Wednesday, 25 February 2009

ECONOMIC CRISIS STRENGTHENS RATHER THAN WEAKENS MOSCOW’S INFLUENCE IN THE ‘NEAR ABROAD’

Published in Analytical Articles

By Marlène Laruelle (2/25/2009 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Russia’s increasingly assertive foreign policy in the former Soviet Union after the war with Georgia has manifested itself in the CSTO’s decision to create a Rapid Reaction Force (RRF), seeking to enhance security in Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus and Central Asia. The creation of the RRF signals not only Russia’s intentions to bolster regional stability, but also its plans to halt NATO’s advance in its traditional “backyard,” bind the CSTO states to stronger commitments, and provide additional guarantees for security in the South Caucasus, especially in Nagorno-Karabakh, following Georgia’s failed blitzkrieg in South Ossetia.

Russia’s increasingly assertive foreign policy in the former Soviet Union after the war with Georgia has manifested itself in the CSTO’s decision to create a Rapid Reaction Force (RRF), seeking to enhance security in Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus and Central Asia. The creation of the RRF signals not only Russia’s intentions to bolster regional stability, but also its plans to halt NATO’s advance in its traditional “backyard,” bind the CSTO states to stronger commitments, and provide additional guarantees for security in the South Caucasus, especially in Nagorno-Karabakh, following Georgia’s failed blitzkrieg in South Ossetia.

“We all agreed that the formation of joint forces is necessary,” Russian President Medvedev said at the summit on February 4, adding that the RRFs would be “turning into serious forces, with capabilities not below those of NATO.”" According to Stratfor, the RRF would comprise 16,000 troops, with Russia providing 8,000 troops, Kazakhstan 4,000, and Tajikistan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia 1,000 troops each. Of the 16,000, Russia considers deploying 5,000 troops to Central Asia. Armenia will probably host a number of forces as well given tense relations with Azerbaijan on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. The Russia-Belarus zone, near the Estonian border, is another area of possible deployment, where Russia aims to challenge NATO’s positions in the Baltic region and Eastern Europe, Stratfor reports.

“In peacetime they will remain placed in permanent bases. In the event of a threat of aggression to the CSTO states, as well as in order to quickly react to crisis situations, they would be redeployed to counter the threat upon the decision of the Collective Security Council of the CSTO,” Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Grigoriy Karasin emphasized. On February 10, the Commander In Chief of Russia's Air Force Colonel-General Alexander Zelin declared that Russia and its allies were also establishing regional air defenses in Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus and Central Asia.

Kazakh Defense Minister Daniyal Akhmetov underlined Kazakhstan’s strong commitment to the RRF, declaring that “the Kazakh airborne assault brigade will be a worthy component of the CRRF.” While securing a 25 % increase in the CSTO budget for 2009, Russia and Kazakhstan failed to convince their allies to contribute a brigade-size contingent to the RRF. No decision was made on the issue of unified command for the RRF as promoted by Russia, leaving the present arrangement, with units of other CSTO states remaining under national jurisdictions and deployed on national territories, in force. Kyrgyz Security Council Secretary Madumarov highlighted these contentious issues as arisen during the summit discussions. Uzbek President Karimov agreed to contribute troops on a case-by-case basis only, while Belarus indicated its willingness to operate exclusively as a part of Russia-Belarus forces. The cleavages in positions have been less apparent in the case of Armenia, which considers Azerbaijan to be undermining the peace process in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan emphasized that the RRF would reinforce the CSTO capabilities, which, to paraphrase Medvedev, as of now "exist only on paper." Armenia voices its position amidst increasing tensions in Nagorno-Karabakh, which it claims arise from Azerbaijani provocations. All three parties have also recently blamed each other for violations of the peace process. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s point last year that “no one can find the obligation in the declaration that prohibits Azerbaijan from seeking a military resolution to the conflict” has significantly troubled officials in Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, Edward Nalbandian, expressed his frustration: “On the one hand, in Azerbaijan they talk about the necessity of continuing the negotiations, on the other they produce the impression that they have forgotten the statements that the peaceful resolution of Karabakh conflict has no alternative.” Russia’s Ambassador to Armenia Nikolai Pavlov, however, has assured that “Russia has been and will be the guarantor of the reached agreements concerning the process of resolving the Karabakh problem.”

The Head of the Caucasus Chair at the Institute of CIS Studies, Mikhail Alexandrov, believes that the RRF will be utilized if Azerbaijan initiates hostilities against Nagorno-Karabakh. Artur Aghabekian, head of the Armenian Parliamentary Committee on Defense and National Security, largely concurs with the proposition: “Armenia will probably activate the collective force in the case of resumption of hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh.” Major General Hayk Kotanjyan, the head of the Institute of National Strategic Research of the Armenian Ministry of Defense, stressed the importance of the RRF for regional security: “Taking into account the sad experience of the war in South Ossetia in August of last year, forming a real mechanism of resisting aggression is an additional guarantee of preventing statesmen who cherish the hope of a military resolution of the Karabakh conflict from taking adventurous steps that threaten to undermine international security…”

The RRF, designed to promote regional security, including in Nagorno-Karabakh, will bolster Russia’s already growing influence in the former Soviet Union. While ‘unruly’ Uzbekistan and Belarus continue to create complications for Russia’s strategy to undermine NATO, Russia will most likely prove successful in tying the hands of the CSTO allies in Central Asia, the South Caucasus, and Eastern Europe. Aiming to enhance regional stability through the proposed RRF following the war in Georgia, Russia also seeks to acquire legitimacy and unwavering allies early on in case it needs to challenge NATO’s plans and pro-Western aspirations either in Ukraine or Azerbaijan in the future.
Read 3342 times

Visit also

silkroad

AFPC

isdp

turkeyanalyst

Staff Publications

Screen Shot 2023-05-08 at 10.32.15 AMSilk Road Paper S. Frederick Starr, U.S. Policy in Central Asia through Central Asian Eyes, May 2023.


Analysis Svante E. Cornell, "Promise and Peril in the Caucasus," AFPC Insights, March 30, 2023.

Oped S. Frederick Starr, Putin's War In Ukraine and the Crimean War), 19fourtyfive, January 2, 2023

Oped S. Frederick Starr, Russia Needs Its Own Charles de Gaulle,  Foreign Policy, July 21, 2022.

2206-StarrSilk Road Paper S. Frederick Starr, Rethinking Greater Central Asia: American and Western Stakes in the Region and How to Advance Them, June 2022 

Oped Svante E. Cornell & Albert Barro, With referendum, Kazakh President pushes for reforms, Euractiv, June 3, 2022.

Oped Svante E. Cornell Russia's Southern Neighbors Take a Stand, The Hill, May 6, 2022.

Silk Road Paper Johan Engvall, Between Bandits and Bureaucrats: 30 Years of Parliamentary Development in Kyrgyzstan, January 2022.  

Oped Svante E. Cornell, No, The War in Ukraine is not about NATO, The Hill, March 9, 2022.

Analysis Svante E. Cornell, Kazakhstan’s Crisis Calls for a Central Asia Policy Reboot, The National Interest, January 34, 2022.

StronguniquecoverBook S. Frederick Starr and Svante E. Cornell, Strong and Unique: Three Decades of U.S.-Kazakhstan Partnership, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, December 2021.  

Silk Road Paper Svante E. Cornell, S. Frederick Starr & Albert Barro, Political and Economic Reforms in Kazakhstan Under President Tokayev, November 2021.

The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.

Newsletter

Sign up for upcoming events, latest news and articles from the CACI Analyst

Newsletter