The end is nigh for CSTO, the post-soviet bloc where Armenia is the only Caucasus member state" />

Death agony

The end is nigh for CSTO, the post-soviet bloc where Armenia is the only Caucasus member state

CSTO was created on the territory of the former Soviet Union as far back as 1992, shortly after the Union had fallen apart. The acronym stands for Collective Security Treaty Organization. It had just got off the ground when Azerbaijan, Georgia and Uzbekistan withdrew from it, leaving the membership to six states – Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and Tajikistan. Its summit, held recently in Yerevan, is seen by many Armenian experts as the beginning of the end for the organization.

CSTO is celebrating its 25th anniversary in December, 2016. However, it seems to have no tangible results – not even agreements on most important issues – to show for its quarter century of existence. Its activities have been little more than military exercising unaddressed to any specific opponent, unclear, inarticulate statements and consistent disregard for the interests of its member states.

The Yerevan summit has been no exception from the rules. The resolution it has produced is mere verbiage, and its participants have even failed to agree on who will be the next CSTO secretary general. Russian president Vladimir Putin has added to the confusion by saying that it is important to take into consideration “historically formed relations with post-soviet countries, including those who are not part of the CSTO. In Armenia, this phrase has been interpreted as support for Azerbaijan.

CSTO members have no common interests

The lack of common interests and common adversaries literally strikes the eye, and sometimes even grates on ears. The CSTO failed to render assistance, when there were revolutions in Kyrgyzstan. The President of this country appealed to the CSTO for military assistance. The member-states failed to finally reach any agreement and their assistance to Kyrgyzstan was limited to the material support to the Kyrgyz army.

The Karabakh conflict is probably the greatest ordeal for the CSTO. Many CSTO members don’t conceal their support to Azerbaijan despite the fact that Armenia is the CSTO member, while Azerbaijan is not.

The CSTO didn’t even pass a condemnation statement, when Azerbaijan openly launched an offensive on Karabakh in April this year. That fact was noted by both, the authorities and the Armenian people. Strangely enough, Armenia flatly refused to appeal to the CSTO for military and ‘peacekeeping’ assistance, as it believed, it would be rendered ‘in favor of Azerbaijan.’

Seyran Ohanyan not willing to be a ‘field-marshal without the army’  

Some loud announcements were made ahead of the Yerevan Summit. Namely, it was stated that then-Defense Minister of Armenia, Seyran Ohanyan, was recommended for the post of the Secretary General of the bloc, which is also referred to as ‘Putin’s NATO.’  However, Ohanyan soon made it clear that if proposed the aforesaid, he would reject it.   

Today, Armenian experts say that Seyran Ohanyan have had ample grounds to reject that post. The warlord, who scored a number of victories in the Karabakh war, couldn’t agree to hold the non-exiting army ‘field-marshal’s post.

The CSTO failed to form separate troops. As a matter of fact, the bloc comprises the member-states’ sub-units, that are participating in the joint exercises from time to time, but they are permanently deployed in their countries.  

In addition, Seyran Ohanyan, ex-Defence Minister, is accustomed to addressing concrete tasks.  As for the CSTO, there is only one treaty provision that contains specifics: the military infrastructure of the third countries can’t be deployed in the territory of the CSTO member-states without the CSTO’s consent.    

This provision restricts Armenia’s military cooperation with the countries that can promote country’s security.  

Does the CSTO obstruct introduction of ‘deterrence mechanisms’ in Karabakh?

There is an opinion that this treaty provision obstructs introduction of the ‘deterrence mechanisms’ in Karabakh. Although Karabakh hasn’t officially joined the CSTO, but it is considered to be part of the bloc’s ‘responsibility area.’ The USA suggests placing the equipment to monitor border incidents in Karabakh and this proposal has been supported by Germany and Armenia.  

The decision on staging the equipment was made at the Vienna Summit in June this year and was later endorsed at the St. Petersburg Summit. However, Azerbaijan is obviously torpedoing  the decision. Besides, Russia doesn’t seem to be much delighted over the decision either.

Theoretically, Armenia could unilaterally place the equipment, but there is something that prevents it, especially if it’s the western-made one. It’s quite possible that the aforesaid is tabooed by the CSTO treaty provision, prohibiting the presence of the ‘third countries’ military infrastructure’ in Armenia.

Russia has deployed its ‘deterrence mechanisms’, the Iskander tactical missile complexes, in Armenia. This has been viewed by Armenia as a means of deterrence of Azerbaijan, equal to the West’s proposed equipment.

The CSTO Summit and Armenia-Russia relations  

The CSTO Summit in Yerevan has turned an unpleasant seamy side of Armenia-Russia relations. On the day of Putin’s arrival in Yerevan, a poster that read -‘Free, Independent Armenia: Putin get out of Armenia’, was placed on the CSTO and EEU Academy building, which is being constructed in Yerevan.


Putin’s previous visit in December 2013 was also marked by a spontaneous anti-Putin rally,  but then dozens of anti-Russian rally participants were detained.    

Much has changed since that time-anti-Russian sentiments in Armenia have become a commonplace, the authorities seem to be more loyal to them. For example, some analysts have considered that the CSTO Summit’s failure in Yerevan was predetermined by the Armenian authorities’ attitude to it. It’s hard to say, how much it reflects the actual state of affairs.

CSTO has no world recognition

Even the presidents of the member-states made no secret of the Summit’s fiasco. Russian President, Vladimir Putin, didn’t make any statements in Yerevan. Kazakh leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev, didn’t come to Yerevan under the pretext of illness. As for Belarus President, Alexander Lukashenko, he stated with his natural straightforwardness that the CSTO was of no interest to anyone in the world, including the CSTO members themselves. He also said that no one recognized the CSTO as a military organization and called for making efforts towards its recognition.   

Shortly before the summit, the CSTO applied to the UN for a peacekeeping mandate, but the bloc wasn’t eventually granted the peacekeeping mandate despite the visit of Nikolay Bordyuzha, the CSTO Secretary General, to New York and convening of the CSTO CFM (the Council of Foreign Ministers) sitting on the UN General Assembly sidelines by Edward Nalbandyan, the Foreign Minister of Armenian (the CSTO Chair). [The Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) is the CSTO’s consultative and executive body for coordination of the member-states’ interaction in the foreign policy sphere].

The aforesaid apparently made ‘Batko’ (Liukashenko’s nickname) indignant. He stated that the issues on Yerevan Summit agenda ‘were inconsistent with the Presidents’ level.’  The opinion is that if granted the UN mandate, the issue of sending the CSTO forces to Syria could have been discussed at the Yerevan Summit. However, this issue wasn’t included in the official agenda.  

What other decisions weren’t passed at the Yerevan Summit

As Yuri Ushakov, President Putin’s Aide, stated ahead of the Yerevan Summit, the CSTO Strategy, that will provide for inadmissibility of deployment of the U.S. and NATO Missile Defense Systems (MDS) at the CSTO borders, would be passed. However, the Summit’s Final Declaration just expressed concern over the MDS expansion, not naming any particular addressees.   

According to the analysts, Russia failed to persuade the CSTO member-states to declare the USA and NATO as the military bloc’s adversaries. Whereas the absence of a common adversary makes the CSTO’s existence senseless.

The opinions expressed in this article convey the author’s views and terminology and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial staff.

Published: 21.10.2016

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