Monday, July 2, 2012

Tashkent deserts CSTO - again....

Tashkent deserts CSTO - again....
By M K Bhadrakumar

In the sweltering heat of summer with the temperature hovering around the mid-40s Celsius in the steppes, Tashkent felt claustrophobic and walked out of the tent of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization. The CSTO spokesman acknowledged on Thursday in Moscow that Uzbekistan had sent a note intimating the "suspension of its activity in the framework of the alliance".

The matter now goes for the consideration of the CSTO heads of state. The current members are Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan. Uzbekistan was one of the founder members of the CSTO in 1992 and one of the keenest promoters of the doctrine of collective security in the post-Soviet space.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov hosted the ceremony for the signing of the CSTO's groundwork treaty on May 15, 1992. But by 1999, Tashkent had suspended its CSTO membership. Uzbekistan estimated that greener pastures lay ahead in a nascent regional process known as GUUAM - Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova - which was sponsored by the United States to promote Western interests in the geopolitics of energy in the Caspian region.

Second walkout
But after another seven years, Karimov took Uzbekistan back into the CSTO tent in 2006 when it transpired that the US had lost interest in GUUAM. Now, after yet another six years, Karimov has decided that Uzbekistan should step out of the CSTO tent once again.

The CSTO aims to rebuff external threats and defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the member states without interference in their internal political processes with military aid if necessary. Defense and political relations are the priority areas of the alliance. In 2004 the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution granting it observer status. The alliance hopes to gain status as a peacekeeping entity in the UN operations worldwide. Suffice to say, Uzbekistan is a key player in the CSTO's activities.

The expectation is that after the withdrawal of the bulk of the Western forces from Afghanistan in 2014, the CSTO will play an enhanced role in Central Asia. Given the criticality of the regional security scenario, Karimov made a risky decision to quit the organization.

But Uzbekistan's exit doesn't come as a surprise. In recent years, Tashkent stopped taking part in CSTO activities. In its demarche with the CSTO secretariat last week, Tashkent seems to have cited the following as reasons for its decision:

  • Dissatisfaction with the alliance's strategic plans with regard to Afghanistan;

  • Differences over the intensification of military cooperation among member countries;

  • Disregard of its concerns by the alliance.

    The demarche is not without merits. In reality, the CSTO has no real role in Afghanistan and the member countries bypass the alliance, including by sending military contingents to participate in the war led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

    Russia decided recently to provide the use of its airbase in the Volga city of Ulyanovsk as a hub for the transit of US and NATO forces to and from Afghanistan. Moscow pleads that the hub will not turn out to be a full-fledged US or NATO base, and according to NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen, it is a "pragmatic arrangement which allows us [NATO] to transport non-lethal weapons and troops to benefit our operation in Afghanistan".
    A complicated mind
    But there is something very odd about the fact that the CSTO members collaborate deeply with the NATO despite the latter's stubborn rejection of repeated Russian pleas over the past three years for engagement between the two alliances. NATO never lost a moment to debunk the CSTO while the latter's member countries worked with the Western alliance. Vladimir Socor of the Jamestown Foundation said recently:
    The CSTO is mainly a symbol of Russia's aspiration to become a great power and to be regarded as the leader of a bloc ... The CSTO is actually a network of bilateral relationships. It follows the model of the erstwhile Warsaw Pact, which was similarly the sum total of bilateral relationships between Moscow and each individual member country ... No one in the West has given recognition in any form to the CSTO ... In fact, its own member countries would like to have their own relationships with NATO, with the US and other Western players - not to have to go through the CSTO in order to have such relationships. And certainly NATO reciprocates that wish.
    The crunch time came probably when despite (or because of) the above contradiction, Moscow began intensifying the CSTO's integration processes. Indeed, the CSTO is funded primarily by Russia, and its estimation that the alliance's member countries are not sufficiently motivated is valid. The integration potential of the CSTO has become important for Russia.

    Ironically, Uzbekistan would have lived with a loosely knit CSTO that existed on paper. But it refused to sign the agreement on the Collective Forces of Operative Reaction within the CSTO treaty, which was formalized in 2009. From that point Tashkent began dissociating from CSTO activities.

