignty) to all the Member States of this Treaty”328 while the CSTO charter underlines that the parties agree on the charter by “confirming the commitment to the purposes and principles of the Treaty and to the international treaties and resolutions accepted thereunder.”329 We need to underline this because a partial or incomplete reading of the documents might bring to wrong conclusions: albeit the CSTO is not aimed to the re-establishment of the Warsaw Pact,330 according to both its founding documents it must be considered a military alliance such as NATO, as UN does,331 for the triggering mechanism of collective defence against external military aggression is provided by Art. 4 CST, as it is provided by Art. 5 of the NATO charter.

The task is now to identify which might be the external threat to the members of CSTO. The problem in doing this is the definition of a common external threat and the fact that the existence of any alleged external threat is not directly one of the precipitating conditions which brought to the agreement of the CST and to the establishment of the CSTO. The “big trauma” that brought to the CST might be considered the collapse of the Soviet Union and the need to avoid clashes between States in the post-Soviet space. In this sense, the CST completes the regulating function attributed to a CIS as a “shock absorbing” transitory regime towards the establishment of stronger and truly independent States in the former USSR area.332

In fact, there is no obvious external threat in traditional sense the CST addresses in the charter, nor we can discern it from the foreign policy of its members, especially concerning to Russian foreign policy at the time of the establishment of the CST: from 1992 to 1995 Russian foreign policy was mostly projected and aimed to its inclusion in the West, as its inclusion in the International Monetary Fund and in the G8 demonstrate. Moreover, this projection can be noticed not only in the Russian external political attitude, but also within the Federation, with the establishment of a democratic regime based on liberal values and market economy, in total opposition to the recent and long communist past. During that period, the Russian elite was split between two main factions: liberal-internationalists, strongly represented in economic and financial structure and oriented towards a relinquishment of the geopolitical past of Russia, and liberal-realist, who still stressed the importance of the geopolitical role of Russia, especially within the CIS framework and Russian “near abroad.” The former stressed on the unnecessary presence of Russia in the post-Soviet space and pushed for closer ties with the West, while the latter hoped that the West recognised the Russian interest in the post-Soviet space.

Western criticism to the Russian attempts to regulate the conflicts in the former USSR republics by military means and the intention to expand NATO eastwards excluded Russia from joining the Western community. This was further exacerbated by the lack of Western support to Russia in the First War in Chechnya.333 Yet, neither the 2002 “upgrade” to CSTO should be considered as an opposition to the West, and this is true for several reasons: first, Putin, albeit criticised by his entourage, agreed to the US intervention in Afghanistan in 2001; second, on the anti-terrorist cooperation, the Russia-NATO agreement in Rome was signed together with the establishment of the Russia-NATO Council;334 third, CSTO keeps on looking for dialogue and recognition from NATO, which however prefers bilateral relations with CSTO members, justified by NATO due to CSTO ineffectiveness and for it is considered as a tool for Russian hegemony in the post-Soviet space.335

Yet, albeit not identifiable as the precipitating condition for the establishment of the CSTO, NATO and especially the United States foreign policy throughout the last fifteen years constituted a sufficient topic to boost the integration process as an accelerator. If the 2001 intervention in Afghanistan against international terrorism can be considered as a first United States attempt to export democracy outside the NATO area of intervention, and still has to be located in the framework of the “global war against terror” which addressed the threat of Islamic terrorism stemming from Afghanistan, a serious concern for Russia, Belarus and especially the Central Asian former Soviet republics was the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which addressed, among the others, the need to put an end to Saddam Hussein non-democratic rule.336 The following years, characterised by the spread of the phenomena of the so-called “coloured revolutions” across the area of the former Soviet Union, namely in Georgia, Ukraine and the CSTO member state Kyrgyzstan, exacerbated the fears of (some) local non-democratic governments of the post-Soviet space.

In this sense, two examples are worth to be pointed out. The first is Uzbekistan: in May 2005 a huge mobilisation against President Karimov’s rule in Andijan ended up in violent repression from the Uzbek police. The United States, actively present in Afghanistan under the ISAF mission and on the territory of Uzbekistan due to Karimov concerns against the threat of Islamic terrorism, heavily criticised the repression, by menacing that the undertaken action would have brought to serious diplomatic consequence. Fearing an excessive American intromission in Uzbekistan domestic affairs and, more precisely, for his power, President Karimov expelled the US military personnel from Khanabad airfield and blamed the US of supporting the rioters against the legitimate government of Uzbekistan.337 As a matter of fact, Uzbekistan officially left GU(U)AM in the same year to temporarily (re)join the CSTO in 2006.

