Russian media reported on Feb.8 that the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) is preparing for peacekeeping operations under UN auspices. The bloc is working on creating a legal basis for such missions. On Jan.30, a road map was agreed on. A stand-by force is ready for military as well as police missions. CSTO’s Deputy Secretary General Valery Semeryakov said on Feb.8 that preparatory work had been done and signing regulatory documents was the only thing left to do.
The force has been created upon the request of Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations. It was not made precise which country or region the peacekeepers will go to but Mr. Semeryakov emphasized that roughly 7,000 Islamic State militants operating in Afghanistan pose a threat to the CSTO.
The CSTO has boosted its defense capabilities. It has a 17,000 strong collective rapid reaction force and a specialized peacekeeping brigade. Last October, the CSTO held Combat Brotherhood-2017 military exercise involving 12,000 personnel, 1,500 pieces of hardware, 90 aircraft from all the members: Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. The forces trained to preserve peace in a country situated in the Caucasus. This was an exercise of unparalleled scope. It was the first time the training episodes were performed within a single concept. The large-scale training event is held regularly to greatly boost the professional skills of many soldiers. These skills will be indispensable for the personnel assigned to peacekeeping missions.
Armenia and Kazakhstan have taken part in peacekeeping missions outside the CSTO. Russia boasts great experience, which includes four peacekeeping operations in the post-Soviet space: Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, Southern Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russian peacekeepers have been deployed to such faraway places as Cambodia, Angola, Chad and the Golan Heights. The Russian Navy has fought pirates in the Indian Ocean together with EU and NATO task forces.
The CSTO is the only entity focused exclusively on security. It has no other dimensions, such as economic cooperation, to distract it from peacekeeping missions.
Last year, the organization adopted a new security strategy effective till 2025. The document includes an expanded list of threats to counter. Today, the bloc is able to respond to a wide range of them. And it does. The CSTO reacts as the situation at the Tajik-Afghan border deteriorates. A joint service center is setup to maintain armored vehicles. Russia plans to establish a collective aviation force to be added to the ground component. The plan will inevitably be followed by creating regional air defense and communication systems.
Russia is trusted internationally as a protector of national sovereignty. This is a notion the Western peacekeepers often put aside. It’s enough to recall the bombing campaign in Serbia in 1999 and the 2011 air operation in Libya. NATO operates illegally in Kosovo. The West’s peacekeeping performance is nothing to brag about. As a UN Security Council member Russia will scrutinize peacekeeping mandates to protect the host states’ interests. The lesson of Libya has been learnt. Moscow will not step on the same rake.
The CSTO can significantly contribute into potential peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan, Syria and other countries. A large scale UN-sanctioned international operation in Libya is a possibility. The presence of CSTO force trained for peacekeeping missions will enhance the credibility of UN or OSCE operations to make a host country agree to the terms it would otherwise reject.
The CSTO could link an international peacekeeping force with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to expand the international representation. The idea to merge the two organizations has been debated since 2014. Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are members of both the CSTO and the SCO.
Russia and Belarus could join a UN force in Ukraine if the Security Council okays such an operation. The CSTO can also cooperate with the OSCE. The relationship has been on the rise since both organizations signed a document on priorities of cooperation. Contacts have been maintained through different forums, including the OSCE Annual Security Review Conference, the Forum for Security Co-operation, conferences and seminars.
The fact that the United Nations has asked the CSTO to create a peacekeeping force shows that the organization is viewed as an important tool for peacebuilding. Its global clout has grown immensely. The UN needs its contribution to promoting global security. With so many hot spots on the world map, the CSTO peacekeepers may see action pretty soon.