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CSTO’s problematic present and obscure future

Yuri Khachaturov, news CSTO Secretary General. Photo: panorama.am

The CSTO has finally elected the next secretary general. From now on, Secretary of the National Security Council of Armenia, ex-head of General Staff, Colonel General Yuri Khachaturov will be heading the military and political union of Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Colonel General Khachaturov is a career military man, with experience in Afghanistan, Nagorno-Karabakh. According to Armenian mass media, yet a year ago, Yerevan promoted ex-minister of defense Seyran Ohanyan for that post. However, the ex-minister launched political activity in the opposition camp. Failing to get seats in the parliament (Ohanyan’s political bloc received some 2.07% of votes in the latest parliamentary elections), the ex-minister has actually yielded the post of CSTO secretary general to Khachaturov, with whom he had serious discrepancies as defense minister, according to the Armenian media.

Media and experts explain resignation of both the military men from their posts with serious omissions in preparing, equipping and leading Armenia’s Armed Forces. The omissions came to light during the “four-day war” in Nagorno-Karabakh last April.

Noteworthy that Armenia’s representative achieved the post of the CSTO secretary general with a 1.5-year delay. Yet in September 2015, the CSTO leaders adopted a decision to operate a rotation system in the alphabetical order when it comes to election of the next secretary general. However, the decision sparked problems immediately unveiling many problems inside the Organization. In December 2015, a number of member-states refused to support appointment of Armenia’s representative amid the Russian-Turkey dispute over Su-24 warplane that was shot down over Syria - many thought the appointment of Armenia’s representative could be perceived as an unfriendly step towards Turkey.

After the relations of Moscow and Ankara were normalized, it was expected that the next secretary general would be appointed at the CSTO Collective Security Council’s meeting in Yerevan in September 2016. However, Armenia’s representative was not approved again. Formally, the reason was absence of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev from the meeting in Yerevan. Meantime, informally, Kazakhstan having close relations with Azerbaijan deliberately created obstacles to the process.

Later in December, the Russia-Belarus discrepancies impeded the appointment of the secretary general. To exert pressure on Moscow, Alexander Lukashenko started boycotting meetings of CSTO and Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Actually, a billion-dollar loan that was issued to Minsk a few days ago has made Lukashenko sign the EAEU Customs Code and become more negotiable in other issues too. Hence, the long-awaited approval of the next secretary general of CSTO.

As for Yerevan’s expectations from that appointment, Armenia’s representatives will hardly get a chance to lobby the country’s interests too intensively, though they will be chairing both CSTO and Eurasian Economic Commission. The point is that a consensus-based decision-making is applied at these organizations and many of the member-countries have close ties with Azerbaijan and Turkey.

It is natural that Khachaturov and Tigran Sargsyan (chairman of Eurasian Economic Commission) will try to focus on Armenia-related issues, but they cannot go beyond established limits and will have to focus on collective goals of EAEU and CSTO rather than on Armenia’s goals.

Therefore, Khachaturov’s appointment as CSTO Secretary General proceeds from the interests of Russia too. It is important that representative of the country that seeks development of CSTO into a powerful military and political union has replaced Russia’s representative at the Organization.

Russia fails to ensure unity inside CSTO and EAEU. It became evident in the conflict with Ukraine and Turkey and during the voting at UN on Crimea (only Minsk and Yerevan supported Moscow) and at the recent voting on Syria at UN Security Council (Kazakhstan abstained).

President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan who regularly criticizes the CSTO countries has recalled that Turkey’s NATO allies, even Greece that has, to put it mildly, not so good relations with Turkey, supported it during the conflict with Russia.

Although the military components of CSTO have expanded during the recent years – Collective Rapid Response Forces, Collective Peacekeeping Forces, Collective Rapid Deployment Forces of Central Asia, Collective Aviation Forces –there is still no unity inside the Organization. Russia’s leadership in the post-Soviet space greatly depends on whether it will manage to ensure unity inside CSTO and EAEU.

So far, CSTO is an “interest-based club” where the members are divided into three groups: western (Russia and Belarus), Caucasian (Russia and Armenia), and Central Asian (Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan). If Moscow fails to get at least as much support as U.S. gets from its NATO allies, CSTO will face the fate of CIS. The Organization will fail to promote and protect the interests of its participants. What it will do in future is to fight terrorism and drug traffic - something that requires no hard foreign-policy decisions.

Hayk Khalatyan (Yerevan) for EADaily

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