The second example is provided by Belarus: after winning the 2006 presidential elections with 83% of the preferences, a series of protests supported by the American government directed against the re-elected President Lukashenko broke out in the main square of Minsk. The protests were harshly repressed, and several demonstrators imprisoned. A firm condemnation came from the West, whose governments and institutions judged the elections rigged, and sanctions against Lukashenko himself and members of his establishment were imposed. However, seen the “bland” Russian reaction against the 2004 expansion of NATO, Lukashenko choose to follow a path of dialogue towards the West, both by trying to improve relations with neighbouring Poland and Lithuania and getting instead closer to GUAM, yet not in anti-Russian function, but to deal with security issues the CSTO did not provide till 2010 and marked as relevant only recently with the 2025 Strategy, namely coloured revolutions.338

Finally, on the same wave, the “Arab springs” and the more general US practice of “regime change” in the whole Middle East during the last decade constituted a relevant reason for the consolidation of the CSTO around Russia.339 In this sense, the “shared values” of the CSTO, among which we might unofficially list the attachment to power of the CSTO leaders – which is only partially true, but nonetheless the relevance of the security dimensions typical of modern States, thus respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity, have consolidated the integration of the CSTO member States around its core State, which is obviously Russia.340

If the external dimension is partially covered by the concern of CSTO states on Western foreign policy attitude (especially American), and indirectly constitutes one of the sources of domestic threats of the CSTO members, it is not identifiable as the precipitating condition for the establishment of the military alliance, but rather an enforcement of the “shared values” of the organization. According to Weinstein, the integration force is traceable in Islamic terrorism.341 The experience of the wars in Chechnya and Tajikistan and partially the Armenian-Azeri confrontation on Nagorno-Karabakh constituted the trigger for the reinforcement of the CSTO, and the American intervention in Afghanistan did not only provide some reactions concerning the issue of sovereignty but, on the contrary, pushed some Central Asian states to bandwagon with the US, in particularly Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, and paradoxically Russia too, which supported the efforts of the NATO-led coalition involved in the ISAF mission by providing the use of their military bases of Khanabad (Uzbekistan), Manas (Kyrgyzstan) and Russian military installation in Tajikistan.342 The threat of transnational terrorism and its consequent spill-over into drug, weapon and people trafficking became the relevant threats for the Central Asian dimension of the CSTO, also because those threats were geographically closer to the former Soviet republics rather than to the Euro-Atlantic countries.

These non-traditional threats encompass almost every dimension of the CSTO area of action: Islamic terrorism and its consequences might be considered as transnational, external and domestic, depending on their area of operation and movement. However, they do not fully explain the reasons why Armenia and Belarus joined the CSTO. Indeed, as pointed out before, the CSTO has three directions of action, but if all the States of the CSTO participate in the Collective Rapid Deployment Forces and the Peacekeeping forces, the military cooperation in Southern Caucasus and Eastern Europe are based on bilateral agreements and integration between Russia and the two other post-Soviet States. This rather complex framework is motivated by the different and peculiar security concerns of Armenia and Belarus, which are less geographically close to the threats the Central Asian direction of action deals with.

On the one hand, Armenia has joined the CST and kept its adherence to the CSTO mainly because of its difficult relations with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. From a cultural point of view, Armenia has traditionally seen in Russia a protector of Christianity against the threat of Islam. If we consider that Azerbaijan is not only a State where its population is mostly Muslim, but has close cultural and linguistic ties with an historical Armenian foe, namely Turkey, the enmity between Armenia and Azerbaijan is historically rooted and justified. From a constructivist point of view, Armenian choices in foreign policy are therefore related to historical and cultural patterns, rooted and justified, among the others, by the Armenian genocide. Nevertheless, Armenia has friendly relations with Iran, which belongs to the Shia Islamic confession as Azerbaijan does, as the Islamic Republic has with the Caspian republic disputes over territorial issues (Azerbaijan is also the name of the Iranian region bordering with Azerbaijan and it is mostly populated by the Azeri ethnic group, which the Iranian Supreme Guide Ali Khamanei belongs to).

