Who Needs Putin’s Mini-NATO?

The Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Russia-led, ex-Soviet military alliance, may have a lot on its mind these days, but the growing menace of a real war between Armenia and Azerbaijan is not a concern. 

Riling his Armenian hosts, the organization’s Russian deputy general secretary, General Valery Semerikov, made it abundantly clear on September 30 that the latest deadly escalation between the two countries is Armenia’s, not the security bloc’s, problem. In media comments in Yerevan, Semerikov said that the fast spiral of violence between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces is nothing that Armenia can’t handle on its own.

Armenian Army Chief of Staff Yuri Khachaturov did not conceal his frustration with these remarks in the middle of drills billed “Unbreakable Brotherhood 2015.” Khachaturov claimed that Armenia is, indeed, more than capable of handling the confrontation with Azerbaijan, but said that he would like to see some form of support from fellow members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) — Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

“After all we are in one organism, in one security system, so this [support] should be voiced,” RFE/RL's Armenian service quoted Khachaturov as saying. “We are not asking for help quite yet, but support, purely human support, we would like to hear.”

In a 2014 interview with a Kyrgyz newspaper, the CSTO's chief, Nikolai Bordyuzha, had defined the alliance's mission as "ensuring security for our states."

This is not the first time the CSTO has taken a back seat in conflicts involving its members. When two of its members, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan,came to blows in 2014, the organization was pressed to explain its mission or the lack of it. The CSTO’s existence hardly registered during earlier Central Asia troubles or during the 2008 Russo-Georgian war. A year after the war, the group did establish a rapid reaction force, but has been rapidly reacting only at war simulations like the one happening in Armenia.

To maintain its clout in the post-Soviet world, Moscow has been trying to mirror Western institutions with similar structures of its own, like the Russian-led European Union (Eurasian Economic Union) and Russian-led NATO (CSTO). The real NATO itself has faced existential twinges because of the lack of unity and collective action, but the role of the anti-NATO is far more obscure.

The security threats CSTO members face mostly emanate from other members or neighbors and this puts the organization at odds with the complex world of feuds and friendships in the former Soviet Union.

Azerbaijan, for instance, is not a CSTO member, but as a Caspian Sea energy power courted by Moscow, a state that requires delicate handling by Russia.

The CSTO members seem to place their individual trade and foreign policy priorities far above their collective defense commitments. For Moscow, the priority appears to be maintaining a geopolitical club, dysfunctional though it may be, critics claim.

Who Needs Putin’s Mini-NATO?

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