Russian “mini-NATO” intervenes in Kazakhstan amid growing unrest

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Faced with growing unrest, the government of Kazahkstan overnight asked the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) for military aid against what it called “terrorist groups”. Here’s what you need to know about the Russia-led alliance of six ex-Soviet states:

Post-Soviet Structure The CSTO was formed in 2002, a few months after the intervention of a US-led coalition in Afghanistan following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

It brings together some of the signatories – Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – of a 1990s security pact between the former Soviet republics.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the time that “we live in a rapidly changing world and must therefore strengthen the treaty binding us and adapt it to new threats”.

The bloc founded a 20,000-strong rapid reaction force in 2009, while its 3,600-member peacekeeping unit is recognized by the UN.

The Russian “mini-NATO” Dominated by Moscow and its very modern army, the CSTO is seen as “a kind of Russian counterweight to the Atlantic alliance” but “depends on the Russian military capacity to project power,” said Eurasian specialist David Teurtrie.

“There is not much to do” without the Russians, he added.

It is “a relic of the Warsaw Pact (from the time of the Cold War),” said Pascal Ausseur, a former French soldier and senior defense official who now heads the FMES think tank.

Ausseur called the CSTO a “mini-NATO … with Russia instead of the United States on the other side.”

But where the armies of the Atlantic alliance of 30 countries have worked hand in hand for more than 70 years, the Russian-led bloc is “far behind”, he added.

CSTO also suffers from Moscow’s lack of resources compared to the much richer United States.

Instability and Conflict In addition, the STCO has very different concerns from those of NATO.

Its members in Central Asia “face the threat of destabilization” from Afghanistan, Teurtrie said, and the alliance is stationing troops in central Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

On its other flanks, Belarus is much more concerned about its borders with its NATO neighbors Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, while Armenia is “concerned about its conflict with Azerbaijan,” said added Teurtrie.

Yerevan’s brief war in 2020 with its neighbor over the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh claimed the lives of 6,500 people.

It resulted in a ceasefire and humiliating territorial concessions for the Armenian side, which had unsuccessfully requested assistance from the CTSO.

Kazakh intervention “Sending soldiers through the CTSO is a way of remaining a little masked, giving the image of an intervention by all the countries of the Caucasus, not just Russia”, declared Pierre Ausseur.

“The implicit message (from Moscow) is ‘I’m cleaning up my own mess, I run an organization that can put boots on the pitch. I’m responsible here at home, on my pitch,'” he added.

Nevertheless, he warned against possible “blunders” on the part of the troops, stressing that “soldiers are never the right choice to quell riots”.

(AFP)

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