Besides cultural issues, the disputes between Armenia and Azerbaijan regard the Armenian military occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh during the ethnic conflict broken out with the collapse of the USSR. While we will focus on other aspects of the conflict later, now we need to focus on Art. 4 of the CST, which has been seen by Armenia as a good deterrent against any Azeri aggression. However, as seen in the April 2016, Russia prefers to act as a mediator between Armenia and Azerbaijan, acting within the OSCE framework instead through CSTO. Russia is also one of the main weapon supplier of Azerbaijan, which has been considered by Armenia as undermining the correct functioning of the CSTO. However, Armenia needs Russia as its major ally to increase its defence capabilities, as Russia needs Armenia to keep influence in the Southern Caucasus.343

On the other hand, Belarus security concerns have been already briefly pointed out: the biggest threat to Belarus and Lukashenko’s regime would be a “coloured revolution,” which would exile him from every political framework in the Eastern European republic. Furthermore, similarly to Russia, Lukashenko personal power started to be threatened when NATO and Western influence moved closer to Belarusian and Russian borders. Provided that Russia was reacting mostly verbally to the 1999 and 2004 enlargement, thus not firmly enough according to Belarus concerns, the Belarusian president tried to build better ties with the European partners. Belarus switched towards a more neutral position after the 2006 elections. Lukashenko chose to soften his strong support to Russia and CSTO, as stopped supporting Armenia on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue to build good ties with Azerbaijan. Thus, Belarus got in closer relations with the GUAM countries. However, Lukashenko did not take any anti-Russian position and continued to oppose NATO expansion in the region. We also need to keep in mind that Russia and Belarus established the State Union in 1996 and they remain close ally, as the last military drill Zapad-2017 demonstrates. Moreover, Russia has on the Belarusian territory two military bases and decided to enhance its military presence in Belarus by 2013, even if in 2015 Minsk refused to accept the establishment of a new Russian airbase on its territory. In fact, diplomatic and economic relations between Russia and Belarus are often less easy than their alignment suggests: Belarus refused to recognise Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and disapproved the 2008 Russian war against Georgia in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.344

The Nagorno-Karabakh issue, the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the Russian annexation of Crimea are often considered among of the main inefficiencies addressed as undermining the correct functioning of the CSTO. In this sense, unilateral projections of the Russian foreign policy are not necessarily (and usually they are not) supported by the other members of the organisation. Moreover, referring to these very issue, Russian foreign policy within the post-Soviet space has moved against the principle of territorial integrity, although concerning only non-CSTO member States. Indeed, if Russian foreign policy will compromise its relations with the non-CSTO former Soviet republics, this is not in the interest of the others CSTO member States. The example of the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia is certainly one of the best, for the only CSTO State allegedly interested in following the Russian Federation in the recognition of the separatist republic was Belarus, and only after a major Russian pressure, which, however, proven to be ineffective.345 The case of Nagorno-Karabakh is even worse, for no member of the CSTO supports Armenia in its struggle.346

Another major critique often addressed to the CSTO in its inefficiency under the operative point of view. As already mentioned, the refusal to intervene in 2010 turmoil in Kyrgyzstan is often addressed as one of the biggest failure of the CSTO in defending the interests of its member States. Together with these, some other examples might be given such as the failure to prevent the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan in 2005, the immobility in front of Zhanaozen riot in Kazakhstan in December 2011, the Gorno-Badakhshan clashes in Tajikistan in July 2012 and the perpetual border dispute in the Ferghana Valley between Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Such ineffectiveness was also addressed by President Karimov, who suspended the participation of Uzbekistan to CSTO in June 2012.347 However, the presence of Uzbekistan in the organisation often clashed with Russian and Kazakh positions due to the leading role President Karimov has been looking for its country in Central Asia and with Tajikistan because of inter-ethnic relations. Yet, this theoretically improves the functioning of the CSTO, for the Uzbek opposition cannot paralyse the correct decision-making of the Council and the Russian-Kazakh promotion of regional security integration anymore.348

Finally, one of the biggest criticism contrary to this last argument is the Western idea that CSTO is nothing but the official instrument exploited by Russia to impose its hegemony over the post-Soviet space and targeting it towards the re-creation of a new Soviet Union or a new Warsaw Pact.349 These statements have been asserted especially by NATO, who prefers to entertain bilateral relations with the former Soviet republics member of the CSTO. However, this is a biased position towards the CSTO: the post-Soviet alliance cannot resemble a new Warsaw pact because its non-Russian members are not satellites of the Russian Federation, nor their sovereignty is “limited” by the core of the organisation and neither it is an ideological alliance against Western capitalism.350 On the contrary, the above critiques on CSTO inefficiencies provide an effective counter argument, accompanied by the lack of a gathering ideology that goes beyond the defence of territorial integrity and sovereignty of the member States. However, the CSTO has also been addressed to be not only “anti-NATO,” but also as a “club of dictators” because most of its members does not align to Western standards of respect of human rights, freedom of speech and democracy. 351 This last issue has been a problem in establishing any NATO-CSTO dialogue especially because of Belarus.352

