29 January 2023, Sunday, 16:31
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Aliaksandr Frydman: Tokayev smiled when Lukashenka spoke about the collapse of the CSTO

Aliaksandr Frydman: Tokayev smiled when Lukashenka spoke about the collapse of the CSTO

The fate of the dictator depends on the results of the war in Ukraine.

The CSTO summit in Yerevan ended in humiliation for Putin and Lukashenka. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan refused to sign the draft declaration of the CSTO Collective Security Council and the draft on joint measures to provide assistance to Armenia. Charter97.org asked historian, PhD, lecturer at the Heinrich Heine University (Düsseldorf) and Saarland University (Saarbrücken) Alexander Friedman to comment on the demarche of the head of Armenia.

— Quite expected, because Armenia has many times expressed dissatisfaction with the actions, or rather, the inaction of the CSTO in connection with the war in Azerbaijan. Therefore, it was obvious that Armenia will not sign any declaration that positively assesses the activities of the CSTO. It's just a little strange that the parties failed to agree on some assessments that would satisfy everyone. In the end, everything ended with Pashinyan's demarche.

I think that he decided to do it completely consciously in order to show the Western partners of Armenia and the Armenian people his readiness to protect the interests of the country and the principles of the Armenian state, even to get involved in certain conflicts with Russia. Of course, this is a symbolic event, but it shows that the differences are so serious that in the end, all countries participating in the summit failed to even agree on a common assessment. This is a kind of defeat for the Russian president and Lukashenka, who actively assisted him in Yerevan.

— They like to call the CSTO "Eastern NATO" in Russia, there are references to the Warsaw Treaty Organization. Is such a comparison appropriate?

— This is an attempt to recreate a new military bloc under the auspices of Russia, in spirit. Such a military bloc under the auspices of the Soviet Union was the Warsaw Pact. It also had quite controversial relations, there were conflicts and contradictions. Albania withdrew from it in 1968, while Romania preferred to stay at a distance. The CSTO developments are not so unexpected. However, everything is happening at a very inconvenient moment for Russia, because Putin is mired in the war in Ukraine, and the CSTO partners do not demonstrate readiness to support Russia, even countries like Kazakhstan. The latter openly emphasizes its neutral position. Only Lukashenka fully supports Russia.

In such a situation, this conflict with Armenia is added when Pashinyan loudly slams the door. This, of course, is very unpleasant for Russia, but in general such conflicts do happen in large military blocs. Even within NATO, their relations are also far from harmony: there are conflicts in connection with the admission of Sweden and Finland, and relations between Turkey and Greece are frankly poor.

— You spoke about the defeat of the Russian president. Does the weakening of Putin's position affect the CSTO?

— If we look at the CSTO countries, we will see that they are just watching and observing that Russia is not achieving its goals in Ukraine. That Russia is actually much weaker than many thought before February 24th. By and large, it seems to me that Tajik President Rahmon, for example, cares little about the fate of Ukraine. I don’t think that he is particularly concerned about what is happening in Ukraine, that shelling is going on there and people are dying.

Dictators take it quite easy. As for Rahmon, there is no doubt that he noted for himself that Russia has fallen into international isolation, that Russia is unable to achieve its military goals, that the Russian army demonstrates its weakness and that in many ways Russia is a colossus but with feet of clay. Experienced politicians, such as Rahmon, allow themselves harsh statements under such conditions, as he, for example, made at the last meeting of the CIS.

Tokayev calls the Russian “special military operation” a war, openly declares his neutral position and even accepts congratulations from Zelensky by phone. He is observing the situation in Russia and he understands that betting on Russia is not the most reasonable step in practical terms, cause there is a need to be more careful. The most favourable position from his point of view is the neutrality that Kazakhstan takes.

Lukashenka is one of those who are not trying to take advantage of Russia's weakness, he just cannot do it. He is much more dependent on Russia, unlike Tokayev and Rahmon.

— Can countries start to leave this bloc if Russia continues to weaken during the war in Ukraine?

— This is a really good question. I don't think it will happen now. They may leave it in case of force majeure. For example, in the event of a new round of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, if Russia and the CSTO do not take further steps in favor of Armenia, and the CSTO members continue to flirt with Azerbaijan. Even Aliyev, before the CSTO meeting, openly stated that Azerbaijan has even more friends in this bloc than Armenia, which is a CSTO member-state.

The Yerevan events largely confirm that Armenia and its friends in the CSTO, to put it mildly, are not very good. It is ridiculous, for example, to call Lukashenka a friend of Armenia after all that he has recently declared and his unambiguous curtsies towards Azerbaijan.

Therefore, exacerbations are possible, of course, in case of force majeure. It cannot be ruled out that Armenia, for example, will leave the CSTO in case of an escalation, theoretically.

Relations between Russia and Kazakhstan could escalate if Putin tries to break Tokayev and force him to change a neutral course. All of that is possible, in theory.

In fact, I think the conflicts will deepen and paralyze the activities of the CSTO, but at the moment the withdrawal and open demarche of some countries seem unlikely.

If, of course, Russia suffers a military defeat and completely loses this war, then, most likely, Lukashenka will be right and the CSTO will collapse.

Lukashenka is the only person in this boat with Putin and he tries to drag others into it. I don’t know if he really believes much in what he says, but so far he hasn’t succeeded. The meeting in Yerevan once again showed that the CSTO member countries took the following position: you two swim there, and we'll see the result of your "swim".

— You have already casually mentioned Lukashenka's words that "if Russia loses and collapses, his regime will be buried under rubble". Is this a likely scenario?

— As far as I understood, he was addressing everyone so that everyone would collapse, not only him. Tokayev, in my opinion, even smiled when he heard this, because it was funny for him to hear it. To be honest, the crisis or the collapse of the CSTO will not undermine his position.

This concerns Lukashenka directly, he tied his political fate with this war. Therefore, even if the degree of involvement of Belarus in the war remains at the current level and the “red line” with sending the Belarusian military to Ukraine has not been crossed, nevertheless, serious consequences await Lukashenka in the event of Russia's defeat. It is unlikely that he will retain power in the event of a total Russian defeat. As for the rest of the heads of the CSTO countries, I think that for Pashinyan, Rahmon or Tokayev, a Russian defeat will fundamentally change nothing. Even more, the weakening of Russia will give them a new field for maneuvers.

— What other processes in the post-Soviet space can be triggered by the weakening of Putin?

— Again, it is necessary to define what Putin's weakening is to answer the question. If we are talking about a total defeat, that is, the restoration of Ukraine within the borders of 1991, then this will put an end to all the integration projects that Russia led in the post-Soviet space. These integration processes will be greatly weakened, at least.

The events taking place now are absolutely fatal for Putin because all these 20 years he has been developing integration processes in the post-Soviet space, trying to integrate countries economically, militarily and politically. 2022 pushes him back in terms of the integration process because there are conflicts even with those countries that cooperate with Russia.

The collapse of Russia in Ukraine also threatens the collapse of all integration processes initiated by the Russian Federation in the post-Soviet space. The low-intensity nature of the war without Russia's success threatens to freeze these processes.

Today's Russia is not only isolated in the sense of foreign policy but also its attractiveness is falling very much due to limited financial resources.

Many countries of the post-Soviet space cooperate with the Russian Federation and continue to work with it only for the simple reason that they have no other opportunities, they have no alternatives. But this weakness of Russia gives them a new field for maneuver, a new freedom of development. The weakening of Russia is a chance for the countries of the post-Soviet space.