Vienna, September 14 – Moscow has asked that the UN General Assembly call for the UN to conclude an agreement with the Organization of the Treaty of Collective Security (OTCS) much like the one the UN signed with NATO in September 2008 and thus allow that group of seven former Soviet republics to participate in international peacekeeping operations.
This action has attracted far less attention than the Duma’s preliminary approval of a law that would allow the Kremlin to dispatch military forces abroad, but it could lead to more Russian soldiers serving beyond the borders of Russian sooner, as peacekeepers, perhaps in the first instance in the Southern Caucasus if there is a resolution of the Karabakh conflict.
Last Friday, Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, on behalf of his country and the six other members of the OTCS (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) asked that the UN General Assembly take up this question later this fall.
According to an OTCS spokesman, the UN apparatus has given “preliminary” approval to include “a special resolution” which would urge “the conclusion of an agreement or memorandum on cooperation between the UN and the OTCS analogous to the one signed between the UN and NATO” last year.
Such an accord, if the UN General Assembly supports the resolution and the UN Security Council agrees, would give “international legitimacy” to the participation of OTCS and its collective rapid reaction forces not only to engage in peacekeeping but to fight extremism and terrorism beyond the borders of the member states.
And as one Armenian news outlet reported today, “it is not excluded” that if that happens,” Russian could attempt to include ‘a peacekeeping contingent of the OTCS’ in the zone of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict” if there is an agreement on putting peacekeepers there (armtoday.info/default.asp?Lang=_Ru&NewsID=14938&SectionID=0&RegionID=9&Date=09/14/2009&PagePosition=1).
Indeed, the Karabakh dispute may explain the timing of Moscow’s request if not all the calculations behind it: Earlier this month, a leading Baku analyst suggested that Russian forces as such could not serve as peacekeepers in and around Karabakh because of Russia’s involvement in the negotiating process.
In a comment to Day.AZ, Mubariz Akhmedoglu, the director of the Azerbaijani Center for Political Innovation and Technology, said an agreement on peacekeepers was near, adding that they would not include forces from the Minsk Group co-chair countries – Russia, France, and the United States – or from the immediate neighboring states – Turkey and Iran.
Instead, he said, they were likely to come from two European countries – Hungary and Romania – and the two states most directly involved – Armenia and Azerbaijan – given that these forces had “passed through the school of participation in peacekeeping operations in ‘the hot spots of the world’” (www.day.az/news/politics/170909.html).
But if the UN General Assembly approves Moscow’s request and the UN Security Council drafts an accord with the OTCS, the Russian government almost certainly could argue that any soldiers it dispatched to serve as peacekeepers in the Southern Caucasus were there not as “Russians” but as members of a UN-blessed OTCS force.
The impact of such an end run around the rules as at least some parties to the Karabakh dispute appear to understand them is far from clear, but Moscow’s move to do so is yet another indication that it is prepared to adopt a variety of strategies to project power over the former Soviet space and to involve the international community in support of that Russian effort.