Moscow’s Search for Int’l Backing Continues
September 5, 2008 - 5:18 AMRussia is still seeking outside support for its military intervention in the Caucasus, but even its neighboring ex-Soviet allies seemed unready to back the Kremlin’s attempt to redraw Georgia’s international borders.
Having failed to obtain full and unambiguous support from its Chinese and Central Asian partners in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) late last month, Moscow turned this week to another regional security body, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
The SCO’s unwillingness to follow Russia’s lead in recognizing the independence of Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia was attributed largely to China’s reluctance to endorse separatism, given its own concerns about Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan.
“The issue of China’s [territorial] integrity overrides all other issues from Beijing’s perspective,” Niklas Swanstrom of the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Stockholm wrote in the Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst journal Wednesday.
“There has been a great deal of reluctance to accept any international pressure to concede the creation of new states, for fear that it could create a precedent in international politics.”
The SCO summit’s final declaration included support for the principle of territorial integrity of independent states.
While SCO and CSTO memberships overlap in Central Asia, the seven-country CSTO excludes China and adds non-SCO members Belarus and Armenia, both Moscow allies.
CSTO leaders were to meet in Moscow on Friday, for a gathering which commentator Dmitry Babich of the Russia Profile information service said would be a test of the reliability of Russia’s closest friends.
Preliminary talks among CSTO foreign ministers on Thursday showed the uphill battle faced by President Dmitry Medvedev.
The ministers in a statement backed Russia’s actions in the Caucasus and blamed Georgia for triggering the crisis by launching an offensive against Russian-backed separatists in South Ossetia – but stopped short of recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Despite the absence of an endorsement of the breakaway regions’ independence, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after hosting the ministers’ meeting that Moscow was satisfied with the statement, which “gives clear answers to all questions.”
But the brave face did not obscure the fact Russia remains largely isolated. Ten days since Medvedev signed a decree recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and urged other countries to do so too, only one other government – Nicaragua under leftist president Daniel Ortega – has followed suit.
Even other close allies, such as Venezuela, Belarus, Syria and Iran, have yet to do so.
Countering NATO, US missile defense
Kommsersant, a Russian business daily, earlier cited unnamed Russian officials as saying that Moscow would press CSTO leaders to declare as unacceptable both NATO’s eastward expansion and the deployment of U.S. missile defense systems in CSTO members’ “zones of interest.”
Medvedev is also expected to seek their support for a “European Security Treaty,” a still-vague proposal he referred to during a speech in Berlin last June, seen as an effort to counter NATO and reduce European security dependence on the U.S.
Amid the continuing rift between Russia and the West over Georgia, Russia on Thursday again raised the possibility of suspending cooperation with NATO on Afghanistan, because of the alliance’s criticism of Russian actions in Georgia.
“Future cooperation [in Afghanistan] will depend on the alliance’s position in the Caucasus crisis,” the RIA Novosti news agency quoted Russia’s NATO envoy, Dmitry Rogozin, as saying.
Apart from the main route through Pakistan, supplies for NATO’s 50,000-plus troops in Afghanistan move – via Russian airspace – through Central Asia, especially an airbase in Kyrgyzstan, a member of both the CSTO and SCO.
Formed in the early 1990s following the breakup of the Soviet Union, the CSTO currently comprises Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Georgia was a member but withdrew in 1999 and now wants to join NATO.
Under the CSTO charter, member states may not join other military alliances, and aggression against one is perceived as aggression against all. Prodded by Moscow, it has been evolving increasingly in recent years into a fully-fledged military bloc.
Lavrov at a press conference Thursday said the CSTO leaders on Friday would consider issues dealing with “military building and the improvement of the systems of preparedness of the coalition group of troops.”
After a meeting of the bloc’s defense ministers in Armenia two weeks ago, a senior CSTO official said the countries planned to hold large-scale military exercises every two years, with the next one in 2010.
And in July, CSTO general-secretary Nikolay Bordyuzha told reporters that member states, in response to a U.S. missile defense deployment in eastern Europe, would set up new military infrastructure on their western borders “and revive certain elements of the time of the Soviet Union.”
Bordyuzha’s comment, reported in Russian media, appeared to refer to Belarus as well as Russia’s westernmost region of Kaliningrad, both of which border Poland.
Washington last month secured an agreement to deploy missile interceptors in Poland, and earlier this year signed a deal with the Czech Republic to station a radar tracking station on Czech soil.
Moscow strongly opposes the plans and has threatened retaliatory steps.