Should we expect the collapse of the CSTO soon?
The summit of the countries of the Collective Security Treaty Organization starts in Minsk on November 23. The summit has not yet begun, but feelings are running hotter around it. So Lukashenka called Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to persuade him to come but was refused. The document on Armenia’s support for the CSTO was also removed from the agenda of the summit at the initiative of Yerevan. Is it truly bad news for the Kremlin?
Journalists of Charter97.org addressed this and other questions to Arkady Moshes, Programme Director for Russia, EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood and Eurasia research programme at The Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA):
– I think this is an unpleasant moment, but I would not overestimate the significance of what is happening. The Kremlin should certainly be disappointed that Armenia is beginning to more actively seek ways out of the system of alliances into which it has been dragged before. What I mean is that if the country’s entry into the CSTO was at one time perceived as a logical step, then when it comes to joining the Eurasian Economic Community, let’s be honest – President Sargsyan’s hands were tied in 2013.
Armenia was trying to balance. Until 2013, Yerevan considered negotiating with the EU like Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova – that is, an association agreement and a free trade zone. Yerevan had to abandon this, but a simplified version of such an agreement document was signed in 2017, and this agreement came into force in 2021. Recently they’ve signed a document on the civilian EU Monitoring Mission, which has already come to the country. Sure, Armenia felt uncomfortable in a camp where Russia limited all of the possible moves. It is also obvious that there could not be normal relations between Pashinyan and Putin, because the Prime Minister of Armenia is a representative of the revolution and the street. And Putin clearly cannot have good relations with a person who comes to power without paying attention to Moscow’s attitude to this.
The excursion into history is long. In short, yes, the refusal to come to the summit is an unpleasant moment for Russia, but hardly a surprise. I don't think much attention will be paid to this. It is clear that Armenia is trying to leave the Russian sphere of influence, and this process has accelerated recently because Armenia used to have illusions that Russia was a military ally, and the CSTO was an instrument of a military alliance that would come to the rescue in its war with Azerbaijan. This idea was false, and parting with illusions is always a painful process, but it happens, and Pashinyan is the personification of this process.
– Does Russia have a real interest in the CSTO or it’s just a symbolic body?
– I think that Russia has an interest. Content is King as they say. If the CSTO collapses and two or three states leave it, this will become a serious symbolic defeat for Russia, because Moscow may not be able to create a new military alliance and new security system. One way or another, the peak of the period when integration unions headed by Moscow were considered successful has passed. They need to preserve what remains. Maybe this is paradoxical, or maybe, on the contrary, it is completely logical, but it suits Putin. Putin’s task is to preserve existing bodies within the country and abroad and to revive previously existing ones. Not to create something new. In this regard, it would be logical for Moscow to try to save the CSTO.
– A rather significant moment happened during Putin’s visit to Kazakhstan. The head of the Kremlin once again could not pronounce Tokayev’s name, and he spoke in Kazakh. The entire Russian delegation had to grab their headphones. Does Putin understand that his so-called allies are drifting in the opposite direction from the Russian Federation?
– It’s difficult for me to assess Russian leadership’s ability to perceive developments over the world realistically. I think it becomes more realistic as time goes on. They cannot help but see that China is quite actively covering Central Asia, and it is displacing Russia in terms of economics rather than cooperating with Russia. At the same time, the Central Asian countries are also not very comfortable with the prospect of China strengthening economically, and Russia maintaining some position in the security sphere.
The countries of Central Asia will look for some other way out. Build relations with the EU, and even better, with the U.S. This is all, of course, about the future, but Moscow must understand the significance of Tokayev’s move with the native language. Tajik President Rahmon criticized Moscow at the next “integration meeting” a year ago. This happens.
I think it is unlikely that the Kremlin does not see a decrease in its sphere of influence at all. Countries are trying to attract other players to the region. However, I cannot say how they imagine this and whether this region has crossed a critical line. From my point of view, he has not crossed over yet, but he is moving in the opposite direction from Russia.
– Should we wait for the collapse of the CSTO?
– Not soon. The CSTO showed its ability to intervene during political crises at the beginning of 2022. The CSTO was in Kazakhstan during the unrest and showed that the outcome of the crisis depended on its presence. I think that it is beneficial for regimes that are not democratic to reserve the opportunity to apply to an organization such as the CSTO. So, in my opinion, this organisation is not in danger of formal collapse. Even if Armenia leaves (although it will most likely not leave yet, but will only somehow limit its participation or freeze it), it does not mean that other states will do the same.
Even if only Russia and Belarus remain in the CSTO, the organization will still exist, although perhaps it will be called differently; there are quite a lot of opportunities here in the information field. Look, the Union State of Russia and Belarus is more dead than alive, but no one is in a hurry to dissolve it. Such bureaucratic undertakings live for a very long time.