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CSTO challenges and prospects at the end of the year under the presidency of the Republic of Belarus

photo: paodkb.org
4 December 2023
Alexander Shpakovsky Alexander Shpakovsky

Alexander Shpakovsky |Minsk

Minister-counsellor of the Embassy of the Republic of Belarus in the Russian Federation

Alexander GrinevichAlexander Grinevich

Alexander Grinevich

Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Representative of the Republic of Belarus in CSTO, counsellor of the Embassy of the Republic of Belarus in the Russian Federation

On 23 November 2023, a session of the Collective Security Council (CSC) of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) took place with participation of the leaders of the member states (except for Armenia). This event drew the line under the period of the Belarus presidency in CSTO. To access the results of the Belarus cadence, it seems feasible to analyze this summit from the standpoint of the military and political situation in the zone of the CSTO responsibility during 2023, as well as to benchmark the results against the objectives and tasks announced by official Minsk at the very start of this year within the National Action Plan by the priority areas of CSTO activities.

Solidarity strengthening and disintegration risks

In connection with this, let us remind here that the presidency of the Republic of Belarus in the Collective Security Treaty Organization in 2023 was in line with the slogan announced by President Alexander Lukashenko: «Through solidarity and cooperation towards peace and security». Belarus headed the CSTO in the period of acute systemic crisis of the international relations featuring an unprecedented aggravation of the military and political situation in Eurasia and further polarization of the approaches to the new world over, deepening of the confrontation and growth of conflict potential between the global centers of power. Hence, in the developing situation, Minsk determined the main objective for its presidency. In the internal contour that was enhancement of the cohesion of the CSTO member states.

Back in November 2022, at the summit in Yerevan Alexander Lukashenko emphasized that «CSTO is subject to different challenges and threats both of the transnational nature and associated with the inter-state contradictions». [1] It was not only about discrepancies between the member countries and Armenia on the issues associated with the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but also about the controversy between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, which often resulted in the skirmishes on their borders. External challenges added to the above-listed ones, such as the conflict in Ukraine, the growing militarization of the NATOs eastern flange, instability in Afghanistan, sanctions-related pressure of the collective West on Belarus and Russia, as well as the attempts on behalf of the USA, the EU, France and Great Britain to expand their positions within the CSTO responsibility zone. An important element of the developing situation was the fact that the geopolitical adversaries of Russia were not hiding their goals of breaking up the integration projects of Moscow (including the CSTO) using a broad variety of different economic, political, diplomatic and military tools. 

In the light of the above it should be noted that the negotiations between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan allowed for avoiding the escalation of the contradictions and come-up with a compromise solution on the issue of the border delimitation. In particular, on 2 October 2023, in the city of Batken (Kyrgyzstan) the joint session of the government delegations of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan took place on delimitation and demarcation of the borders. It is worth noting that the national negotiations groups were headed by the directors of the national secret services S.S. Yatimov, the Chairman of the State Security Committee of Tajikistan, and K.K. Tashiyev, the Vice-Premier and the Chairman of the State Security Committee of Kyrgyzstan. According to the official bulletin of the Tajikistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the session was held in the atmosphere of friendship and mutual understanding, «the need to strengthen friendship, mutual understanding and trust between the border districts of the two states was emphasized». The final protocol was signed based on the results of the negotiations fixing the achieved agreements, assignments were issued to the Work Groups to describe the projected line of the Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan border.

It is also important to emphasize that during 2023 the CSTO and its member states provided all possible support of the process of peaceful and mutually beneficial resolution of Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan disputes. Bishkek and Dushanbe demonstrated positive attitude and willingness to achieve agreement on disputable issues, both states actively participated in the CSTO activities and held productive bilateral negotiations. Eventually, success was achieved in preventing the unfavorable scenario and creating the stable prerequisites for resolving the existing problems. During the CSTO summit in Minsk, the leaders of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan demonstrated their commitment to the principle of cohesion within the Organization and the common approach to major foreign policy relations.

