Here's An Idea: Send CSTO Peacekeepers To Syria
Moscow's new anti-NATO, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, has promoted itself as a tool for putting down Arab Spring-style uprisings in the post-Soviet space. But now backers are going a step further, proposing the CSTO deal with the Arab Spring at its source, by sending CSTO peacekeepers to Syria.
The proposal was made by Igor Yurgens, the head of Kremlin-affiliated think tank Institute for Contemporary Development, according to a report in the newspaper Izvestia:
“We should take a more flexible stance on Syria,” he said. “Let’s propose sending CSTO peacekeepers to Syria. The unit has 20,000 well trained and armed servicemen. Let’s send them to the assistance of Kofi Annan – at our expense.”
Ahead of last year's CSTO joint military exercises, Russia's Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov said the exercise's scenario would deal with "possible negative developments following the example of events in Libya and Syria." But it's a big step from putting down those uprisings at home, and another to put them down in another part of the world.
If the CSTO has 20,000 well trained peacekeepers, 19,000 of them are Russian. The remaining CSTO member states -- Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- have shown only occasional enthusiasm for Russia's ambitious plans for the alliance, and it's hard, if not impossible, to imagine any of those countries sending their soldiers to Syria.
Yurgens's proposal came the same day that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly blamed Russia for blocking international assistance to Syria. Yurgens alluded to the fact that Russia's position on Syria is doing it no favors in the international arena:
“We should consider the Syrian conflict from a broader perspective. China and Russia expressed their attitudes at a certain point in the conflict, but now we are losing global public and political respect because our position hasn’t changed as this humanitarian catastrophe unfolds.”
Russia’s position on this issue is becoming weaker, Yurgens said. Moscow insists that Syria is a sovereign country, but the West sees it as willingness to sacrifice human rights to sovereignty.
It's hard to see how sending the CSTO, which would (correctly) be seen as interested in propping up the Syrian government, would ameliorate that situation. And the CSTO's general secretary, Nikolay Bordyuzha, gave only a tepid response to the proposal:
“Theoretically, the CSTO agreements and charter allow for using peacekeeping forces beyond CSTO borders, but only under a UN Security Council mandate. But the practical aspects of such an operation should be analyzed and coordinated with our international partners,” he said....
He added that this initiative might be attractive to politicians, but not for the boys who would be sent to Syria.
“Judging by reports, both sides are using heavy weaponry there,” the official said.
So, the chances of anything coming to pass with this proposal are zero. But it's an interesting idea for a group that is still working to develop a reason for existing.
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
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