CSTO Looks Away From NATO and Toward SCO

The Russia-led military alliance has given up all pretenses of cooperation with NATO and will look toward the SCO.

CSTO Looks Away From NATO and Toward SCO
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

According to a report in RIA Novosti, the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) has suspended all contacts with NATO due to the crisis in Ukraine. Russia’s preeminent status as a leader in CSTO effectively guaranteed that the organization would have to sever ties with NATO, given the impasse over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its current coercive position on the eastern Ukrainian frontier. CSTO Secretary-General Nikolai Bordyuzha told a press conference, “For now we will not be making any efforts to establish contact with NATO, due to their stance during the Ukrainian crisis.”

According to the Secretary-General, NATO is “blackmailing” Russia and its CSTO allies. “Today, NATO is blackmailing all of the CSTO member states … showing that they are extremely dissatisfied with Russia’s actions in recent months,” he told reporters. NATO and its member states are heavily involved in the management of the Ukrainian crisis and are striving to prevent separatism and instability in eastern Ukraine following Russia’s successful annexation of Crimea. Last week, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen indicated that NATO will ready additional troops and equipment to prepare for any combat operations that might be necessary in connection with the Ukrainian crisis.

One report in the Belarussian Telegraph Agency further cites Bordyuzha as stating that, after several failed attempts at cooperating with NATO, the CSTO will look towards the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and China. “We are also about to start cooperating with other organizations that take care of security matters in the Asian region,” he said. Bordyuzha also referred to Iran as a burgeoning partner for the CSTO.

Writing for EurasiaNet, Joshua Kucera notes the growing difficulties between NATO and CSTO, including personal differences between NATO leaders and the CSTO Secretary-General:

Wikileaks cables offer many examples of Washington rejecting the notion of working with the CSTO. In 2009, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was preparing to propose formal engagement with the CSTO, but U.S. officials managed to block the move, arguing that doing so would legitimize “a waning organization” that “has proven ineffective in most areas of activity.”

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And after a 2010 meeting with Bodyuzha, the U.S. embassy in Moscow wrote a cable describing Bordyuzha as “condescending” and “true to his background as a career KGB/FSB official.” It concluded: “If the Russian government is serious about promoting the possibilities of CSTO cooperation with NATO, they will need a better front man than Bordyuzha.”

One one hand, cooperation between the SCO and the CSTO makes good sense and is unsurprising. Both organizations have significant overlap in the geography comprising their membership as well as the norms underlying their existence. What is perhaps more surprising is that CSTO and NATO attempted to cooperate despite clear mistrust on both sides for so long. With the Ukrainian crisis, CSTO and the SCO will work towards greater cooperation. For China, the development is welcome given its “March West” policy of seeking deeper intergovernmental contacts on its Western frontiers.

The SCO comprises China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan (with eight additional observer states and dialogue partners). The CSTO comprises Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan, and is a multilateral security organization based on Soviet-era military and political relationships. It is an intergovernmental military alliance that was founded in 1992 following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, forming an important assurance of security for the smaller Soviet satellite states. Russia, in return for its security assurance, managed to wield considerable political influence over the group. For example, in 2011, Russia, under the rubric of the CSTO, gained the right to veto foreign military installations in CSTO member states. Originally, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Uzbekistan were members but they have since withdrawn; Uzbekistan withdrew most recently in 2012.