    But the alliance surged by creating a rapid reaction force and further decided at its last summit in Moscow in December that no member country could allow outside powers to deploy military bases on its territory without the consent of all CSTO members. Tashkent apparently feels that this decision curbs its sovereign prerogatives in the prevailing highly volatile regional security environment. But there is more to Tashkent's calculations.

    A grand bargain
    Secret negotiations have been going on for the past two or three months between Washington and Tashkent on the feasibility of Uzbekistan providing the main gateway in the north for the US (and NATO) forces operating in Afghanistan. Indeed, Uzbekistan has great potential as a transit hub for the US forces, and its Soviet-era military bases in Navoi and Termez are just the sort of facility that Washington would like to access to support its permanent military bases in Afghanistan, where tens of thousands of combat troops will be deployed. (Germany has a base already in Termez.)

    The non-availability of the Pakistani transit routes and the growing uncertainties and tensions in the US-Pakistan relationship lend urgency to the US-Uzbek negotiations. Karimov anticipates the scope for striking a grand bargain with the US and NATO. According to reports, the Pentagon may even consider handing over free of cost to the Central Asian states its war equipment (which are in any case cumbersome logistically and burdensome financially to evacuate) from Afghanistan.

    Getting rid of the CSTO membership becomes the need of the hour for Tashkent. In sum, Tashkent is decoupling its wagons from the CSTO convoy.

    The great irony of the situation is that the US and NATO are poised to get "hubs" in both Russian and Uzbek territories (and, perhaps, in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan as well) and in the process also undercut the CSTO as a military alliance.

    Uzbekistan's exit from the CSTO is a setback to the alliance at a crucial juncture. Other Central Asian countries - Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan - may also feel encouraged to strike bargains with the US and NATO independent of Moscow.

    One more shot across the bow
    Meanwhile, there is yet another imponderable: How does China view these trends in a region where it is a stakeholder too?

    Even as the rupture in Uzbekistan's ties with the CSTO surfaced, Xinhua news agency featured an exclusive interview with Rasmussen on Saturday. He said, inter alia, that NATO appreciated the "concrete steps" taken in the direction of strengthening the dialogue between the alliance and China and cited as examples "military-to-military cooperation and increased high-level contacts".

    Rasmussen pointed out that it was "quite natural" for NATO to "seek a more structured dialogue" with China. "I hope to see that further develop in the coming years," he added. Rasmussen welcomed a "strong engagement" by China in Afghanistan not only in the economic sphere but also politically by "facilitating a process where Afghanistan's neighbors, including Pakistan, engage positively in finding a solution to the conflict in Afghanistan".

    Equally, Rasmussen sidestepped the Shanghai Cooperation Organization's plans in Afghanistan and merely said, "NATO has cooperation, partnerships and dialogues with members of the SCO and we will continue to develop bilateral relationships, dialogues with members of the SCO."

    He seemed to have had Uzbekistan on his mind. But Russian experts expect that Karimov will get disillusioned with the US eventually and return to the CSTO fold. To quote from a Russian commentary:
    Tashkent wants to become the key link in the [United States'] future troop withdrawal and play a role as the main springboard ... However, considering the current situation in Central Asian countries, which is very difficult, it won't do [for Uzbekistan] without security guarantees from its neighbors. Neither the US nor NATO wants to give such guarantees to Uzbekistan - and neither of them can do that. Tashkent has time to think over everything. Taking into account the [vacillating] choices that Uzbek authorities make from time to time, Uzbekistan may soon find itself again on the list of CSTO members.
    The Russian optimism is not entirely misplaced. Curiously, on Friday, as the eventful week was drawing to a close, Tashkent put one more shot across the bow. In an interview with Russia's Interfax news agency, the spokesman for the Uzbek Defense Ministry said:
    Uzbekistan continues its partnership in the format of the CIS Defense Ministers Council. The national Defense Ministry [in Tashkent] on Thursday confirmed that it will attend the Council's 62nd meeting to be held in Kaliningrad on July 5 under the chairmanship of Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov.
    He added that Deputy Defense Minister Major-General Rustam Niyazov, who holds charge of international cooperation, would lead the Uzbek delegation.