It would be however naïve to consider the CSTO as completely outside the geopolitical interest of Russia in its “near abroad” and its hegemonic role in post-Soviet regional integration. The Russian geopolitical perspective on the “near abroad” was well expressed since the 1992 Foreign Policy Conception of the Russian Federation, approved by president Yeltsin in 1993, where the CIS area constituted the priority of the new Russian foreign policy.353 Furthermore, Russian security concerns about NATO expansion Eastwards might justify the will to impose and maintain influence in areas susceptible to foreign intervention, where relevant threats such as transnational terrorism and the huge amount of oil resources around the Caspian basin may threat its stability both under the geographic and economic point of view.

Notwithstanding, Russian regionalist projection has acquired an increasing relevance in its foreign policy under Putin’s rule, especially during his last term as President of the Russian Federation: beyond the integration in CSTO, during Putin last presidency the long gestation of Eurasian economic integration has finally brought to the birth of the Eurasian Economic Union on January the 1st 2015, built on the Eurasian Economic Community and the Custom Union, including Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, embroiled in an integration that seems to go further than only security issues.354 Furthermore, Russia has intensified its relations with China both at global and regional level, especially in the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which has followed in 2001 the Shanghai Five group founded by the two countries together with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in 1995. Uzbekistan joined the organization in 2001, enhancing its Central Asian focus, but the organization has expanded in June 2017 with the joint inclusion of India and Pakistan, thus broadening the area of action much further than the sole Central Asian space (in broad sense).355

Russian regionalist integration project in the Eurasian dimension is also motivated by other reasons: to build the country’s soft power in its immediate vicinity; to make the maximum use of Russia’s natural position as the largest transit corridor between Europe and Asia; multilateralism in foreign policy decisions (which has however proven to be poor); the search for international prestige and an exclusive area of intervention, although multilateral, via CSTO Peacekeeping forces and Collective Rapid Response Forces to avoid old charges of exploiting CIS Peacekeeping as troops of legal occupation; the role of primus inter pares among the pro-Russian former Soviet republics.356

Russian role as the core state of this regional subsystem is obviously recognised by the other members States of the CSTO, which to some extents look at Russia as a reliable partner for security and consolidation of their institutional framework and increases their relative gains under economic and military point of view. Indeed, concerning the sole CSTO aspect, CSTO member States also can buy Russian military equipment without export costs, and their Russia provides training for CSTO member states troops and military personnel,357 which is especially relevant if we consider that in 2017 Russia has been ranked as 2nd in the Global Firepower ranking, while the other members follow as 49th (Belarus), 55th (Kazakhstan), 93rd (Armenia), 108th (Kyrgyzstan) and 112th (Tajikistan) out of 133 countries.358 Furthermore, belonging to CSTO, any possible war with the other member States, especially Russia, in much less likely, although, as already mentioned, not true mechanism of settling disputes among the members is provided, and art. 4 is supposed to provide a sufficient deterrent against any threat, both internal and external.359 However, if such a mechanism is typical of collective security systems, it undergoes the same critiques we have exposed in Chapter 1. Moreover, as Weinstein argues, “[t]he failure of the Collective Security Treaty countries to produce a coherent response to the Tajik civil war, and Russia’s subsequent preoccupation with Commonwealth border security, suggest that the Treaty was a collective defense convention,” identifying as a collective defence system as focused only to prevent any external threats to its participants.360

Yet, even if Russia can be considered as the core State of Eurasian regionalism, lack of willingness to build a strong integrated security organisation has found reasons in Moscow as well. Firstly, the CSTO is for Russia a big drain of economic resources: Secretary Bordyuzha once estimated that “Russia assumes financially 50 percent of” the expenditures of the organization, since “its economic potential is significantly higher” in respect to the other CSTO member States. This however grants Russia a more stable framework within the organization, for as more money are drained from its reserves, its partner will invest less money in their defence, hence they are necessarily entangled to the organization (and Russian protection) unless they are able to increase their military expenditures without costs on the domestic side.361 This might give another reason for Uzbekistan’s defection, due to its relevant resources in terms of energetic and demographic potential.

