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Asia and Eurasia
Russia, Central Asia and the CSTO

Geographically, Central Asia is the core and heart of Eurasia, a bridge between Europe and Asia once home to a stretch of the Silk Road. Moreover, it has served as a springboard for geostrategic competition between large countries. This competition can lead to a conflict between the ethnic, religious, military-political and economic interests of the parties, writes Erdenetsogt Dorjpalam, an expert at the Institute for Strategic Studies of Mongolia, for the Third Central Asian Conference of the Valdai Discussion Club.

Russia is the most influential country in the Central Asian region, not only in terms of historical tradition, but also in military, political, economic, energy and other fields. It will remain the most important force in the future.

Russian military strategy policy is of particular importance in Central Asia, since twelve regions of the Russian Federation share a border with the countries of  Central Asia, which stretches about 7,500 km. Furthermore, a vital infrastructure link connecting Siberia and the Far East passes through the region. Therefore, Russian policy is aimed at reducing the military presence of third countries in Central Asia, strengthening the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and maintaining the status of Russia’s military bases in the region.

Russia was able to restore its influence in Central Asia by pursuing an active military, political and diplomatic policy aimed at ensuring that American troops did not remain in the countries of Central Asia. In connection with this, NATO troops left Afghanistan.

In the future, Russia will definitely be especially careful about the political and military-strategic influence of the United States, China and Turkey in the region, which may have a negative impact on the independent military-political policy of the Central Asian countries. However, the strategic military interests of these countries in ensuring their territorial integrity and security can in no way alienate Russia.

The Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) is an interstate military and political alliance, comprising Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which was established in 2002.

The goal of the CSTO is to strengthen peace, international and regional security and stability, as well as the joint defence of independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of the member states, as officially proclaimed in chapter 4 of its Charter. The main task of the CSTO is to strengthen the territory and economic space of the countries participating in the agreement through joint military and political efforts as well as peacekeeping operations, to protect it from any external aggressors, international terrorists, or large-scale natural disasters.

The peacekeeping operation in Kazakhstan in early 2022 shows that the CSTO is quite capable of conducting joint military operations against any external attack in the name of its common interests. Russia’s geostrategic priority in Central Asia, especially in Kazakhstan, has become one of the reasons for this peacekeeping operation.

The CSTO has observer status in the UN General Assembly, and in September 2012, a Memorandum of Understanding with the UN was signed, which proves the international legal competence of peacekeeping operations in Kazakhstan.

In accordance with the aforementioned agreement, the CSTO immediately notified the UN Security Council of its decision to deploy a joint peacekeeping force in Kazakhstan; a representative of the UN Secretary General officially announced this to the press. This indicates that the operation was conducted in an internationally recognised legal capacity.

The CSTO permanent peacekeeping forces were created by the member states in their respective territories in accordance with the agreement, which served as the basis of the successful peacekeeping operation in Kazakhstan, which was both unique and practical.

At the January 6, 2022 the CSTO Collective Security Council meeting, the heads of the member states determined that the situation in Kazakhstan was a terrorist attack on the country involving external aggression, and decided to send joint peacekeeping forces in accordance with paragraph 4 of the CSTO Charter.

Under the mandate, the CSTO provided assistance to the forces of the government of Kazakhstan and ensured the security of the most important military and state facilities, stabilizing the situation in Kazakhstan and restoring the rule of law, and thus it was able to maintain security and peace in Central Asia.

The uniqueness of the operation lies in the fact that 3,000 peacekeepers were transferred and deployed to the area with all weapons and equipment in three days without incident. This proves the skill, coherence, and combat readiness of the CSTO in military-strategic terms.

During the operation, the peacekeepers guarded airports, telecommunications hubs, water supply channels, thermal power plants, bakeries and military installations. By protecting the most important state and military facilities, the CSTO peacekeepers made it possible for the law enforcement agencies of Kazakhstan to neutralize the militants in a short time.

In connection with the successful fulfilment of the main task of the joint forces in Kazakhstan, on January 11, President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Tokayev announced a phased withdrawal of peacekeeping forces from the territory of Kazakhstan. They began to gradually transfer the objects protected by them to Kazakh forces and returned home in military transport aircraft provided by the Russian Aerospace Forces within a week.

On the eve of the 20th anniversary of the 2002 founding of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, its first-ever peacekeeping operation was successfully carried out in real conditions and in a short time.

A feature of the peacekeeping operation was the use of unmanned aerial vehicles and automated command and control systems (ACCS) to protect facilities. For example, in four aerial reconnaissance zones, unmanned aerial vehicles monitored the situation throughout the day; mobile command posts received and processed the results in real time, which was important for commanders to make decisions.

Another special example was the humanitarian mission, when 2,241 Russian and foreign citizens who were detained at airports for several days were transferred from Kazakhstan to Moscow.

During the operation, the weather conditions were bad: cloudy with poor visibility and mountainous terrain, but the crews of 75 military transport aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces managed to perform professional landings and take-offs without any problems or incidents.

The CSTO immediately informed the UN Security Council, UN Secretary General António Guterres, OSCE Secretary General Helga Schmid and SCO Secretary General Vladimir Norov of its decision to conduct a peacekeeping operation on the territory of Kazakhstan, which further confirmed the transparency of the operation and its legal capacity.

The combined forces were led by the then-commander of the Russian Airborne Troops, Colonel-General Andrey Serdyukov, and his experience participating in operations in the Balkans, Africa, and Syria contributed to the success of the operation.

The peacekeeping operation in Kazakhstan provided a historic opportunity to raise the profile of the CSTO, at a time when the CSTO’s reputation was waning due to some internal problems, such as the crisis in Kyrgyzstan in 2010 and its non-participation in the armed conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020.

The cooperation of the CSTO countries will be further strengthened through military-technical cooperation, training, regional consultations on security issues and joint military exercises. It will become the main military force in Central Asia and an instrument of confrontation with NATO in the Eurasian continent.

By signing an agreement on cooperation with the UN, the OSCE and the SCO, in the future the CSTO will get the opportunity to participate in peacekeeping operations under the auspices of these organizations; not only in Central Asia, but also in Eurasia.

The peacekeeping operation conducted by the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) in Kazakhstan has become the most successful military operation in the history of the alliance; due to such operations, the role and reputation of Russia will increase throughout the world.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.