Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s New Grouping ‘No Counterweight to NATO,’ Russian Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 10 – The agreement between Moscow and what some call the “inner CIS” to create a joint military force does not constitute “the counterweight to NATO” that its backers in Moscow claim and that some commentators in the West fear, according to a leading Russian specialist.
Instead, Sergey Markedonov says in an analysis posted online today, the agreement at last week’s summit of the Organization of the Treaty on Collective Security represents at best a first step toward greater military cooperation among these countries and at worst “the imitation of a counterweight” which should deceive no one (www.polit.ru/author/2009/02/10/odkb.html).
The accord, which calls for the creation of a joint 15,000-man rapid reaction force to be used to resist aggression or support peacekeeping operations, attracted widespread attention especially after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev publicly declared that this force “should be by its military potential no worse than the forces of the North Atlantic alliance.”
Anyone drawing sweeping conclusions from the agreement or that remark, Markedonov says, does not understand the limited amount of agreement among the Organization’s members, the reluctance of its members other than Russia to make a major contribution to this force, and the unwillingness of the signatories – including Russia – to alienate the West.
For an alliance to work, the Moscow analyst points out, there has to be a relatively high level of agreement about basic goals. But the seven members of the inner CIS – Russia plus Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – do not agree on many things, including those Moscow is most concerned about.
To give but one example, Markedonov says, the Russian government at the group’s September 2008 meeting was not successful in getting any one of these states to agree to follow its lead in recognizing the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And while “much has changed” since then, that has not.
Consequently, there is little likelihood that the members of this grouping of states would agree to the use of this force, when and if it is created, beyond the borders of the former Soviet space or, what is almost more certain, within these borders, given the very different foreign policy interests of these states.
Indeed, Markedonov argues, if one considers where conflicts on the territory of the CIS are most likely to break out, such as the southern Caucasus or Central Asia, “not one state of the CIS which is a signatory of the Collective Security Treat would undertake an operation together with the Russian Federation.”
Moreover, he continues, if one examines the specific plans that Moscow has announced for the force itself, plans that make it clear that any discussion about this combination as “the birth of a real alternative to NATO (or even the entire Western world) are premature,” the Moscow specialist continues.
While the announcement says that the countries forming this new force will conduct joint exercise, something that could prove “extraordinarily important” as an integrative factor, it does not say where the force will be based, exactly how it will be staffed and commanded, and who other than Moscow will pay.
So far as one can tell, Markedonov says, Russia will contribute most or even all of the soldiers and most or even all of the money “Tashkent,” he notes, “declared that military personnel from Uzbekistan will not be part of [the new force] on a continuing basis, and Belarus said that its military will be used only on its territory.”
And the last but far from the least important reason to conclude that this new initiative will constitute “a counterweight” to NATO, Markedonov argues, is that none of the countries involved – including Russia – is currently interested in or ready for a “harsh” competition with the West.
“All the states of the CIS, including Belarus and Armenia,” the two generally considered the closest to Russia, “have their own interests in the West and their own expectations from the European Union and the United States.” And Russia, especially at this time of economic crisis, also is not interested in actual, as opposed to “imitative” struggle with the West.
Russian history provides many examples of such Potemkin villages. But these cases suggest that they are useful only if those against whom they are employed do not recognize them for what they are and at the same time only if those who build them remain aware of precisely that.

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