(CNSNews.com) – As Russia prepares to assume the rotating presidency of a military alliance of former Soviet states in 2014, a senior official announced plans Thursday to spend $1 billion on weapons for the bloc’s rapid-reaction force.
Headquartered in Moscow, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) currently comprises Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and is often described as a Russia-led rival to NATO – and a bulwark against the Western alliance’s eastward expansion.
Evolving out of a Commonwealth of Independent States’ security treaty, it was established in its current form in 2002, during President Vladimir Putin’s earlier term at the Kremlin, a period that saw Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania join NATO in 2004, and Georgia and Ukraine explore the possibility to doing so too, to Moscow’s ire.
Under its charter, member-states are committed to defend each other if attacked and may also not join other military alliances.
A major CSTO development was a 2009 agreement to establish a joint rapid-reaction force, “to repulse military aggression, conduct anti-terrorist operations, fight transnational crime and drug trafficking, and neutralize the effects of natural disasters,” according to the RIA Novosti state news agency.
It is this force that will now undergo a major arms procurement program in 2014, CSTO deputy general-secretary Valery Semerikov told a news conference on Thursday.
Putin recently outlined his priorities for Russia’s presidency of the bloc, including strengthening the rapid-reaction force and strengthening the borders of CSTO member-states.
He cited the fight against terrorism and drug-trafficking, future peacekeeping missions, and concerns that the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan in a year’s time could lead to an unpredictable security situation with potential spillover into Central Asia.
CSTO member Kyrgyzstan is home to an airbase that has been a critical hub in the mission in Afghanistan, but which will no longer be available to the U.S. military from next July in line with a decree by the Kyrgyzstan’s president – a coup for Putin, who in an earlier attempt failed to get the U.S. base at Manas shut down. Once the U.S. presence at Manas ends, a Russian air base at nearby Kant is set to become a collective CSTO air force facility.
CSTO members are deeply worried about recent developments in Ukraine, where massive pro-Western protests followed a government decision to reverse course on closer ties with the European Union in favor of stronger links to Russia.
Last week the CSTO secretariat held a round-table meeting to discuss how to respond to the danger of so-called “color revolutions” in their own countries.
The term refers to popular unrest against pro-Moscow governments which Russia believes are being incited by the West. During Putin’s previous stint as president, he accused the U.S. of backing Georgia’s 2003 “Rose revolution,” Ukraine’s “Orange revolution” in 2004 and Kyrgyzstan’s “Tulip revolution” in 2005.
The Russian business daily Kommersant reported that participants at the CSTO round-table concluded that “Western opponents of the Russian Federation” were using tools including the Internet, non-governmental organizations and international institutions to stoke protests.
The goal of these forces, they said, was “the complete disintegration of the state, the change of power and the establishment of foreign [i.e. Western] control over the country.”
Calling the events a threat to CSTO’s collective security, participants said in recommendations to member-states that the bloc must respond with “counter-propaganda tools” as well as forms of “psychological pressure” against countries affected by instability.
Ukraine itself is not a member of the CSTO or NATO. Its former president, Viktor Yushchenko – who was ushered in by the Orange revolution – sought closer ties with NATO and the E.U. but the policy was reversed after his Russia-friendly successor, President Viktor Yanukovich, took office in 2010.
Yanukovich signaled an end to Kiev’s NATO aspirations and moved the country back towards Moscow’s orbit, although he has not yet taken up a Russian invitation to join the CSTO.
The CSTO is seen as part of a broader Putin vision to recreate elements of the military and economic powerhouse that was lost to Moscow when the Soviet Union collapsed – a development which in a 2005 state of the nation address he famously described as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [20th] century.”
Another part of the vision is the Eurasian Union, a customs union currently involving Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, but which Putin hopes will further expand to include Ukraine and other former Soviet states.