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A Eurasian NATO

The West would do well to recognize that the CSTO has a vital interest in protecting its sphere of influence against foreign threats. 

Despite its apparent regional scope, the war in Ukraine has led to far-reaching political and economic consequences that transcend its spatial constraints. Almost everyone around the world can feel the shockwaves.

The narrative around the conflict is rapidly shifting from a distorted version of the Biblical clash between David and Goliath to a more realistic explanation: an ongoing proxy war against Russia conducted either by the U.S., if we believe Hal Brands, the Henry Kissinger distinguished professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, or by NATO broadly, if we prefer a slightly more general approach taken by Financial Times cartoonist Banx.

With the strong blessing of Washington, D.C., NATO has a clear appetite to add new members to its wealthy-yet-imprudent military club. Hence it is even more important to pay close attention to the security developments on the other side of what has become a new Iron Curtain. The summit marking the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Collective Security Treaty, which took place in Moscow on May 16, clearly deserves the collective West’s attention.

The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) was established on May 15, 1992, in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where the leaders of Russia, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan signed the treaty. A year later, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Belarus joined the organization. On May 14, 2002, the regional nature of the organization changed when the CSTO’s supreme body, the Collective Security Council, decided to grant it international status.

The same year, on October 7, the CSTO’s charter was approved. The organization was registered with the U.N. Secretariat in December 2003, and given observer status in the U.N. General Assembly in 2004. Six years later, on March 18, 2010, the U.N. and the CSTO signed a joint declaration of cooperation in several areas of common interest, including counterterrorism, drug trafficking and conflict prevention.

Although Tbilisi and Baku left the group in 1999 and Tashkent followed in their footsteps in 2012, the events in Ukraine and the West’s response have rejuvenated the post-Soviet Russia-led security bloc and sharpened its vision of its raison d’etre.

In the first fully face-to-face meeting since November 2019, when the group metin the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, the leaders of six Eurasian nations discussed deepening of military ties and biosecurity, and issued a joint statement laying out the CSTO’s assessment of the geopolitical situation since the signing of their treaty.

According to the resulting document, the CTSO member states believed that the international community was disunited, and “characterized by an aggravation of tensions.” In a veiled reference to the U.S., the member-states expressed concern over the tendency of other nations to forcibly intervene in crises around the globe, circumventing international legal norms and principles on the use or threatened use of force to resolve conflicts, in violation of the U.N. Charter.

After citing Afghanistan and the deteriorating situations on “other external borders of the CSTO member states,” the leaders voiced their readiness“to ensure the security” in the organization’s “zone of responsibility,” as well as prioritizationof “political and diplomatic means” in solving global problems.

“Realizing our responsibility for ensuring lasting peace in the Eurasian region, we emphasize the importance of reducing tension on the continent and reaffirm our readiness to establish practical cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,” the statement said.

Interestingly, during the opening of the recent CSTO summit, President Alexander Lukashenko called for“a common voice and a common stance” among the member states on the international stage in “the way they are in the West,” and asserted that “the unipolar world order is becoming a thing of the past.”

The Belarusian strongman also accused the West of “using all means, including in our organization’s zone of responsibility—from threatening the use of NATO weapons along our western borders to waging a full-fledged hybrid war,” predominantly against Minsk and Moscow.

His Russian counterpart, on the other hand, reported on documents confirming the development of biological weapons in Ukraine that were obtained during a “special operation,” and accused the Pentagon of establishing dozens of biological laboratories in the CSTO’s member states to “collect biological materials and study for their own purposes the specifics of the spread of viruses and dangerous diseases.”

As we remember, on March 9, the U.S. Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland gave controversial testimony before the U.S. Senate’s foreign-relations committee. There, she confirmed that “Ukraine has biological research facilities,” and the U.S. is “working with the Ukrainians on how they can prevent any of those research materials from falling into the hands of Russian forces.”

Understandably, Nuland’s performance had a profound impact on the Kremlin’s assessment of the situation, and eventually contributed to the publication of an official opinion that the biolabs around Russia can be described as “NATO facilities.”

According to Chief of the CSTO Joint Staff Colonel-General Anatoly Sidorov’s assessment, the top threats posed to the Eurasian security bloc are U.S. military expansion in the Old Continent, Ukrainian elites’ Russophobia, increased terrorist activity, and the dire situation in Afghanistan.

The success of the post-Soviet security bloc in Kazakhstan after President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev deployed peacekeepers to restore order in the country has, according to Russian officials, proved both that the organization has the maturity to serve as “guarantor of regional stability” and its readiness “to effectively solve the problems of ensuring the security of its member states.”

Article 4 of the Collective Security Treaty clearly says that “if one of the States Parties is subjected to aggression by any state or group of states, then this will be considered aggression against all States Parties to the Treaty.” Hostile actions would prompt the member states to provide whatever assistance, including military, are necessary to restore the status quo. Moreover, “the right to collective defense in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter” is also a mechanism at their disposal.

Geopolitical instability and NATO’s continued expansion toward Russia’s borders have given the post-Soviet security bloc every reason to continue bolstering cooperation among its member-states. It has also justified further development of its military capability to ensure it plays an even more significant role in “the region of its responsibility” that is confined to its “own space,” as opposed to the global reach of NATO, referring to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Pankin’s distinction.

At the Valdai Club’s February conference “Collective Security in a New Era: the CSTO’s Experience and Prospects,” CSTO Secretary General Stanislav Zas said that Russia’s security interests correspond with the interests of the bloc. Moscow, he said, is keen to strengthening relations with other members, which it sees as “a priority of its foreign policy.”

With an open-door approach and new ways to cooperate with non-member countries and international organizations, the CSTO has not ruled out the possibility of expansion. The bloc is keen to ensure “security and stability in the region” by working with the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), its “southern and eastern partners,” and, most importantly, China, which, like Russia, forcefully opposes U.S. hegemony.

In the light of the rapid developments in Ukraine and their lasting impact on the global security framework, the West would do well to recognize the Russia-led security bloc as a serious multi-faced military, political, and defense organization that has a vital interest in protecting its sphere of influence against foreign threats.

Failure to acknowledge this fact, and to act accordingly, in a state of high geopolitical tensions, may result in a tragedy the consequences of which would reach far beyond the region. To quote Samuel P. Huntington, “clashes of civilizations are the greatest threat to world peace.”

Adriel Kasonta is a London-based political risk consultant and lawyer. His work has been published in Forbes, National Review, the National InterestThe American Conservative, Antiwar.com, and South China Morning Post, to name a few. You can follow him on Twitter @Adriel_Kasonta.



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