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Jan 11, 2017 | 20:04 GMT

When Russia's Military Alliance Fractured

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When Russia's Military Alliance Fractured

The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) began in 1992 as the Collective Security Treaty, an agreement struck by the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union that, at the time, formed the Commonwealth of Independent States. The treaty was designed to encourage and facilitate security cooperation among its signatories: An attack against one member was an attack against all, and in its first two years the bloc grew to encompass Russia, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. But by 1999, three members — Uzbekistan, Georgia and Azerbaijan — had withdrawn from the bloc and begun to distance themselves from Russia.

Even so, Moscow had come to think of the bloc as a vehicle for gaining influence among its neighbors, particularly as Russia's international heft began to surge in the mid-2000s. Hoping to build its image as a great power, Russia started to present the CSTO to the rest of the world as a counterweight to NATO. Military exercises among the bloc's members grew larger and more frequent, and the creation of the CSTO Collective Rapid Reaction Force in 2009 boosted the organization's credibility on the global stage.

But a series of events soon exposed the CSTO's limitations as an active and responsive military entity. When a wave of ethnic violence between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz broke out in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010, Bishkek asked its fellow bloc members to intervene on its behalf. Bordyuzha, however, declined to take action. The secretary-general, who essentially acts as a conduit for the Kremlin, explained the decision by saying the conflict was a domestic affair. He made a similar argument two years later when he refused Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko's request that the bloc quell clashes between rebels and military forces in the eastern Tajik region of Gorno-Badakhshan. (Bordyuzha did offer, however, to provide material assistance to the Tajik army and police force.) The CSTO's unwillingness to intervene in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan raised questions about the military bloc's true mission and capabilities. After all, the unrest in both states posed the most serious security challenges the alliance had ever seen within its borders, and yet it did little to address them.

The bloc came under even greater pressure as Russia's standoff with the West intensified in the wake of Ukraine's Euromaidan uprising in 2014. Moscow got involved first in the eastern Ukrainian conflict, then in the Syrian civil war, stretching its military capacity thin. Meanwhile, Eurasian states — including CSTO members Belarus and Armenia — began to re-evaluate their own ties with the West as Kiev reoriented its foreign policy away from Russia. Though Moscow continued to lead joint military exercises and training sessions with its CSTO peers, the bloc has and continues to remain fractured.

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