Secondly, it is unclear how much Russia needs the CSTO to boost its foreign policy. On the one hand, we should remember that Russia operates within the CSTO with Armenia and Belarus on bilateral basis. On the other hand, the focus on the transnational threats CSTO deals with such as terrorism and extremism are also part of the cooperation within the SCO, with which the CSTO cooperates on these relevant issues, thus complicating the agenda of the two organisations which seem to constantly overlap. However, there are two reasons why the CSTO and SCO are different: the first concerns the area of action, for the entrance of India and Pakistan has widened southwards the critical issues SCO will be called to deal with, as also shows the wider participation of observers and partner in dialogues in comparison to CSTO; the second is rooted in the origins of the Shanghai Five group, namely the balance of power between Russia and China and their attempt to build a cooperative regionalism rather than a competitive one, in which also Uzbekistan, rather intolerant to the Russian overwhelming presence in the CSTO, has found a wider space of manoeuvre to pursue its regional and foreign policy, also beyond the boundaries of the SCO, in particular with the United States.362 SCO also lacks even more in defining the direction towards which the organization should move, resembling a loose instrument of security governance and military coordination between some members on bilateral agreements rather than a path to the constitution of a security community.

Thirdly, on the reverse way of lack of support from CSTO members towards Russian foreign policy, Russia has never felt itself bound to respect the relations of the other partners of the organization in pursuing its unilateral foreign policy. Of particular concern has been the Crimean issue, which has been strongly criticised by both Belarus and Kazakhstan: Lukashenko because of his friendly relations with Ukraine and Georgia, although he did it more softly and tries to act as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine within the OSCE framework;363 Nazarbayev strongly disapproved Kremlin attitude towards protecting the Russian minorities outside the borders of the Federation because of its concern on the huge Russian population living in northern Kazakhstan and bordering with Russia, which might constitute a threat to the territorial integrity of his country, and such an argument is unacceptable both from Astana point of view and the CSTO framework.364 Such a precedent might constitute a huge threat to the entire organization, for most of its members (Russia included) are not ethnically homogeneous.

The issue of Russian minorities living in Kazakhstan has been a relevant concern for Nazarbayev since the collapse of the Soviet Union, to the extent that he moved the capital city from its Soviet one, Almaty, near to the Kyrgyz border, northwards to the newly build Astana, closer to the Russian Federation. Nazarbayev’s projection towards Russia has also relevant geographic and economic reasons: on the one hand, he was the first to call for a true Eurasian regionalism in 1994, fearing that Russia would have relinquished its Eurasian dimension to approach to the West and leaving Central Asia to the United States intervention or Chinese expansion;365 on the other hand, energy issues ties Kazakhstan to Russia, especially concerning the joint exploitation of the oil reserves in the Caspian basin and the export of Kazakh oil through the old Soviet pipeline infrastructure via Russia to Europe.366 However, China is also a welcome market for the Kazakh oil, and Kazakhstan support to the SCO necessarily goes in this way, together with keeping the balance between Russia and China. This concerns touch Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan too, albeit as energy dependent countries and not as suppliers.367

To conclude the whole picture, historical reasons tie the post-Soviet members of the CSTO one another.368 Mongol and Tatar domination, the rule of the Czarist empire and especially the seventy years of communism these countries have undergone are usually addressed as having partially shaped the identity of those countries, and living under the same kind of regime for such a long time has worked as a process of “social learning” from the more modernized area of the USSR (the European part) to the less developed (the Asian one, with Caucasus in the middle of the two). A clear example of this process of “social learning” can be seen in the widespread use of the Russian language in international and institutional framework, as a vehicular “lingua franca” with official status not only in the Russian Federation, but also in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and in Tajikistan as interethnic language, with Armenia as an exception due to the low presence of ethnic Russians on its territory and its ancient heritage. Nonetheless, these countries are also unified by common myths and celebrations, such as, for example, the Victory Day celebration on the 9th of May, and/or national modern architecture, among which Moscow, Minsk and Yerevan show a great influence of to the Soviet style. Furthermore, similar economic patterns have characterised the CSTO countries right after the collapse of the Soviet Union and throughout the whole 1990s: the terrible economic crisis has basically propagated among the whole Russian-dependant CIS which sometimes brought to oppose Western liberal values.

Finally, after we have gathered all the elements necessary to answer, we can pose ourselves the question: are the CSTO States members of a security community? According to the definition of security community we have given in chapter 2, concerning especially Adler and Burnett analysis, we may say that the CSTO members have partially achieved such a result.

The precipitating conditions (tier 1) for the creation of a security community within the CSTO framework are diverse, and all of them contributed to the aggregation and further integration of the security community: the trauma given by the collapse of the USSR, the CSI as a vehicular organization towards a controlled disintegration, geographical proximity of the member States, common security concerns such as the threats of transnational terrorism, drug trafficking and illegal migration, and, in some cases, ethnic clashes at border areas (Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and partially Kazakhstan fears concerning the Russian minority). To these, we should then add the concerns on the United States interventions, democratisation attempts through regime changes and support to coloured revolution (experimented by Kyrgyzstan) and NATO expansion eastwards (especially threatening for Russia and Belarus). These threats do not come in group, yet altogether they represent the precipitating conditions which boosted the birth of the security community and its consolidation around the core area of the Russian Federation, considered to be a “benevolent hegemon.”

