Friday, October 15, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Could ODKB Forces Eventually Be Used Against Russian Protesters?

Paul Goble

Staunton, October 15 – The way in which Moscow is arming and training units assigned to the Organization of the Collective Security Treaty suggests that these forces will be used against domestic opposition groups in the member states – not excluding the Russian Federation, according to some analysts -- rather than exclusively against foreign aggressors.
Col.Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, the deputy chief of the unified staff of the ODKB (its Russian acronym), said this week that “the international forces subordinate to him soon will begin to receive as armaments water cannon, traumatic pistols, tear gas and noise grenades – all “so-called non-lethal” weapons (
Up until now, such weapons have generally been used by the police or special services rather than by national armies or international alliances. Obviously, “tank columns are not dispersed by water cannon.” Indeed, most of the units in the ODKB are “motorized rifle battalions, the chief task of which is repulsing a foreign threat.”
The ODKB was set up in 2002 as “a military-political bloc,” and its member states, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation and Tajikistan, agreed last year to form a rapid reaction force, a large segment of which consists of Russian units drawn from the Volga-Urals Military District.
Many both in these countries and internationally viewed the ODKB as an effort by Moscow to create “almost a counterweight to the forces of NATO.” But because the organization did not involve large forces and even more because the ODKB increasingly focused not to the West but to Central Asia, ever fewer people share that view.
But on one aspect of the ODKB, most continued to agree: Its primary focus was about repulsing potential foreign aggressors rather than dealing with internal threats. But now, as a result of events in Kyrgyzstan and the declaration of Nogovitsyn, at least some analysts are shifting their view in that regard.
And that is the case even though Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has repeatedly said that “the application of ODKB forces is possible only if there is an attack from the outside against one of the states which is a member” of the group. The ODKB agreement, the Russian leader insists, do not allow for anything else.
The events in Kyrgyzstan, however, led many to discuss whether ODKB forces might be used against what were after all domestic opponents of one of the signatory regimes, and “the logic” of the armaments Nogovitsyn says some of the ODKB forces will have suggests that some leaders of the ODKB consider such actions “extremely probable.”
Such views are likely to identify later this month, “Svobodnaya pressa” continues, when ODKB forces are scheduled to conduct a joint exercise using non-lethal force near Chebarkul, a step the organization would not be taking if it did not believe that it needed to develop a capacity to cope with domestic violence in its member states.
Leonid Ivashov, a retired colonel general who heads the Moscow Academy of Geopolitical Problems and a frequent critic of the incumbent Russian government, said that the trend in the ODKB forces was clear: the member states want an international capacity to intervene in the case of domestic violence in any of them.
As a result, he continued, “the appearance of [non-lethal weaponry] in the units of the ODKB, the main part of which consists of [Russian] soldiers and officers] will mean that there has begun a reorientation of army structures toward the struggle with the recent growth in protest attitudes across the post-Soviet space.”
And such attitudes are to be found not only in Kyrgyzstan and in Tajikistan, Ivashov noted. “Not everything is peaceful in Russia itself.” There are problems in the Far East and in the North Caucasus, and consequently, this new direction in the weaponry of the ODKB could mean that its forces might someday be deployed in the Russian Federation.

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