Russia has long sought to establish an organization that could act as a geopolitical counterbalance to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In the aftermath of its most recent summit, it is clear that Moscow is pinning much of its hopes on the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Whether the grouping of six formerly Soviet republics is ready to fulfill Russia's expectations remains an open question, however.
CSTO leaders issued a statement following the group's September 5 summit in Moscow that largely supported Russia's version of the conflict in Georgia. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. At the same time, to the Kremlin's frustration, CSTO states refrained from endorsing Russia's recognition of Abkhazia's and South Ossetia's independence.
Despite the diplomatic disappointment surrounding the independence issue, Russia received something more important from the CSTO, which includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The group's statement came out forcefully against the further eastward expansion of NATO. In effect, the group warned the United States and European Union that there would be trouble if the West tried to follow-up on its long-stated commitment to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO's fold.
"The serious potential for conflict is accumulating in the direct vicinity of the CSTO's zone of responsibility," the statement said. "The member states of the CSTO call on NATO to weigh all the possible consequences of expanding the alliance to the East."
Russia followed up on its CSTO success with an announcement that Russian forces would withdraw from Georgia proper following the deployment of an international peacekeeping force in and around Abkhazia and South Ossetia. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev worked out the preliminary withdrawal agreement during September 8 talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
If the new plan proceeds as originally envisioned, a peacekeeping/monitoring force would be deployed in the conflict zone no later than October 1. The withdrawal of Russian troops from checkpoints set up on Georgian territory would commence within 10 days after the monitors were in place. The United States and some EU member states have accused Moscow of violating a six-point ceasefire plan that was brokered in August. On September 7, however, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner provided Moscow with a face-saving way to move forward with the latest arrangement negotiated by Sarkozy and Medvedev. Kouchner attributed the differences surrounding the six-point plan to a translation error.
According to a report distributed by the Interfax news agency, Medvedev was vague when it came to the details of the new plan. He specifically avoided giving precise information concerning the composition and size of the monitoring contingent, saying only that it would include 200 EU representatives. There appeared to be a possibility that the new force could comprise a majority of Russian peacekeepers.
In announcing the new preliminary plan, Medvedev kept up a steady drumbeat of anti-Georgia and anti-American rhetoric. He assailed Washington for supposedly encouraging Tbilisi to open a military offensive against South Ossetia. He went on to accuse Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili of taking "idiotic action," according to a report distributed by the Komsomolskaya Pravda website.
"Now all of Georgia is paying for it," Medvedev continued. "It is one of the examples of decisions based on a unipolar world, when one is sure that there is someone behind him, who will help if one doesn't have enough strength. It will not work - one should behave, act under international law. Then everything will be fine. This is why I believe it is very important to develop new approaches to international security."
The new approach referred to by Medvedev would seem to be the CSTO. Following the group's summit, Medvedev urged stronger foreign policy coordination among member states, and suggested that the organization's "military element" be strengthened. "The Organization evidently has its rights and duties, including issues of self-defense [and the] liquidation of consequences of armed conflicts," he said. In connection with the Russian desire for the CSTO to beef up its strategic capacity, the organization announced a comprehensive military modernization plan.
Immediately following the CSTO summit, Medvedev issued a statement that was Cold War-like in tone, insisting that member states would guarantee their own territorial integrity and non-interference in their internal affairs. But he conceded that it would be up to each individual CSTO member to decide whether or not to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia or not.
Russia's Cold War-like rhetoric was again on display on September 8. Russia's ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, announced that Moscow would sever all ties with the Atlantic alliance if the Brussels-based organization ever offered Georgia a Membership Action Plan, which is a precursor to full membership. Russia also announced that it would engage in some gun-boat diplomacy of its own by sending a naval task force to the Caribbean Sea for joint exercises with the Venezuelan navy.
While Russia has succeeded in recent days in fostering an aura of strength in its dealings with the United States and EU, some Russian commentators continue to wonder whether Russia can win the public relations battle that is now raging over Georgia.
"We [Russia] are struggling with the world for the recognition of our actions in Georgia. Success has so far only been achieved on the linguistic level: condemnation is a strong political gesture, but it does not oblige anyone to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia," wrote political analyst Aleksandr Samarin in a September 8 commentary published by Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "On the other hand, the EU decided not to impose sanctions on Russia for now. We ignore 'for now' and stress 'not to impose.'"
Other media outlets have expressed doubt over whether Moscow can realize its CSTO ambitions. The CSTO nations denounced Georgia, but they are not prepared to follow Russia till the "victorious end," noted one commentary published by Moskovsky Komsomolets.
Sergei Blagov is a Moscow-based specialist in CIS political affairs.