Russian, Central Asian Militaries To Practice Counterinsurgency, Naval Warfare
Upcoming military exercises between Russia and several Central Asian countries are targeted both preventing the spread of the "Arab Spring" into Russia's near abroad, and the possibility of Islamists destabilizing Central Asia after U.S. troops leave Afghanistan. From September 19-27, about 12,000 troops from Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will practice counterinsurgency in Russia and Kazakhstan, and 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, as well as the export of instability from Afghanistan after the withdrawal of NATO troops from there in 2014," reports Vedemosti (in Russian).
The article goes on to quote Makarov as saying that 80 percent of the tasks of a modern army are "post-conflict settlement," so the exercise, called Tsentr-2011, will simulate fighting against small groups of militants. The article also notes, however, that Makarov said that Russia's entire Caspian Sea Flotilla would be involved in the exercise, which suggests that there may be more going on than just counterinsurgency here.
Analyst Roger McDermott, writing in Jamestown's Eurasia Daily Monitor, further notes that the scenario also envisages enemy aircraft and a chemical weapons attack on a southern Russian city. He says that the inclusion of aviation and naval components in the exercise is a muscle-flexing move by Russia:
One point must be stressed: this element in the exercise bears no relation to any concern about a future bleed out in Central Asia of a resurgent Taliban....
Those involved in planning military exercises appreciate the need to factor in possible paths to war within a particular strategic environment. A counter-terrorist element in Tsentr 2011 is unsurprising, but the roles assigned to the Caspian Flotilla and especially the Russian Air Force point to non-Taliban related models. Any confirmation of the WMD vignette in Tsentr 2011 may appear absurd, but it raises the issue of the Russian nuclear umbrella within the CSTO. Moreover, it contradicts the assumption by western planning staffs and experts that Russia and Central Asian countries place their main security emphasis on Taliban-linked nightmares. Indeed, Tsentr 2011 may well prove to be a less than subtle warning against the dangers of foreign intervention in CSTO territories.
I'm not sure what sort of foreign military interventions in the CSTO space Russia might be imagining. It could also be a vestige of old-school conventional-war thinking. I haven't seen this reported anywhere, but one of the participants in Makarov's press conference, Ruslan Pukhov of the excellent Moscow Defense Brief, told me that Makarov specifically claimed that, while previous military exercises had been constrained by the old ways of thinking (i.e. conventional war rather than counterinsurgency), this is the first one that has a fully up-to-date scenario. It seems like Makarov may be speaking a bit soon, and that bureaucratic inertia more than anything else could be the explanation for including naval and air scenarios in the exercise. Whatever the case, I personally will be looking forward to how the Caspian Sea Flotilla drills, given all the recent naval activity there, and I'll update as more information comes out.