The CSTO has become NATO in a good sense of the word

MOSCOW, 12 Jan 2022, RUSSTRAT Institute.

One of the main geopolitical consequences of the counter-terrorist operation in Kazakhstan was a sharp strengthening of the CSTO’s position in the post-Soviet space. In fact, we can talk not even about strengthening, but about the transition of the organisation to a new quality. The treaty establishing the Collective Security Treaty Organisation entered into force on April 20, 1994, but the CSTO emerged from its “dormant” state and made its first full use of its potential only in early January 2022.

Judging by the reaction of the Western media – no major publication ignored the deployment of CSTO forces to Kazakhstan – the debut was extremely successful. And not only in terms of information.

Recall that in connection with mass protests, terrorist attacks and numerous clashes in the south of Kazakhstan, on January 6, 2022, at the request of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, a limited contingent of CSTO forces was deployed to the territory of the republic. Their task was to protect the most important state and strategic objects of Kazakhstan and support the Kazakh law enforcement forces.

On January 10, at an extraordinary session of the CSTO Collective Security Council, President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced that the number of the CSTO peacekeeping contingent was 2,030 people and 250 pieces of equipment. Later, the number of forces, according to Stanislav Zas, reached 2,885 people.

Despite the small scale of the deployed forces, their appearance has changed the situation qualitatively. In addition to a sharp decline in militant activity in general, the arrival of CSTO forces forced the terrorists to abandon their plan to seize the residence of the President of Kazakhstan, as well as continue their plan to destabilise the entire south of the country.

The West’s response to the deployment of CSTO forces was extremely remarkable. For many, like US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, it was something that went beyond the basic picture of the world. During the briefing, Blinken admitted that he does not fully understand why Kazakhstan turned to the CSTO and the State Department is “trying to find out more about it”.

The low level of competence of the US Secretary of State can be justified by the collective position of the Western media, which also were not inclined to perceive the CSTO as something worth paying attention to. But after the rapid deployment of the CSTO forces, most reputable media outlets published articles with headlines like “What is the CSTO?”.

“Western policymakers and analysts largely dismiss the CSTO as an unconvincing attempt to mimic Western organisations like NATO. U.S. and NATO policymakers refused to engage with the CSTO or treat it as a regional security organisation, to avoid granting it legitimacy,” the Washington Post writes.

Now the CSTO had to be reckoned with. Although the understanding of the role of the CSTO remains flawed. The CSTO is an example of what international relations expert Roy Allison calls “protective integration”.

Ostensibly a military organisation, the CSTO plays a more important role in protecting authoritarian governments by strengthening regional cultures of interaction, normative ties, and collective political solidarity. He adds: “This week may have ‘changed Kazakhstan forever’, but Russia’s intervention under CSTO auspices crystallises an ongoing trend: Regional organisations, leaders and norms worldwide are bolstering autocracies and promoting illiberal norms and practices.”

If we translate this rhetoric into a normal language, it turns out that the CSTO has become the first and most effective example of how regional state associations effectively build their own collective security spheres that are independent of the West. And this collective security really works, much better and faster than Western structures created formally for the same tasks.

Marko Mihkelson, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu (Parliament) of Estonia, asked: How did Russian troops arrive in Kazakhstan so quickly? It is difficult to get rid of various anecdotal associations, but Mihkelson not only once expressed his bewilderment at the speed of all participants in Kazakhstan’s events, but also developed it.

“There are two critical questions about the unrest in Kazakhstan. Firstly, how did the protests turn violent in different parts of the country, and secondly, how did Russian troops arrive in Kazakhstan so quickly?”

It is quite possible that in this case, the Estonian parliamentarian resonates with the concerns previously expressed by the American expert in the field of conflictology, Sebastien Roblin. In his article for The National Interest, the conflictologist concludes that Russia, if necessary, can capture the Baltic states in a day and a half.

It is difficult to overestimate the successful debut of the CSTO from a geopolitical point of view – in the sphere that relates to the vital interests of the Russian Federation and the real interests of the peoples of the post-Soviet states, which, with rare exceptions, are completely consonant.

Firstly, it was clearly proved that the states of the region really have someone to turn to for help in the event of a situation when their own forces are insufficient or they cannot be used in the right time. Thus, there is a long-awaited alternative to the “help of the West”.

Secondly, the umbrella that has emerged in advance condemns to failure a wide range of attempts to destabilise the situation in the region-from traditional “colour revolutions” to very difficult incidents, such as the one that occurred in Kazakhstan, in terms of its genesis and the parties involved. Usually, the authorities and constructive forces inside the country against which an attack of this kind begins are left without support. Now this support is available, and it can be provided fairly quickly and precisely.

Thirdly, the practical use of the CSTO tool and the strengthening of the “fighting brotherhood” seriously reduces the level of internal tension between the union’s member states themselves – which also looks like a very positive signal.

Fourthly, there is now every reason and political opportunity to strengthen and expand the CSTO’s functionality. For example, during an extraordinary session the Tajik side informed the CSTO Collective Security Council colleagues that there are constant clashes along the border with Afghanistan – in recent weeks, more than 11 Taliban were killed and more than 18 wounded in just one area, which makes the creation of a “security belt” relevant.

Perhaps the main result of the CSTO operation on the territory of Kazakhstan was the awareness of the concept of “collective security” by the states of the region. This may be necessary for everyone, and therefore it is necessary to work on it in solidarity.

Institute for International Political and Economic Strategies – RUSSTRAT

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