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Russia -- and Probably No One Else -- Wants CSTO in UN Peacekeeping Missions

Soldiers from CSTO member states practice carrying out a UN peacekeeping mission in Belarus. (photo: MoD Kazakhstan)

Russia and its allies have for the first time carried out exercises simulating a United Nations peacekeeping mission, signaliing -- at least from Russia's side -- an expanded vision of how it and its allies might deploy in the future.

The five-day exercises, "Unbreakable Brotherhood 2016," took place in Belarus and ended Saturday. About 1,000 troops from the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (which also includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan) took part. 

This is the fifth iteration of these exercises, but the first which envisaged a UN peacekeeping scenario, and in a non-CSTO country at that. In the scenario, the UN has given the CSTO a mandate to send its peacekeeping units to the fictional country of Angoria, where ethnic conflict has broken out:

The Gorniks have bad relations with the Belnyaks as a result of the June 2016 parliamentary elections in Angoria, where the representatives of the Belnyaks got the majority of votes, unsanctioned rallies took place in large cities during which pogroms took place in Belnyak areas. In response, Belnyaks took to the street to demand that the government take measures to protect them. Interior Ministry units took measures to stabilize the situation. However these measures did not stabilize the situation in the country. Being unable to restore constitutional order in Angoria, the organs of government power completely lost control over the situation. 

The Belnyak forces began to form self-defense units responding to the actions of the Gorniks. Armed clashes between the Gorniks and Belnyaks became more common. Streams of civilians who had abandoned their homes flowed to regions where armed conflict had not broken out.

By the end of July 2016 after negotiations were carried out, shooting partially decreased and armed units were withdrawn from the line of contact. However, not all commanders of either Gornik and Belnyak units accepted the terms of the agreement and continue active armed conflict.

It should be noted that the prospects of the UN giving a peacekeeping mandate to the CSTO are quite dim. It's telling that, according to TASS, "Representatives of the United Nations Secretariat and the International Committee of the Red Cross [were] invited to the exercise" but they didn't come. 

But at the closing ceremony to the exercises, CSTO Secretary General Nikolay Bordyuzha suggested that international developments are driving the group to a more active role: "Political influence is the main instrument of the organization. But the way the [world] situation is developing suggests just the opposite: the increase in the role of the military component of the organization."

Belarus, the host of the exercise, has already said that it does not intend to send its troops to fight abroad, which calls into question the purpose of it being in the CSTO. First Deputy Defense Minister of Belarus Oleg Belokonev, even at the official closing ceremony, suggested that Minsk's views may not line up with Bordyuzha's: "The peacekeeping contingent can be applied without restriction to any CSTO member-states. So far there is no discussion of using this contingent anywhere outside the borders of these states."

This is almost becoming a dog-bites-man story, how frequently Russia's (in theory) treaty allies signal their unwillingness to go along with Moscow's ever-growing ambitions for the CSTO. This is surely being noticed in the Kremlin, and one wonders what purpose the CSTO really serves these days.

Russia -- and Probably No One Else -- Wants CSTO in UN Peacekeeping Missions

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