At the same time, N.V. Pashinyan, the Prime Minister of Armenia, did not participate in the meeting in the Belarus capital. On 14 November 2023, talking on the phone with the President of Belarus Pashinyan informed of his non-participation in the forthcoming event. These actions by Yerevan shortly before the CSTO summit looked ambiguous, however, they were rather calmly perceived by the allies within the Organization. N.N. Eismont, the spokesperson of the leader of Belarus informed, that Lukashenko «was not concerned» with the position of the Armenian Prime Minister, but called Pashinyan «not to rush, not to make any hasty decisions, but to think seriously about the next steps toward disintegration». [2] The Kremlin also demonstrated a pragmatic response to the activities of the Armenian leader expressing the regret towards the decision of Yerevan not to make the «time check» with the allies. In his turn, Imangali Tasmagambetov, the SCTO General  Secretary, summarizing the results of the Minsk summit, emphasized that «the Armenian party continues its work in the organization, Yerevan continues its multi-lateral contacts with the CSTO in the standard operating mode, Armenia was and still is our ally». [3]

In fact, the absence of Armenian representatives did not significantly affect the agenda of the negotiations, the approval of the respective documents and the transfer of presidency in the CSTO from Belarus to Kazakhstan. At the same time, Pashinyans refusal to participate in the Collective Security Council session in Minsk did not constitute a scandal distracting the public attention from the summit itself (on that, probably, the CSTO ill-wishers were counting hoping to speculate on the topic of the lack of unity within the military block).

At the same time, it should be frankly admitted that the situation between the CSTO and official Yerevan raises certain concerns and obviously needs normalization. The contradictions between the Armenian leaders and the CSTO member-states started long before the presidency of Belarus and were not eliminated in 2023 despite the political and diplomatic efforts on behalf of official Minsk. It should be noted that the Armenian party distanced from discharging its CSTO commitments, refused to participate in various events and to send its representatives to the collective governance bodies of the Organization. Simultaneously, media presented rumors about Armenia exiting the CSTO, and those were warmed up by the ambiguous statements of Pashinyan and his cronies. At the same time, Armenia claimed the necessity of «diversifying its security policy», invited the EU monitoring mission to its territory and signed the military cooperation agreement with France and Great Britain.

Evaluating the claims of Yerevan about the CSTO refusing to discharge its commitments with respect to assuring the security of Armenia in the conflict with Azerbaijan, it is worth reminding that the Organization was ready to send its peace-supporting mission to monitor the situation at the Armenian-Azerbaijan border, however, this proposal did not go any further. According to Imangali Tasmagambetov, the SCTO General Secretary, «the Armenian party did not demonstrate any interest towards this document despite the support of all the other allies, and moreover when we were close to finalizing it, the Armenian representatives asked us to remove it from the agenda». [4]

At the same time, Armenia remains a member state, and all the other CSTO members are committed to develop the alliance with the Armenian partners. Imangali Tasmagambetov, the SCTO General  Secretary, intends to make the Armenian leaders aware of the results of the Minsk summit, and there is still the possibility for Armenia to sign the adopted documents. At the same time, the attempts of the Western countries to impose over Yerevan their patronage in the sphere of security resulted in intensifying the contradictions in the Southern Caucasus, serious backset in the Armenias position, in creating the risk factors for the interests of Russia and Iran. Further disintegration will aggravate the situation even more. The principle «it takes two tango» needs to be remembered, and right now the ball is on the side of the Armenian leaders, and further development of the situation and the destiny of the Armenias nationhood fully depends on their will. In connection with this, the position of Alexander Lukashenko voiced on this issue on the sidelines of the Mins summit appears to be very relevant: «Problems have always existed and will continue to exist. But if we have the intent to resolve them, this should be done at the negotiating table, not just by walking out in protest without any reason». [5] It is obvious that maintaining the relationship of allies, honest discussions across the entire range of the existing disputes and achieving the mutually beneficial solutions is in the interests of Armenia itself, all the CSTO member states and the countries of the Trans-Caucasian region. 