Tier 2 and 3, namely the development and consolidation of mutual trust and collective identity, have been somehow more difficult to achieve. On the one hand, if the structures of power and knowledge are constantly irradiated from the core (Russia) to the other countries, especially under the military point of view, the institutions have been established, yet they have met several obstacles towards their correct functioning. Furthermore, the will of the core State to actively build such a security community has been heavily criticised and brings to clear burdens under the economic point of view. However, as we saw, this idea was already introduced by Deutsch. On the other hand, processes of transaction and social learning are less evident nowadays for they were developed during the life of the Soviet Union by the communist regime. Indeed, throughout the 1990s, the post-Soviet republics have fostered their national identity to build a more cohesive society within the boundaries of their States. As we will see, societal security issues concerning nations and ethnic groups have been more than relevant in the collapse of the USSR and the conflicts in the post-Soviet, and many States risked (and still risk nowadays) to fall apart because of this. Therefore, it was rather hard to establish some shared values among the post-Soviet space and the CIS framework, which has indeed subdivided into two main different sides, the pro-CIS aligned with Russia and the CIS critic, also because of Russian exploitation of those conflicts to establish its influence.

Transactions over mutual trust are also clearly undermined within the CSTO framework. As we saw: Russia is a supplier of weapons to Azerbaijan, the enemy against which Armenia joined the CSTO; nobody in the CSTO openly supports Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh issue; Belarus tries to tip the balance between Russia and the GUAM countries, and to some extents even with the West, because of the strong fear of coloured revolutions perceived by Lukashenko; nobody recognises or supports Russia in recognising Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the Russian annexation of Crimea has been strongly criticised by both Belarus and especially Kazakhstan, one of the strongest supporter of Eurasian integration and member of the Eurasian Economic Union together with Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Russia which, furthermore, seems not to care a lot about its partners attitudes (even if certainly unwelcomed) and continues to pursue its own unilateral foreign policy; ethnic skirmishes and border disputes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in the Ferghana valley are common, and made even serious my the intromission of Uzbekistan in the issue. Is it therefore possible to talk about a fair degree of mutual trust between the members of the security community? We do not think so, for the facts show that it is hardly arguable.
On the other hand, on the creation of a common identity, we must address the problem given by one of the values the community has adopted as shared: respect of sovereignty of the member States. How is it possible to pursue a process of integration towards the establishment of a security community if none of the States backing it is sincerely willing to devolve some degrees of sovereignty for this purpose? It is symptomatic that taking such a value as granted by the treaties puts the CSTO in a situation of inaction, as demonstrated by the unwillingness of the member States to intervene if favour of the Kyrgyz government in 2010. The intromission in domestic affairs of the member States is perceived as a plague by the partners of the CSTO, which nonetheless constitutes one of the necessary issues to be effectively securitised for the correct functioning of the organization, which, however, is becoming too multifunctional and unorganised. Interestingly, as also the European experience shows, the CSTO deals with “high politics,” while the Eurasian Economic Union, as its former pillars of the Eurasian Economic Community and the Custom Union, deals with “low politics” and, albeit still too young to prove any effectiveness, it might be a better booster for regional integration rather than the CSTO. This, however, requires a separate study, for it goes beyond security issues.

Thus, integration within the CSTO respects only some of the characteristics and parameters of security communities addressed by Adler and Barnett. Albeit on the way to, fifteen years of CSTO are not enough to bring its members towards a full integration. However, we must remember that one of the generating traumas, the collapse of the Soviet Union, went in the opposite direction. In fact, one of the questions we shall take in account is whether Adler and Barnett understanding of security communities is not too Eurocentric or Western centric, because as integration may differ in its processes towards its establishment between the different regions of the world, we might address this possibility to answer whether the CSTO member State constitute a security community or not. Indeed, by addressing a less requiring definition of security community, such as the one given by Deutsch, what we must seek is the will to peacefully settle disputes between its members. The CSTO certainly goes is that direction, albeit the mechanism of deterrence for defection are not fully provided.