    It may be a low-key delegation, but it is just enough to keep Moscow and Washington wondering. This was how business used to be transacted under the famous moneychangers' dome near the Caravanserai in Bukhara on the Silk Road in ancient times.....
  • Uzbekistan and CSTO: “Come on, Goodbye!”

    “The dramatic convergence of the leadership of Russia and Uzbekistan , recorded in the tone of the meetings of Islam Karimov and President Vladimir Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, brings its first fruit. According to data from credible sources, the agency “ reported” very soon Uzbekistan will be ready to sign with Russia rather serious bilateral documents, which may have an impact on the geopolitical “alignment” in the region. “

    Do not be surprised that this is not the latest news about the relations between Moscow and Tashkent. With these words began the article “Fergana”, published on our website seven years ago, June 30, 2005.

    This was the first time, “Putin’s” closer to Islam Karimov. Just died down a bloody Andijan , the Uzbek president and subjected to Western partners criticized for shooting demonstrators arrived in Moscow for moral support. And the focus of this publication (see the article “Uzbekistan, Russia and NATO: Stages of cooperation and confrontation” ) is a meeting between Putin and Karimov at the Novo-Ogaryovo, the statements that made the two leaders seemed to be very like-minded and totally secure in the knowledge Now that their union is sealed forever.

    He spoke at a press conference for journalists , mainly, the head of Uzbekistan. He has long intimidated by Islamic terrorists, the media, seeking to destroy Uzbekistan, and then the whole world, declared the inadmissibility of an international investigation into the Andijan massacre, spoke out against the “colored revolutions” and spread the influence of NATO’s eastward …

    Both leaders agreed that the Andijan riots were instigated by Afghanistan and ruled by terrorists, according to Islam Karimov, some “writers and directors,” who “used the religious, extremist, radical forces, which fought so hard in Afghanistan, and so successfully fighting now in Iraq. “ It was a frank attack on the joint conditional “West.” Karimov has clearly swore allegiance to Moscow, hiding under her wing for protection of his regime from outside influence and rebellion from within.

    Just a year later he returned to Tashkent, the Organization of Collective Security Treaty.

    However, a couple of years, it became clear that Uzbekistan is a member of this organization is only formally: the basic statutes and international treaties signed in the framework of the CSTO, it has not ratified, the joint military activities are not involved.The process of “sluggish” Uzbekistan’s membership in the pro-Russian military bloc ended logical way out of it, announced in late June 2012.

    In order to understand why today of Uzbekistan for the second time out of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, it is necessary to remember, which is why he left the organization – then just the Collective Security Treaty, or CST – back in 1999.

    CST, which was signed in 1992-th and came into force in the 1994th, joined more than half of the former Soviet republics – Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Belarus. At first it was not even an organization as well – a piece of paper, an agreement of intent to allow States to accept this document as long as desired to look closely to each other without any mutual obligations. Five years later, it became clear that the road-track countries, united in CST gradually diverge. And in the ninety-ninth, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Uzbekistan from the Treaty gone, fixing his attitude in the new “block” - the GUUAM .

    Strictly speaking, this is an interstate association then it was also quite shaky, especially regional , logically include only countries of the Caspian-Black Sea region, and Uzbekistan, which seemed to do it was absolutely nothing. I think that attracted Tashkent in GUUAM is the orientation of the Union for Europe and NATO. In other words, Karimov was not the need, Moldova and Ukraine to participate in one of them a symbolic club as a bridge to Europe. More and more giving up on an aging Yeltsin and economically unstable Russia, Islam Karimov has relied on the successful partnership with the West, saw in him, and security guarantees, and are much more likely than those from Moscow, the flow of financial investment.

    Laudatory rhetoric Karimov to the U.S. and NATO has increased substantially in the early 2000s, when the anti-Taliban coalition forces entered Afghanistan. In April 2002 President of Uzbekistan said that the U.S. has done for his country that could not make the CIS partners. Karimov openly “nails it” most of these partners, accusing them that they were limited to “bare statements” about the fight against terrorism, and the practical steps taken only anti-terrorist coalition. ”The decisive role in removing tension and danger on the southern borders of Uzbekistan was played exclusively U.S., their determination and well-trained armed forces, and not parties to the Treaty on Collective Security,” – said Karimov.