External contour: the results of the international cooperation

The implementation of the CSTO plans at the external contour deserves special attention. The main task there was increasing the role and value of the block in the  international relations system, as well as assuring complete match between the CSTO activities and the regional/global security agenda.

To achieve these purposes, on 20 June 2023, the President of Belarus had a meeting with the Foreign Relations Ministers of the member states, where he spoke about the need of a deeper partnership between the CSTO, United Nations organization and SCO. This meeting was followed by consultations of the Deputies Foreign Relations Ministers of the CSTO member states in Minsk, where they shared the opinions on the developing the dialogue of the CSTO with other international organizations and separate countries. In the beginning of September, Moscow hosted a meeting of the CSTO representatives on the agenda of the 78th session of the UN General Assembly, where they discussed the possibilities of engaging the CSTO in the peace-making activities of the UN organization and emphasized the importance of the efficient CSTO participation in the global peace-keeping efforts. Then, on 20 September 2023, on the sidelines of the 78th session of the UN General Assembly  in New York Belarus organized the meeting of the Foreign Affairs Ministers of the CSTO member countries.

These comprehensive political and diplomatic efforts resulted in a working meeting  on 27 September in Beijing of Imangali Tasmagambetov, Zhang Ming and Ilham Nematov, the top administrative officials of the three leading Eurasian regional organizations the CSTO, SCO and CIS. In the course of the negotiations the participants assessed the situation with security in their zones of responsibility and  raised their voices for a more active interaction between the information and analysis units of the three organizations. They especially focused on cooperation in counteracting terrorism and extremism, trafficking in drugs and cross-border crime. [6] In essence, these efforts to consolidate the CSTO, SCO and CIS capabilities in the security sphere are logical and mutually beneficial in line with the challenges of the World Order transformation period

As a follow up of the cooperation expansion, think tanks activities synchronization and search for a compromise in resolving the existing problems, Belarus initiated a high-level conference in Minsk on 26-27 October «Eurasian security: the reality and outlook in the transforming world». The main discussion was dedicated to the prospects of Eurasian security in the on-going crisis of the traditional World Order, chronic military and political contradictions between the key players and practically complete absence of communication between them.

About 300 experts representing 30 countries participated in the conference including high-ranking government officials of the CSTO and SCO member states, as well as of a number of other friendly countries, officers of the secretariats of the UN, CIS and other international organizations. The Foreign Affairs Ministers of Belarus and Russia (Sergey Aleynik and Sergey Lavrov), of Hungary (Peter Szijjarto), Ko Ko Hlaing, the Minister of the Allied Governments Affairs of Myanmar, Imangali Tasmagambetov, the CSTO General Secretary, and Dmitry Mezentsev, the State Secretary of the Union State of Russia and Belarus took part in the high-level session of the conference. The speakers focused on the need to improve the global security architecture, which should be based on multilateralism, respect of sovereignty in domestic and foreign policy, unacceptability of arbitral sanctions and dictate in international relations. 

In our opinion, the conference quite explicitly strengthened the role and position of the CSTO in the regional and global security system and confirmed the ability of Belarus to organize high-level events to search for tradeoff solutions in the process of transfer to the multipolarity. The synchronized position of the speakers was another contribution to the global majority evidencing the firm commitment of the humankind to building a fair World Order additionally strengthening the positions of the like-minded countries in their counteracting the coercive sanctions policy at the international level. No doubt such discussion are very relevant today, hence, it is necessary to make such conferences in Belarus annual and include them into the CSTO plans for all the stakeholders of the member states.

Belarus is convinced that the expansion of partnerships and the global dialogue with the global players interested in such cooperation, especially with China, will contribute to strengthening the CSTO positions on the global arena. In this relation, the speech of Luo Shi-Xiong, the charge d'affaires ad interim of China, deserves special attention, as he highlighted the coinciding security concepts of China and the CSTO member states. «Being an important mechanism of military security in the Eurasian Region, the STO is making an active contribution to the regional security assurance. Each CSTO member state is a good friend and a reliable partner for China supporting long-term relations of friendship and cooperation», the Chinese diplomat remarked. [7]

Overall, summarizing the results of the Belarus presidency in the context of external political objectives we can say that practically all of them were achieved except for improving the contacts with the European partners. However, in this case we need to take into account the specifics of the current situation, in particular the determination of the collective West and the organization controlled by it for escalating the standoff against Russia and Belarus including the breakdown of the CSTO military and political unity, which does not allow to count on constructive dialogue along these lines.

