A Key Russian Policy Influencer Shared Some Constructive Critiques About The CSTO

Instead of relying on supposedly eternal military pacts that wrongly imply “junior partners’” loyalty to the leading state, Russia should focus on reaching more bi-multipolar arrangements with its Great Power peers along the lines of those that it’s already succeeded in doing with India, Iran, and Turkiye, all while carefully managing its relations with China via India in order to avoid becoming Beijing’s “junior partner”.

Timofei Bordachev is regarded as one of Russia’s key policy influencers due to his position as a Programme Director at the prestigious Valdai Club think tank where President Putin gives an annual speech every fall. His latest piece about “The Fate of Alliances in the Modern World” constructively critiqued his country’s CSTO mutual defense alliance in light of the latest clashes between member-state Armenia and non-member Azerbaijan as well as the ones between fellow members Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Interestingly, his article was republished by Russia’s international media flagship RT, thus suggesting an intent on behalf of its public patron to amplify his message to the global audience.

Without diving too deep into the wonky details (which should still be read by those who want to learn more about the contemporary application of International Relations theory), Bordachev basically draws attention to the “politically incorrect” observation that the CSTO isn’t functioning like some in Russia might have initially expected during its inception three decades ago. He concludes that unless his newly restored world power resorts to American-like authoritarian measures to control its allies’ defense and foreign policies, it’ll have to give up the idea of institutionalizing its relations with them. In simple terms, he’s strongly suggesting that Russia’s getting the short end of the stick and being taken advantage of.

His observation is difficult to argue with since Russia’s CSTO allies with the exception of Belarus haven’t supported its policies in Ukraine. Furthermore, the US is openly trying to “poach” Armenia and Tajikistan from that pact, while Kyrgyzstan perennially remains at threat of American-provoked Color Revolutions. All of this leads to the conclusion that the CSTO is becoming somewhat of a burden for Russia since it doesn’t see any tangible benefits from ensuring those members’ security. Nevertheless, there’s also no denying that their mutual defense obligations ensure that Moscow retains a military presence in their respective geostrategic regions, which is crucial when it comes to Central Asia.

ISIS-K is a major threat in Afghanistan and has recently confirmed that Russia’s in its sights after carrying out a terrorist attack against its Kabul Embassy in early September. Furthermore, this group is expansionist by nature and can thus be assumed to have related interests in Central Asia. That region has deep underlying instabilities that can easily be exacerbated through external manipulation, ergo the reason why its leaders maintain a comparatively tight grip over society. Be that as it is, the unexpected eruption of unrest could quickly reverberate all the way to Russia due to that country’s unregulated border with Eurasian Union-member Kazakhstan and the millions of migrants that are already in Russia.

It’s therefore imperative for Russia to assist its local partners with ensuring their domestic security first and foremost since international security in the traditional sense of defending against state-level threats isn’t all that relevant in Central Asia. It is when it comes to the South Caucasus, though, but Armenia has begun betting that it can manipulate Russia’s mutual defense obligations to it in order to entrap its partner in a war with Azerbaijan that could dangerously widen to include NATO-member Turkiye. “Losing” Armenia, for as much of a liability as its leadership has proven itself to be, would result in Russia losing military influence in its strategic space, hence why Moscow is reluctant to let go of it.

Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan are thus all taking advantage of Russia to varying extents by relying on its mutual security obligations to advance their shared interests whenever possible while simultaneously cultivating strategic ties with Moscow’s American rival. Kazakhstan is also guilty of this too but its relations with Russia are of a qualitatively different nature due to their lengthy border and the presence of a significant Russian minority that’s largely concentrated along it, which places certain limits on how far Astana can proverbially push the envelope with Moscow vis a vis Washington before crossing its ally’s objective national security red lines.

In contrast to Russia’s treaty allies, non-allies like China and India – which collectively form the RIC core of BRICS – are much more reliable partners with whom Moscow shares many more mutual benefits without having the expectations of “loyalty” associated with the CSTO states. Iran and even NATO-member Turkiye can be added to that list too since trade – both existing and potential – is much more promising than with Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. This observation aligns with the precepts connected to Indian thinker Sanjaya Baru’s claim that the present state of International Relations can be described as bi-multipolar.

What he meant was that the American and Chinese superpowers exert the most influence over the international system, followed by a collection of Great Powers like Russia and India, below which are comparatively medium- and smaller-sized states with barely any influence on their own. Baru predicted that the interactions within and between all three levels will become increasingly complex and dynamic as each respective player enters into mutually convenient forms of cooperation with others in pursuit of maximizing their strategic autonomy within. He foresaw that this will upset conventional notions of alliances and partnerships, exactly as Bordachev just described as happening within the CSTO.

The top takeaway from that Valdai Club thinker’s latest piece is that the CSTO mustn’t any longer be conceptualized as a NATO-like entity since Russia isn’t able to control its allies’ defense and foreign policies like the US does its own due to both its own choice and objective limitations. Instead of relying on supposedly eternal military pacts that wrongly imply “junior partners’” loyalty to the leading state, Russia should focus on reaching more bi-multipolar arrangements with its Great Power peers along the lines of those that it’s already succeeded in doing with India, Iran, and Turkiye, all while carefully managing its relations with China via India in order to avoid becoming Beijing’s “junior partner”.  

By Andrew Korybko Via https://oneworld.press/?module=articles&action=view&id=3311