    However, very soon, “guuamovsky” bridge collapsed: Uzbekistan started to ignore the activities of the organization and finally left the bloc in May 2005, apparently fearing the export of “color” revolutions, and the year occurred two years earlier, respectively, in Georgia and Ukraine. Thus, the West, the United States and NATO were needed Karimov only as long as they do not interfere in his personal affairs and do not constitute a threat to his regime.

    “We are friends with you, if you do not cry too much about human rights and political reform” – is the key to understanding the relations between Tashkent and the conditional “democratic West”. In relations with Russia and the pro-Kremlin blocks operates another rule: “give us money, but does not strangle us in our allied arms.”

    Of course, such as the formation of the SCO and CSTO virtually no threat to the regime of Islam Karimov did not carry. But even with them, especially to overcome the contradictions between the band members, there is no. The Central Asian CSTO members have far more problems in the relationship among themselves than the general trends of development and cooperation. And in the very center of this tangle of contradictions is Uzbekistan, the only leader who is organically incapable of multilateral trade-offs. That is why sources in Tashkent argue out of the block “to a focus on bilateral contacts with the partners.” That’s why some shrewd observers see Karimov’s resignation from the CSTO more pluses than minuses .

    The transition from the integration model to those most “bilateral contacts” means nothing more than a desperate desire to Uzbekistan on their own, without the obligations of the group, to “deal” with its neighbors, among which the most problematic for Tashkent Dushanbe remains first and foremost. “The tension in the Uzbek-Tajik relations reminds the “cold war”, - wroteback in 2008, unfortunately, too early deceased, Sanobar Shermatova. - Without increasing the degree of trust between the two countries, no integration initiative, in which Russia is interested, including the projects of the Eurasian Economic Cooperation, will not work. This circumstance makes Moscow has leverage in Central Asia, to seek ways to reconcile recalcitrant neighbors. “

    It seems that these “searches” without success. Moscow is not there either looking for or were too naive in the hope that after the bloody Andijan, the Uzbek leader would meekly accept all of its initiatives. Or against integration is the very life, the realities of the post-Soviet political landscape. In particular – a stern authoritarian (read – egoism) of the Central Asian rulers.In fact, according to the exact observation of the same Sanobar Shermatova made back in 2004, “the relationship of the elite of the CIS to the limit personified: Do not get on with the head – do not wait for mutual understanding between nations.”

    Islam Karimov – exactly the kind of person who gets along with great difficulty with other presidents. And at that moment, when Uzbekistan is again very necessary to the NATO countries, Karimov can not use this chance, at least, to strengthen its regional neighbors, in defiance of the authority-competitors.

    So begins a new cycle of isolation from the Tashkent CIS partners and enhance cooperation with the most “conventional West.” Especially now that the U.S. and Europe virtually abandoned the excessive criticism of the Uzbek authoritarianism and, in fact, Karimov pledged to support and respect the status quo of the political regime. This position of the “West” looks for the Uzbek dictator’s far more attractive than the Kremlin’s policy, which set the Eurasian integration, and thus often deterring some “too independent” neighbors.

    In other words, the same conditional West, yesterday tried to re-naive Asian Khan Karimov, planting his democratic manners such as “political competition” and “open society”, is now completely changed his tactics, declaring, in effect, a complete “non-interference in internal affairs.” Such and such States of the West, finally closed their eyes to human rights violations and other dictatorial mess back in “the camp”, Islam Karimov, is much nicer than the neo-imperial policies fledgling Putin’s Kremlin, step by step dominates for a post-Soviet periphery.

    This does not mean the break in relations between Tashkent and Moscow itself, the “dear Vladimir Vladimirovich,” at least as long as he sits in the Kremlin. However, the yield of the Collective Security Treaty Organization in Uzbekistan indicates the next failure of attempts to entice Moscow Islam Karimov in a strategic paramilitary club under his reign. And the fact that relations between Uzbekistan and Russia, CSTO and “conditional West” now back on ten years ago – about 2002. For how long? Until the next “Andijan”?

    The international news agency “Fergana”