Asia and Eurasia
Valdai Club Discusses the Role of the CSTO in Ensuring Security in Eurasia
Valdai Club Conference Hall, Tsvetnoy boulevard 16/1, Moscow, Russia
List of speakers

On Wednesday, February 9, the Valdai Discussion Club hosted a conference, titled “Collective Security in a New Era: Experience and Prospects of the CSTO”, organised with the support of the Russian Foreign Ministry. At the first session, high-ranking diplomats of the CSTO countries made their speeches, and during the second session, recognised experts from the member countries, as well as experts from other nations, expressed their opinions.

When preparations were being made for the event, timed to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Collective Security Treaty and the 20th anniversary of the CSTO, the organisers had no idea how relevant this topic would be in 2022, Andrey Bystritskiy, Chairman of the Valdai Club Foundation for Development and Support, said in his welcome address. Indeed, the key role that the CSTO played in stabilising the situation in Kazakhstan in January forced many, both in the member countries and outside the organisation, to reconsider their views on its place in ensuring regional security. The first session of the conference was devoted to the models of collective security and the potential of the CSTO.

The conceptual framework within which the CSTO operates was outlined by Alexander Pankin, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. According to him, in addition to the classic security threats that such organisations are created to counter, the CSTO faces a specific challenge. The member countries are the object of external players’ attempts to undermine their national governments. At the same time, the CSTO as a community does not intend to change attitudes, lifestyles, ways of life, and so on. This is its first fundamental difference between the organisation and NATO, often seen as an exemplary military-political alliance, which sets the task of transforming states according to NATO values. The second difference is that the area of responsibility of the CSTO is the territory of its member countries. The organisation does not have global ambitions, while NATO, in fact, claims that its area of responsibility is global and creates all sorts of partnerships in different parts of the world.

The situation in Kazakhstan in early January, when the CSTO mechanisms were first activated, became a test of the organisation’s efficiency, and this was a real success. It is especially valuable that the CSTO forces did not have to participate in clashes; their mere presence was enough. According to Alexander Pankin, “there was no need to reload the machine gun, it was enough to show that it was in our hands.” The Deputy Minister recalled that all decisions on the deployment of peacekeepers were made within a matter of days and during the New Year holidays; the CSTO “did not have the opportunity to prepare, calculate the options.”
The prompt transfer of forces and means of supply, the high degree of coordination between the allies, as well as the orderly withdrawal of the peacekeeping contingent after the completion of the operation, showed that the CSTO has an efficient toolbox to repel security threats to member states.

Commenting on Alexander Pankin’s speech, Fyodor Lukyanov, Research Director of the Valdai Discussion Club, said that it was fundamentally important for the CSTO to demonstrate solidarity and determination in Kazakhstan. Returning to the comparison of the CSTO with NATO, he pointed out that the efficiency of the Western alliance during the Cold War years was due to the fact that, firstly, it demonstrated force without using it, and, secondly, it solved security problems in the territory which was relevant to the North Atlantic Treaty. After the Cold War, the bloc, which had been centred on the North Atlantic, began to try and solve global issues, and, in addition, it has been fighting since the 1990s. When politicians and strategists become overcome with megalomania, problems begin, Lukyanov summed up, expressing the hope that the CSTO will remain true to its mission.

The session participants showed solidarity in assessing the efficiency of the CSTO as a multilateral security organisation. Thus, Armen Ghevondyan, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia, pointed out that in the CSTO, unlike the OSCE, security is not divided into central and peripheral zones, and the security issues of individual member states are of equal importance. Opinion was also unanimous with regard to the role of the CSTO in resolving the situation in Kazakhstan. As CSTO Secretary General Stanislav Zas noted, the member countries confirmed their unity and readiness to jointly protect their interests and security, and also “they gained practical experience and made sure that our methods are functioning”. In turn, Marat Syzdykov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan stressed that the CSTO acted quickly and decisively, and the presence of peacekeeping forces guarding critical infrastructure facilities allowed the Kazakh law enforcement forces to regroup and directly restore order.

Speaking about the current challenges to the CSTO countries Stanislav Zas noted that the situation in Afghanistan is of the greatest concern. Although there is no threat of direct military expansion from the Taliban (banned in Russia), the problems of drug trafficking and terrorism remain, so strengthening the Afghan-Tajik border is the most important common task, he stressed. In turn, Sodiq Imomi, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Tajikistan, pointed out that drug aggression from Afghanistan is growing. Last year, opium production grew by 8%, and the Taliban, in the absence of other sources of income, has turned to drug trafficking, despite having previously distanced themselves from that. The country remains in a difficult socio-economic situation, aggravated by last year’s drought. All this makes Afghanistan a hotbed of instability, a breeding ground for extremism and a source of threats to its neighbours.

Another set of threats to the CSTO countries is associated, according to Stanislav Zas, with an increase in NATO military activity in Eastern Europe, where a large military grouping is building up. As Sergei Aleinik, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Republic of Belarus, noted in his message to the conference participants, a number of NATO member countries are actively arming Ukraine, allegedly against the so-called Russian aggression, and the number of exercises by NATO countries has tripled over the past year. At the same time, the West accuses Belarus and Russia of aggravating the situation in the region, a fresh example of which is its nervous reaction to the Allied Resolve-2022 exercise beginning on February 10, preparations for which were carried out in an atmosphere of maximum transparency.

