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CSTO Summit in Yerevan: Disparate interests and Armenia’s mistakes

The October 14 Summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Yerevan brought together the CSTO leaders (except Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev – editor’s note) and once again demonstrated disagreements between the allies on such important issues as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and rotation of the secretary general of the organization. The leaders failed to not only adopt any joint statement on Karabakh but also approve Armenia’s representative for the post of the CSTO secretary general. The issue was even removed from agenda.

Disagreements is a usual thing

It is not news that the CSTO allies have disagreements over Nagorno-Karabakh. Yerevan levelled harsh criticism at its CSTO partners for not responding adequately to Azerbaijan’s permanent shelling at the populated areas in Armenia trice (in 2013, 2014, and 2015). One of the most telling examples of Armenia’s complaints and demands to the CSTO was the speech by President Serzh Sargsyan at the CSTO Collective Security Council meeting in Moscow in 2015. “Every time the Azerbaijani armed forces use small arms of all calibers, mortars and artillery against the Republic of Armenia, they shoot at Astana, Dushanbe and Bishkek, Moscow and Minsk. Let me remind you that we have the relevant article in the Charter…” the Armenian president said.

Meantime, he forgot or did not want to recall that Armenia acts in the same way when, for instance, armed clashes occur on the Tajik-Afghan border. CSTO’s responsibility zone covers not only the Caucasus region, but also Central Asia with its specific problems connected with drugs traffic and terrorism, and the European direction where President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko regularly voices his claims.

In fact, the problem of the CSTO allies is more complex and profound. In that military and political union, Russia is the gravitation center and true value that is surrounded with allies. It is a “club of Russia’s allied friends,” a form of communication with the post-Soviet countries rather than a military-political alliances of true allies. The problem is that in the Organization, there are vertical bilateral relations between Russia and the other countries, while the “allies” lack horizontal relations with each other. The same situation is with the economic component of the organization where the countries trade with Russia, while the commodity turnover with the other allies is insignificant. CSTO countries pursue different interests. For Armenia, the organization is a method to settle security problems in a broad sense. Armenia as a CSTO country buys arms from Russia on internal prices that are lower than the market ones manifold. Under the CSTO, united systems of air defense and missile defense are created in the Caucasus region of collective security where Yerevan is the key actor. However, in case of another flare-up in the Karabakh conflict zone, Armenia expects support from Russia, not from Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan. “It is hard to imagine that Armenia may send its troops to Central Asia to upgrade the security of Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan,” says Sergey Minasyan, a political analyst and military expert.

The diverse and sometimes colliding interests of the CSTO countries would endanger its vitality, but for such a cementing factor is Russia that is an arms supplier, potential exporter of security and a big market for the other members of the organization.

In this light, it is naïve to expect the CSTO counties to adopt a statement on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict at the same time accusing Azerbaijan – a country that is connected with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and even Belarus with many threads. In such situation, CSTO’s silence may spark discontent or surprise of politicians, journalists or civic activists but not the presidents and serious experts.

Heated debates in Yerevan

Judging by the comments of politicians and leaked information, the discussions of the CSTO leaders in Yerevan were quite heated and complex, or “frank” as President Serzh Sargsyan said diplomatically. The problem is that after the April war against Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh, it was important for the Armenian side to include into the CSTO statement on Karabakh some provisions directly or indirectly pointing at Baku’s unwillingness to implement the arrangements made in Vienna and Saint Petersburg. The sides agreed then to implement the ceasefire conditions, expand the powers of the OSCE CiO PR Andrzej Kasprzyk in the region (he is monitoring the Line of Contact in the conflict zone and on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border) as well as to deploy surveillance devices to inquire into incidents in the conflict zone.

Perhaps, this sparked heated debates in the course of the meeting. According to our data, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan came out against including such provisions in the text of the statement, and President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko who assumed the rotating chairmanship from Armenia complained that the “prepared documents are not for the presidents to discuss.”

Apparently, this uncertainty made Dmitry Peskov, Spokesperson of the Russian president, tell journalists that the leaders will not adopt a statement on Karabakh. Nevertheless, on the next day a not-large text on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was published on the CSTO website. It just expressed support to the OSCE Minsk Group and the peace process within the known three principles of the Helsinki Final Act and the arrangements made in Vienna and Saint Petersburg. That rather amorphous statement where the authors skirted contentious issues showed that CSTO countries distance themselves from hot buttons.

Yerevan’s mistakes

Experts say the reason why the rotation of the CSTO secretary general was postponed is Armenia’s mistakes along with the discrepancies of the CSTO allies. “I am surprised to learn that the rotation did not take place. Alphabetical rotation of the chair countries is stipulated by the Charter of the Organization. If there were disagreements, it was necessary to report about them beforehand. It turns out that our authorities did not conduct the necessary work with their partners. Actually, Armenia’s positions in the Organization are rather shaky due to the mistakes of our authorities,” Stepan Grigoryan, an Armenian political analyst told EADaily.

Alexander Krylov, a Russian political analyst, President of the Scientific Society of Caucasiologists, also thinks that Armenia was to conduct a comprehensive work with the allies before official nomination of the candidate for the post of the CSTO secretary general. “Since the issue was not coordinated with the CSTO countries, it is impossible to nominate and approve one’s candidate against the will of the others,” Krylov said. He is sure that Russia is not ought to lobby Armenia’s interest and persuade Astana or Minsk. “Figuratively speaking, Armenia’s stance was as follows: here is the candidate, look at him and approve. Meantime, it could not be done without preliminary hard work,” Krylov said for conclusion.

Arshaluys Mghdesyan

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