The Collective Security Treaty Organization (often called by boosters a "NATO of the East") held an "informal summit" (which meant, apparently, that the presidents didn't wear ties) in Astana on Friday and there were a couple of noteworthy emphases: the group is taking an active stance against "cyber threats" and it is finalizing development of a rapid-reaction force that could intervene in member countries.
Neither of those initiatives are exactly new, and there is also little information about them, but Kremlinologically speaking we should probably pay attention to the fact that they were the things that were emphasized should make us take them a little more seriously than we had before.
Last year, CSTO General Secretary Nikolay Bordyuzha spoke about an "information security" program that sounded pretty frankly Orwellian, and then wasn't much heard of. Now, though, he has brought up the topic again, reports RT:
“No military contingents or groups of gunmen are needed to destabilize the situation in this or that state when information technologies are at their disposal,” [Bordyuzha] said.
This is what’s happening, Bordyuzha warned, while explaining why the work on information counteraction is one of the top priorities of the CSTO. He recalled that the bloc has been conducting security operations in cyber space for a long time.
Added Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, the CSTO's current chair:
“Many new goals have appeared in light of recent world events, including those in the Arab states and in North Africa,” the Belarusian leader pointed out. “We have agreed that our countries will work out measures to fight potential threats, primarily in the information sphere and cyber space.”
Russia Profile reads a bit in between the lines about what that might mean:
Discussions at Friday’s informal summit in the capital of Kazakhstan have focused squarely on the ongoing upheavals in the Middle East, and on how to prevent the Arab Spring protests from spilling over into the territories of the former Soviet states, the Kommersant business daily reported. But the leaders of the CSTO, a military-political alliance of seven countries including Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, needed little persuasion to appreciate “the destructive role” that social networks had played in such protests. After a three-hour meeting behind closed doors, the leaders decided to create a unified preventive strategy for cyberspace, which could mean restricting the use of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, widely seen as the bane of authoritarian Arab regimes, the newspaper said.
In a keynote speech, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev reminded his guests of the need to put up an impregnable wall against the spread of color revolutions on the territories of the former Soviet Union. Echoing similar calls made at the tenth summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in June, Nazarbayev also called for a curtailment of freedom in cyberspace. Unregulated information space, he said, poses “threats to regional security and stability in the CSTO member states, especially in light of the latest developments in the world.”
But what practical form this will take, we'll have to wait and see.
The second issue, of the rapid reaction force, also has been talked about, but now Bordyuzha said its development will be completed by the end of the year. Again, Russia Profile:
President Lukashenko, who in the past vehemently opposed the creation of the organization's Collective Rapid Reaction Force (RRF), said member-states are now determined to complete the process of recruiting and equipping CSTO’s rapid reaction forces "in view of the difficult situation in the world." The RRF, he said, would deal with issues like border conflicts, but could also be used to repulse military aggression and combat international terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking and other emergencies. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the CSTO rapid reaction force, which now numbers about 20,000 troops, “has become a regional force that can neutralize potential threats.”
Analysts said, however, that the measure could run into bumps, as it entails making amendments to the CSTO charter so that the alliance's forces can intervene on the territories of member-states. “It is a double-edged sword and many countries in Central Asia and Belarus are unlikely to want to give Russia an opportunity to interfere in their internal affairs,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor in chief of Russia in Global Affairs. "Allowing the RRF to intervene in internal conflicts could also transform it into the likes of Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council, which is now largely engaged in quenching revolutionary fires across the Arab world.”
The most recent event in the CSTO space that could have prompted an intervention was last summer's violence in southern Kyrgyzstan. The CSTO was criticized for staying on the sidelines then, but Bordyuzha says that the neglect was deliberate:
"The decision [to not intervene] was made by all CSTO member-states," Bordyuzha said at a videopress conference "Moscow-Astana". "It was conscious. No country stated on the need for sending troops."
The further development in the south of the country confirmed that the decision was correct.
The CSTO followed the way to help the Kyrgyz security forces to provide local operations aimed at stabilizing the situation that period, Bordyuzha said.
"It is absolutely wrong to say that the CSTO is ineffective because it did not send troops [to Kyrgyzstan]," he said.
It's not quite clear how the further developments in the country confirmed the wisdom of non-intervention (though certainly, intervention could have caused plenty of additional problems). And that's a bit of a change of tone from a few months ago, when CSTO officials were saying that the Kyrgyzstan events proved that the organization needed to improve its rapid-reaction force.
In any case, the further development of the force will be something to watch. Since Russia far outmatches any other CSTO member in terms of its military capability, this force will essentially be a streamlined way for Russia to militarily intervene in a CSTO country. Is Russia Profile right, that with the threat of the "Arab Spring," countries in the CSTO are willing to countenance that?