Asia and Eurasia
CSTO as Peacemaker
Rashid Alimov
The CSTO-2022 is the result of colossal multi-year joint efforts made by the six member states of the organisation, writes Rashid Alimov, SCO Secretary General (2016-2018). The article was prepared for the Valdai Club Conference with the support of the Russian Foreign Ministry, titled "Collective Security in a New Era: Experience and Prospects of the CSTO".
Expert Opinions

The participants demonstrated their unity of approaches in assessing the most relevant areas of cooperation. In the opinion of experts, these, in addition to countering traditional threats, include biological security (the importance of which was emphasised by the ongoing pandemic), information and cyber security. The challenges in the information sphere include increasing the visibility of the organisation. “Not everyone in our society understands (the CSTO’s) role, goals, tasks,” said Nuran Niyazaliev, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic. And Marat Syzdykov noted that there are certain stereotypes abroad, for example, that the CSTO is a Russian organisation where the other member countries play a peripheral role. A clarification of goals and objectives requires efforts in the field of public and youth diplomacy, with which all the speakers agreed.

In the speeches of almost all participants, the topic of a possible expansion of the CSTO was touched upon. In their opinion, the format of observers and partners opens up wide opportunities, however, as Stanislav Zas said, it is important not to erode the cohesion of the member states. Also, much attention was paid to the cooperation of the CSTO with other multilateral organisations, primarily the UN, the SCO and the CIS. At the same time, attempts to seek “recognition” from NATO were considered futile.

Contradictions between individual CSTO countries were also touched upon, in particular, the border conflict between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The diplomats of the two countries assured that they have no goal of opposing themselves to each other, and confirmed that the potential for negotiations has not been exhausted. In turn, Nikolai Bordyuzha, CSTO Secretary General in 2003–2016, called for a return to the agreement on the non-use of lethal weapons within the internal borders of the CSTO.

The topics raised during the second session, with the participation of experts, largely echoed what diplomats spoke about during the first one. Much attention was paid to the operation of the peacekeeping forces in Kazakhstan. Nikolai Bordyuzha noted that the CSTO could have used any forces and means already in 2012–2013, but at the time, the member states lacked the psychological readiness to ask for help. In 2022, this psychological barrier was overcome, and the CSTO responded to a request of for an  ally for the first time. At the same time, this experience has shown that the law enforcement segment of the organisation is no less important than the military one, and it needs to be integrated into peacekeeping operations.

While from the military-political point of view, the CSTO showed itself at the highest level, there are serious gaps in the humanitarian and informational component, the experts noted, continuing the topic raised during the first session. The level of information about the activities of the CSTO remains low, which is also a consequence of the insufficient efforts among the member states. Thus, Nikolai Bordyuzha said that he had repeatedly proposed to hold a joint session on the CSTO and the EAEU within the framework of the Eurasian Media Forum in Almaty, but they discussed NATO instead. Rakhim Oshakbaev, an expert from Kazakhstan, noted during the Q&A session that he does not see the gratitude to the CSTO in his country for helping to resolve the situation, either on the social media or on state television. All this raises a number of serious questions about the quality of information work in the member countries of the organisation.

Particular attention was paid to the situation in Central Asia, with four of the six speakers of the session representing the countries of the region. According to Bulat Sultanov, Director of the Research Institute for International and Regional Cooperation and former Director of the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan (2005–2014), the region resembles a smouldering fire in a peat bog with periodic fires. The expert admitted that he expected such an outbreak in Kyrgyzstan, but Kazakhstan had “outstripped” his expectations. He said the reasons for the explosion were a high level of social inequality and a split among the elites, some of whom tried to manipulate the protesters. In turn, Kubatbek Rakhimov, Executive Director of the Public Foundation Applicata — Centre for Strategic Decisions and formerly Advisor to the Prime Minister of the Kyrgyz Republic (2019–2020), drew the attention of the audience to the fact that during the unrest in his country in 2020 there was no destruction and were almost no casualties and called for a study of the Kyrgyz experience.

Just as during the first session, the issue of cooperation between the CSTO and other international organisations was raised. Nikolai Bordyuzha and Rashid Alimov (SCO Secretary General 2016-2018) called for priority to be given to partnership with the SCO. Meanwhile, Kubatbek Rakhimov criticised this idea, pointing out that after India and Pakistan joined this organisation, the number of contradictions increased sharply, and its efficiency decreased. Sanzhar Valiev, Deputy Director of the Institute for Strategic and Interregional Studies under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, pointed out that there is a whole ecosystem of organisations involved in regional security in Central Asia, and the process of cooperation between the five states of the region has also been launched. At the same time, Valiev noted that Uzbekistan, which is not a member of the CSTO, is ready to interact with all organisations, and its armed forces are operationally compatible with the CSTO forces.

At the end of the discussion, the participants answered the question of how they see the future of the CSTO — as a universal organisation or as one designed to address a set of specific issues. The opinion prevailed that in the era of hybrid wars one should be prepared to repel all kinds of threats — not only military, but also informational, economic and others — in order to increase the stability of member states, which is the main task of the organisation.