05/17/2022, 09.54
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The 30th anniversary of Csto, the 'paper tiger'

by Vladimir Rozanskij

More than a Eurasian NATO, it is an instrument for Russian control of Central Asia. In 2020 it had a budget of 7 million dollars: Nato's was over 1 trillion. The outcome of the war in Ukraine will tell whether the organisation has a future.


Moscow (AsiaNews) - Russian President Putin has summoned the leaders of the countries that make up the Collective Security Threaty Organisation (Csto), the so-called Eurasian NATO founded 30 years ago to ensure the protection of the former Soviet space. In addition to Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are members. The last military operation of the Csto was the 'peace mission' in Kazakhstan to quell the uprisings last January, which lasted the space of a weekend.

The Kremlin convoked the group, according to a communiqués, 'not only for the jubilee issues, but to exchange views on current issues in the region and the world, to evaluate measures for a common reaction to the many challenges and threats arising on different levels'. On the sidelines of the meeting, bilateral talks were also held between Putin and Belarusian President Lukašenko, who recently criticised the war in Ukraine, which 'is dragging on too long'. One of the proposals discussed was the involvement of other countries in the Csto, to minimise the disastrous consequences of economic sanctions, and to organise joint production of components necessary for Russian armaments.

The alliance was established on 15 May 1992 against the backdrop of the civil war in Tajikistan; since then it has played decidedly marginal roles, appearing more like a 'paper tiger'. Now its fate depends substantially on the outcome of Russian operations in Ukraine. The agreement has been renewed for a five-year term, and initially Azerbaijan and Georgia were also part of it; Uzbekistan joined in 2005, only to leave in 2012. As with NATO countries, if one of the members is attacked, the others consider themselves to be attacked in turn, and joint defence is organised according to UN statutes.

Until 2002, the Csto was considered a regional-level agreement in the political-military field, so it was decided to elevate its status as an international organisation. Rather than an eastern parallel to NATO, experts see it as a political instrument for promoting Russia's interests. The independent Tajik political scientist Parviz Mullodžanov calls it 'a Russian model of integration, in which Moscow plays the dominant role in the post-Soviet space, and its military and financial resources make up 90 per cent of the organisation'. Since there have been no real threats in the past thirty years, the political sense of union has prevailed.

In 2001, the collective rapid reaction forces were formed, with 5,000 troops; in 2007, the peacekeeping forces, with 3,600 soldiers; and in 2009, the operational reaction forces, with 5,000 personnel. These troops have no fixed deployment locations, and are only nominal contingents allocated in part to each Csto country. Calculating the entire composition of the military forces, the alliance army reaches 1.2 million men, 80% of whom are Russians. In 2020, the organisation's budget amounted to just under 7 million. Nato by comparison has 3.5 million military personnel, 40% of which are Americans, and in 2020 the member states spent over USD 1 trillion on their defence.

Besides being underfunded, the Csto completley lacks operational centres, a common intelligence and espionage network, regional command structures and training and research centres. In recent years there has been no shortage of cases of conflict involving members of the Csto, which in fact has almost never intervened, also due to the weakness of the structures in the face of the prerogatives of the individual leaders, who normally decide autocratically and independently of the others.

In 2010, Kyrgyzstan asked for help to quell inter-ethnic clashes, but the Csto refused to intervene so as not to 'interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign country', and the same happened with the conflict between Armenians and Azeris in Nagorno Karabakh, or the border disputes between Kyrgyz and Tajiks. The war in Ukraine will finally tell whether an 'ex-Soviet NATO' is still viable. 

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