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  Moscow block

Viktor Denisenko
2009 04 14

On 4 February 2009, representatives of countries of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) signed an agreement in Moscow on the formation of the Collective Rapid Reaction Force (CRRF). Some experts evaluated this as a new Moscow‘s step towards the formation of a counterbalance to NATO.

The agreement on collective security was signed in 1992 in Tashkent. Before the establishment of CSTO in autumn of 2003, this agreement was just a formal document. The CSTO member countries are Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tadzhikistan, and Kirgizstan. It was their decision to form collective rapid reaction forces.

The purpose of the CRRF is declared to be the repelling of military aggression, executing special operations against international terrorism and extremism, as well as against transnational organized crime and drug trafficking, and for performing relief operations during emergencies.

The Russian units would form the majority in CRRF. Moscow is going to provide 98th airborne division and 31st airborne assault brigade. Kazakhstan will provide another airborne brigade. Other countries will provide one batallion each. If there is no military threat, CRRF would stay at their dislocation. Decision on the use of CRRF shall be made by the CRRF Collective Security Council.

According to experts, CRRF would mostly be used in the Central Asian Region with a view to assuring security „towards Afghanistan“.  This task might soon become crucial. At the beginning of February Kirgizia informed that it was closing the headquarters of the U.S military air forces Gansi via which coalition forces were supplied in Afghanistan. If the U.S forces and the allies withdraw from Afghanistan, Russia will have to solve problems related to security in Central Asia.

However, formation of CRRF was far from smooth.  Uzbekistan didn’t oblige to be a permanent CRRF member. It agreed to take part only in drug-trafficking prevention operations etc.

A big scandal arose concerning involvement of Byelorussian forces in CRRF. According to S.Martynov, the Byelorussian Foreign Minister, the laws of the country do not stipulate engagement of Byelorussian forces in military actions beyond the country. Moscow did not appreciate the above statement, since it contradicted the main CRRF idea.

The future of CRRF and CSTO will depend on Moscow‘s policy. Being part of the collective security forces, where Russia plays the lead role, might be quit risky for certain countries (the conflict between Russia and Georgia is a good example). Other CSTO countries might also be engaged in the above conflicts.

The most serious could be possible military confrontation of Russia and Ukraine concerning Sevastopol and Crimea. Besides, nobody can reject a new confrontation with Tbilisi. Disagreements between Armenia (CSTO member) and Azerbaijan on the Nagorno Karabakh must not be forgotten as well.

The CRRF concept is also underdeveloped. It is not clear how soon CRRF units could be deployed in the location of military actions, since CRRF has no relevant transportation facility. So far the artillery support for special operations and supply are not regulated. CRRF legal competence framework is also not specified, as well as the organization of joint force management.

Thus the decision on the establishment of CRRF is purely political. Certainly, CRRF might imply Moscow’s demonstrative forces justifying CRRF as NATO‘s backbone.

CRRF could play a serious role in the struggle against drug flows in Central Asian countries or during local military conflicts, but it could hardly be effective in the war with NATO.  Effectiveness of CRRF would first of all depend on a sound coordination framework.

Disagreements between CSTO members, as well as their „private“ interests could also be an important factor. Uzbekistan and Belarus need Russia’s security guarantees in case of military actions or terrorist threat, but they don’t want to take part in the Russian geopolitical games.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia sought to retain the status of the center of integration processes, especially after V.Putin has come to office. Thus, sooner or later a military „Moscow block“ (as counterbalance to NATO) should have emerged. CSTO and CRRF enable Russia feel the region’s leader and meet its geopolitical ambitions in competing with the United States concerning a „new global order“.

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