Asia and Eurasia
The CSTO and EAEU in a New Era: From Abstraction to Practice

It is difficult now to operate with abstract schemes like the respected concept of “Greater Eurasia”, but it is quite clear that real interaction, which makes it possible to reduce the threats from a world economic war and even gain benefits from it, will do more for implementation in a common space than any ideas of a general nature, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Timofei Bordachev.

Several international institutions for cooperation, integration and collective security — primarily the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) — were created in a historical period that, apparently, has finally come to an end. Now we cannot say with certainty how radical the coming changes will be and to what extent they will affect not only Europe, where the international order has entered an extended period of crisis, but also the rest of Eurasia, as well as the international system of states as a whole. Therefore, it is difficult to judge what institutional practices that had emerged earlier will be preserved, what form this will take, and what tasks will be set for them by states guided by the sole goal of survival.

However, if we assume that the impact of the catastrophe faced by the European order on other regions and the world as a whole turns out to be more indirect, then the mission of the institutions existing outside Europe will be precisely to absorb a devastating wave of political instability as much as possible, as well as economic wars emanating from the western part of Eurasia. Each of the states not directly involved in the European conflict will strive to ensure that its negative impact on the development of national economies and the ability to ensure their own security is less than could be imagined in the worst-case scenario. In this sense, for the small and medium-sized states of Eurasia, which make up the majority of the members of the CSTO and the EAEU, the task will be how to use these institutions in the interests of their own development in an international environment that is becoming less and less favourable.

It is widely known that just a few weeks before the post-Cold War European international order came to its logical end, the CSTO countries were able to decisively and effectively use this tool to safeguard stability in one of their key member states. The dramatic events in Kazakhstan in the first half of January 2022, caused by an accumulation of political and economic problems as well as structural income inequality, became a serious test for the statehood of that country, which has historically acted as the integration centre of Eurasia.

The courageous appeal of the Kazakh authorities to their CSTO allies and the immediate decision to respond to this appeal by the other 5 countries — Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan — turned out to be surprisingly efficient. The deployment of the CSTO peacekeeping contingent in Kazakhstan for a short period of time did not play a decisive role in suppressing riots and terrorist attacks, as such — the Kazakh authorities successfully coped with this task themselves. However, it was of the utmost importance that the impressive contingent of allies instilled confidence in the official government and allowed the release of its own security resources, which would otherwise be occupied with the protection of infrastructure, and not with quelling anti-government activity.

Even more importantly, in the case of Kazakhstan, the CSTO countries have shown for the first time their ability to make the organisation an instrument of internal stability — now any forces that intend to destabilise allies from the outside or from the inside know that they may face a strong response. It is difficult to say how much this ability of the CSTO will be in demand in the coming years, since so far all the governments of the CSTO countries have demonstrated a fairly high confidence in the ability to maintain order on their territories. But it is already clear that for Russia, as a leading military power of the organisation, peace and order among its neighbours is becoming an important task, given that its main forces will be diverted to the European theatre. This does not mean that Moscow will not have the resources to help its allies in the event of a situation akin to what happened in Kazakhstan — the forces required for this are extremely small in number compared to those that Russia will have to use in the West.

Therefore, now it becomes relevant for all CSTO countries not only to coordinate their actions, but also to create new practical mechanisms for responding to emerging external and internal threats. These threats will not disappear and will not be solved by any external actors — the countries of Eurasia will have to look for answers themselves anyway, and it would be prudent for rationally thinking elites to use those tools that meet the interests of their neighbours. As in the case of the SCO, such areas of cooperation as biological security and regulation of the information sphere are becoming quite promising for the CSTO.

For its part, the Eurasian Economic Union has been in a state of slow development for quite a long time. The main obstacle has been the insufficient readiness of the member countries to thoroughly fulfill their obligations in accordance with the founding Treaty and other general acts. Now the countries of the EAEU will need to take a closer look at what opportunities the existing legal framework of the union creates for them to adapt to the unstable world economy and the widespread practice of all-out trade wars. Moreover, this will also require the creation of new joint regulatory acts, and in general, a more creative and dynamic attitude towards the development of the legal framework for integration — it must now be applied.

In fact, the strategic or abstract aspects may naturally disappear from the activities of international cooperation institutions. This, in principle, can only be welcomed — for several years, the activities of organisations such as the EAEU have been inevitably associated with a very abstract discussion about the achievement of certain strategic goals, the ideal state of relations between the participants. Often these discussions have raised reasonable questions in our minds about how their decisions would affect the most important thing for a modern state — sovereignty. As a result, the countries slowed down even in fulfilling the obligations they assumed that objectively contribute to strengthening their sovereign capacity. At the same time, in recent weeks, we have seen that real restrictions on sovereignty are caused not by abstract fears, but by the specific lack of rights for states to fully control their companies — a few days ago, the national airline of Kazakhstan, which is 49 percent owned by a British company, lost the ability to operate flights to Russian airports simply under the pressure of its British partner.

Given the new circumstances, the EAEU countries will have to re-evaluate their cooperation and integration achievements already in terms of how they help or hinder the operation of the common market in the face of economic warfare from the West and the potentially growing importance of China for the Russian economy and, in its wake, other economies of the Eurasian space. The EAEU countries are not striving to make their association a conductor for a new one-sided dependence, in any case, for them it will be a rational policy to increase autonomy in the world economy. At the same time, a number of issues have already become quite obvious, the solution of which will require the creation of additional regulations at the level of the entire Union — this is the most important task of structures such as the Eurasian Economic Commission.

Now we cannot say with certainty what the more or less complete power and geopolitical composition of the space surrounding Russia will become as a result of the indirect influence of the crisis in Europe. But in the event that this influence does not turn out to be destructive, it would be wise to follow a path not of grand strategies or a “vision” of the future, but of adaptation to the changes taking place now. Ultimately, it is these changes that must be taken into account, since they affect the basis of each country’s policy for ensuring its own survival. It is difficult now to operate with abstract schemes like the respected concept of “Greater Eurasia”, but it is quite clear that real interaction, which makes it possible to reduce the threats from a world economic war and even gain benefits from it, will do more for implementation in a common space than any ideas of a general nature.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.