It seems that the biggest deterrence against deception for the maintenance of the CSTO community is the threat of exclusion and the consequences it might lead to: the absence of Russia would lead to the disintegration of the CSTO, and the States of the organisation would look for other protectors, which might be China or the United States according to the dispositions and interests both of the member States and the great powers, thus leading in a strong decrease of the Russian influence in sensible areas for its security; Belarus would probably need to polarise westwards, thus starting a process of democratisation Lukashenko does not support, might make a coloured revolution more likely to happen, and we cannot predict whether such a regime change will happen peacefully or not; Kazakhstan is concerned over the large border with Russia and the strong Russian ethnic presence in the north, which might lead to a scenery similar to Crimea; Armenia has its biggest problem in Azerbaijan, and the exclusion from the CSTO and Russian protection might lead to the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute in favour of Azerbaijan, if this last one will progressively approach to Russia; finally Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have weak institution and control over their borders, and the disputes over these latter in the Ferghana Valley might lead to violent confrontation which might spill-over into an ethnic conflict, together with likely intromission of Uzbekistan and Islamic extremist movements, and finally bring to an outcome similar to what happened in Yugoslavia. It is true that these problems may be covered also by the SCO, however the CSTO has better instruments to respond to such a scenery considering the existence of the Rapid Collective Deployment Forces and the development of a Peacekeeping force.

The CSTO is fragile, undermined in its functioning and its path towards a security community by several factors, especially concerning the inexistence of a coordination in foreign policy, namely the border disputes with the post-Soviet states not belonging to the CSTO. However, in its Central Asian dimension, the CSTO is much more integrated on multilateralism than the European and Caucasian one. Thus, this tripartition of the CSTO cannot define it as a security community, but it might be possible if the three directions become only one.


317 Charter of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, 07/10/2002, [retrieved on 17/10/2017]

318 Collective Security Treaty, Tashkent, 15/10/1992, [retrieved on 17/10/2017]

319 Стратегия коллективной безопасности Организации Договора о коллективной безопасности на период до 2025 года [Collective Security Treaty Organization strategy for collective security in the period until year 2025], 2016, [retrieved on 17/10/2017]

320 Charter of the CSTO, [retrieved on 17/10/2017]

321 Y. A. Nikitina, “Security cooperation in the Post-Soviet area within the Collective Security Treaty Organization,” in ISPI – Analysis, n. 152, Milan, 2013, p. 3

322 Ibidem

323 M. Boulègue, “Five Things to Know About the Zapad-2017 Military Exercise,” Chatham House, 25/09/2017, [retrieved on 17/10/2017]

324 S. Kulik et al., Collective Security Treaty Organization: Responsible Security, Institute of Contemporary development, Moscow, 2011, p. 3

325 P. Kubicek, “The Commonwealth of Independent States: an example of failed regionalism?,” pp. 244, 251-253; M. de Haas, “Relations of Central Asia with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Collective Security Treaty Organization,” in The Journal of Slavic Military Studies, 30, 1, 2017, p. 1

326 Medvedev, quoted in A.V. Tihomirov, “Approaches of the main actors in the development of CSTO after 2014 (Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan)” in A. Douhan and A. Rusakovich (editors), Collective Security Treaty Organization and Contingency Planning after 2014, p. 38; R. Weitz, “The Collective Security Treaty Organization: Past Struggles and Future Prospects,” in Russian Analytical Digest,152, 2014, pp. 3-4

327 Chapter VIII of the Charter was amended with the following provision: member states are to “take measures to provide for the establishment and functioning within the organization of a system for response to crisis situations which threaten the security, stability, territorial integrity and sovereignty of member states.” S. Kulik et al., Collective Security Treaty Organization: Responsible Security, p. 5

328 CST, [retrieved on 17/10/2017]

329 Charter of the CSTO, [retrieved on 17/10/2017]

330 A. Tihomirov, “Approaches of the main actors in the development of CSTO after 2014,” p. 38

331 S. Kulik et al., Collective Security Treaty Organization: Responsible Security, p. 9

332 P. Kubicek, “The Commonwealth of Independent States: an example of failed regionalism?,” p. 255

333 T. A. Shakleina, “Russia in the New Distribuition of Power” in V. Nadkarni and N. C. Noonan, Emerging Powers in Comparative Perspective. The political and economic rise of the BRIC countries, Bloomsbury, New York/London, 2013, pp. 166-168

334 Nato – Russia Council, Rome Summit 2002, [retrieved on 18710/2017]

335 R. Weitz, “The Collective Security Treaty Organization: Past Struggles and Future Prospects,” p. 3

336 A. Weinstein, “Russian Phoenix: The Collective Security Treaty Organization,” in The Whitehead Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations, 2007, p. 174

337 Ibidem, pp. 174-175

338 See 319, 327; E. Bescotti, “Lukashenko: l’ago della bilancia dell’Est Europa,” in Blog RISE, 24/01/2017, [retrieved on 18/10/2017].

