In the shadow of the triple summit in Dushanbe (CIS, CSTO, EURASEC), the representatives of the Collective Security Treaty Organization and Shanghai Cooperation Organization signed a Memorandum of Understanding, laying the foundations for cooperation between the two organizations. The agreement, for which Russia has pressed Beijing for a long time, can be interpreted as Moscowâ€™s attempt to engage China into a fully-fledged military alliance. Nonetheless, more evidence shows that Moscow aims at limiting Chinese freedom of maneuver in Central Asia and demonstrating Russiaâ€™s preeminence in the region, especially in the field of security.
BACKGROUND: Russia faces a serious dilemma regarding Central Asia security structures. Two organizations, in both of which Moscow actively participates, operate in the field of regional security â€“ the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). There are obvious differences between the CSTO (which is a typical alliance, including obligations of direct military assistance) and the SCO (which is not an alliance, and focuses mainly on issues of soft security). In addition, there are differences in membership (Belarus and Armenia in CSTO, China in SCO). Nonetheless, they face similar tasks of stabilizing the region. One can observe the evolution of the SCO â€“ in the case of Andijan-type events being repeated in one of the Central Asian states, an SCO reaction cannot be excluded.
The CSTO is under Moscowâ€™s control, and remains far more operational than the SCO, but Russian analysts point out that the CSTO could find itself in the shadow of the SCO and become an Eurasian-type WEU, which lost its significance to the advantage of expanding NATO. As early as 2003, Russia began to promote closer ties between the CSTO and the SCO. Moscow has insisted on signing a memorandum on cooperation between the two organizations. The Review of Russian Foreign Policy released in February 2007 pointed out the need to coordinate activities of the SCO, CSTO and EURASEC. The need for such cooperation was also included in a joint communiquÃ© signed by Vladimir Putin and Hu Jintao during this latterâ€™s visit to Moscow in March 2007.
CSTO observers were present at the SCO Issyk-Kul anti-terror exercises in May 2007. Russia also wanted to make the SCO exercises Peace Mission 2007 a joint task between the CSTO and SCO, but China refused. Only observers were allowed. The Russian Chief of General Staff, General Yury Baluyevsky, proposed for the SCO Bishkek summit to agree on coordination of efforts between SCO members in the security sphere. Lastly, during the summit in August 2007, the president of Tajikistan appealed for the conclusion of an agreement on cooperation between the SCO and CSTO.
Finally, on October 5, a day before the joint summits of three post-Soviet organizations (CIS, CSTO, and EURASEC), the secretariats of the CSTO and SCO signed a Memorandum of Understanding, laying the foundations for cooperation between them. The document is very laconic, consists of four short articles. Both organizations agree to cooperate in the fields of regional and international security, the struggle against terrorism, drugs and arms trafficking, as well as other areas. They agree to conduct consultations and share information. They are encouraged to work out joint programs and activities. In every case, the language of the document underlines that the cooperation should take place â€œwithin the limits of their [respective] competenceâ€.
IMPLICATIONS: The language of the signed agreement remains very cautious and very general, which indicates Chinese unwillingness to commit itself to what could be perceived as a military alliance or involve Beijing into military commitments. China wants to avoid being put into a Russian-led anti-Western front in Eurasia. Furthermore, China is concerned with Russiaâ€™s presently stronger position in the region. Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to assume that China is interested only in economic and energy issues within the SCO framework, neglecting the sphere of military security. Beijing wants to maintain the possibility of establishing military contacts with other Central Asian states.
Russian insistence on signing the agreement on CSTO-SCO cooperation can be interpreted in two ways. On the one hand, Russia seems to want to pull China into an anti-Western front, presenting ties between the two organizations as a kind of military alliance in Eurasia. But more convincing are the regional motives for the CSTO-SCO agreement. Russia attempts to hold its dominant position in Central Asia. It presents itself as a representative of both a military bloc (CSTO) as well as an economic one (EURASEC). By putting them on par with the SCO (where Moscowâ€™s influence has to be shared with Chinaâ€™s), Russia defines itself as the main coordinator of all multilateral activities in Central Asia. The agreement is also a way of promoting the CSTO; especially considering that Russia would like to establish similar ties between CSTO and NATO, including cooperation in Afghanistan.
Russia would like to merge the SCO and CSTO in such a way that it would strengthen its position, presenting itself as a representative of all Central Asian states vis-Ã -vis Beijing. Too fast a development of the SCO could negatively influence Russiaâ€™s position in the field of security. Russia wants to prevent the SCOâ€™s domination of Central Asia, and at the same time, slow the speed of integration and cooperation within the SCO. It also hopes to be able to monitor contacts between China and Central Asian states in the security dimension. In case of focusing only on the CSTO, Russia would risk being left behind in regional security affairs, given the developing military interactions between China and Central Asian states.
The agreement between the CSTO and SCO will not result in merging both organizations or transforming the SCO into military alliance. The cautiousness showed by China limits the possibilities of conducting common operations by both organizations. Nonetheless, Russia has managed to prevent the erosion of CSTO, which was endangered by the growing role of the SCO. Moscow embarked on strengthening the CSTO (e.g. creating joint peacekeeping forces) and, on the other hand, successfully pressed China for a formal agreement between the CSTO and SCO.
CONCLUSIONS: Russian-Chinese relations in Central Asia remain a mix of competition and cooperation, also in the security field. Russiaâ€™s goal appears to be to retain its leadership during the gradual expansion of the SCO, which is why Moscow pretends to represent post-Soviet Central Asian states vis-Ã -vis China. Russia aims at putting on an equal standing all organizations acting in this region, which would upgrade those controlled by Moscow. Possible cooperation between CSTO, EURASEC and SCO would strengthen Russiaâ€™s role in Central Asia, as well as maintain its predominance as the main â€˜hubâ€™ of multilateral ties in the region. The CSTO-SCO agreement, for which Russia regularly pressed China, remains a rather small step in this direction. Nonetheless, growing ties between the SCO and CSTO would limit Chinese possibilities to talk to its smaller neighbors without taking into account Russian interests.AUTHORâ€™S BIO: Marcin Kaczmarski iholds a Ph.D. in political science, and is an analyst in the Russian Department of the Center for Eastern Studies in Warsaw, Poland, and an academic assistant at the Institute of International Relations, Warsaw University. His research focus on Russian foreign and security policy.