339 On the regime change practice, see, on John Mearsheimer conference at MGIMO in October 2016, E. Bescotti “La pratica del regime change: la politica estera statunitense in Medio Oriente vista da John Mearsheimer,” in Blog RISE, 14/03/2017, [retrieved on 18/10/2017]

340 A. Weinstein, “Russian Phoenix,” pp. 175-176

341 Ibidem, p. 172

342 Ibidem, p. 173

343 A. Arynbek, “Armenia – Russia Relations in The Framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization,” in Eurasian Research Institute Weekly Bulletin, 65, Eurasian Research Institute, Almaty, 26/04/2016 – 02/05/2016

344 For a broader and more detailed information on Belarus “neutrality” and foreign policy, see B. Sihariei and I. Gumer, Elements of Neutrality in Belarusian Foreign Policy and National Security Policy, Belarus Digest, Minsk-London, 2016; A. A. Dastanka, “Multilateralism in foreign policy of Belarus: European and Eurasian dimension,” in Regional Formation and development Studies, Belarusian State University, 2, Minsk, 2016, pp. 16-23

345 R. Weitz, “The Collective Security Treaty Organization: Past Struggles and Future Prospects,” p. 4

346 Ibidem

347 Y. Nikitina, “Security cooperation in the Post-Soviet area within the Collective Security Treaty Organization,” p. 4

348 Ibidem; R. Weitz, “The Collective Security Treaty Organization: Past Struggles and Future Prospects,” p. 4

349 Ibidem; S. Kulik et al., Collective Security Treaty Organization: Responsible Security, p. 9 and ff.

350 A. Weinstein, “Russian Phoenix,” p. 177, Y. Nikitina, “Security cooperation in the Post-Soviet area within the Collective Security Treaty Organization,” p. 4;

351 Ibidem, p. 3

352 S. Kulik et al., Collective Security Treaty Organization: Responsible Security, p. 12

353 T. Shakleina, “Russia in the New Distribuition of Power,” p. 167

354 Eurasian Economic Commission, “The Treaty on the Eurasian Economic Union is effective,” 01/01/2015, [retrieved on 19/10/2017]

355 SCO, “Press release on the results of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Heads of State Council Meeting,” 09/06/2017, [retrieved on 19/10/2017]

356 M. A. Molchanov, “Eurasian Regionalisms and Russian Foreign Policy,” paper prepared for the UACES Convention Exchanging Ideas on Europe 2012, UACES 42nd annual conference, Passau, 03-05/09/2012, p. 9
357 Y. Nikitina, “Security cooperation in the Post-Soviet area within the Collective Security Treaty Organization,” p. 3

358 Global Fire Ranking, [retrieved on 19/10/2017]. To give a comparison, NATO countries can be found in every place of the list, starting from the 1st (United States) and ending with the 113rd (Slovenia). We must however remember that NATO includes 29 members, while the CSTO only 6, and the former participates in active training of Ukrainian and Georgian forces.

359 CST, [retrieved on 17/10/2017]; A. Weinstein, “Russian Phoenix,” p. 177

360 Ibidem, p. 170

361 Ibidem, p. 178

362 M. de Haas, “Relations of Central Asia with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Collective Security Treaty Organization,” p. 7-8

363 E. Bescotti, “Lukashenko: l’ago della bilancia dell’Est Europa,” [retrieved on 18/10/2017]

364 P. Baev, “The CSTO: Military Dimensions of the Russian Reintegration Effort,” in S. F. Starr and S. V. Cornell (editors), Putin’s Grand Strategy: The Eurasian Union and Its Discontents, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, 2014, p. 47

365 T. A. Shakleina, “Russia in the New Distribuition of Power,” p. 168. See also A. G. Dugin, Евразийская Миссия Нурсултана Назарбаева [The Eurasian Mission of Nursultan Nazarbayev], Evrazia, Moscow, 2004

366 P. Kubicek, “The Commonwealth of Independent States: an example of failed regionalism?,” p. 256

367 M. de Haas, “Relations of Central Asia with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Collective Security Treaty Organization,” pp. 2-7

368 Bordyuzha, quoted in A. Weinstein, “Russian Phoenix,” p. 177

* E. Bescotti. The issue of security in the processes of integration and disintegration of the contemporary international system. The case study of the post-Soviet space”. MGIMO. Moscow, 2017.

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