Mission-related objectives: from combat training to cyber security

We should not leave unattended the activities of Minsk to assure the efficient CSTO operations in a number of the new areas from assuring biological security and counteracting cyber threats to traditional combat training of service persons, military and technical cooperation, protection of the critical infrastructure facilities, counteracting terrorism, illegal migration, trafficking in drugs, weapons and explosives.

We should note the successful continuation of well-coordinated actions within the regional Illegal Allien operation, anti-terrorist Mercenary operation, Proxi operation to counteract crime in the IT sphere. The sub-regional anti-drugs Araks Channel operation with participation of the relevant agencies from China, Syria and some other CIS member states deserves special attention.

On 13 July 2023, Minsk hosted the 2nd meeting of the Coordination Council of the authorized agencies of the CSTO member states in bio-security, where specific decisions were made to assure biological security. [8] In September 2023, the capital of Belarus hosted a Coordination conference of the Chief Narcologists of the CSTO member states.

According to the National Action Plan for implementing the priority goals, the session of the Council of the Consulting Coordination Center for response to computer incidents was held. This is where some experts voiced the proposal to create the cyber testing grounds in Belarus, so that the CSTO member states could organize technical exercise for joint response to cyber incidents.

On top of that, a number of joint specialized exercises were planned and organized in the territory of Belarus with participation of the governing bodies of the CSTO collective security forces. Within the joint strategic exercise of the CSTO collective forces Brothers-in-Arms 2023 the six ranges in Belarus hosted the following events: training with the CSTO Collective Rapid Deployment Forces Interaction 2023; special training with the CSTO intelligence forces Reconnaissance 2023; special training with the CSTO army logistics Serial 2023; the first special training with new component of the Collective Forces Radiation, Chemical and Bacteriological Defense and Medical Support units Barrier 2023.

The joint exercise with the forces of the Emergency Ministries of the CSTO member states Cliff 2023 was held. The participants trained the practical actions to eliminate the consequences of an accident with the nuclear reactors equipment at the Belarus NPP, as well as the actions of the Radiation Reconnaissance Team with a demonstration of the capabilities of the mobile radiological defense lab.

The number of the military service people participating in the exercises totaled 2.5 thou people, and the number of armament and special purpose vehicles totaled 500 units. The main objective of the maneuvers was to improve coordination and teamwork of the governing bodies, and it was successfully achieved. The skills of officers in managing the military units during combat and special operations were improved. This proves that despite of all the political ups and downs, the CSTO member states are still interested in the joint training of the armed forces for resolving common tasks. The above-described exercises demonstrated the practical implementation of Belarus efforts to improve the cohesion and solidarity within the CSTO, which has a special strategic value.

The interaction in military-technical sphere was performed via the Inter-Governmental Commission for Military and Economic Cooperation, the members of which became the participants of the 11th exhibition of weapons and military equipment MILEX-2023 in Minsk. Belarus paid special attention to developing common approaches to the defense products standardization and cooperation of enterprises in producing the promising weapon products according to such common standards, which in future will assure joint development and fabrication of modern weapons and military equipment. The draft documents on this topic are undergoing the agreeing procedure inside the member states and upon completion will be delivered to the CSTO governing bodies for review.

In the sphere of information and analytics certain steps were made to build-up the institutional potential of the CSTO, as well as coordinated studies to develop the forecasts (scenarios) for managerial decision-making. Special attention was paid to analyzing the global governing organizations the United Nations, WTO, BRICS, SCO, NATO. The initiative of establishing the think tank for developing common approaches of efficient counteracting the adverse pressure of the external institutes and efficient promotion of our own initiatives. Efforts were stepped-up to develop a network of national analytical centers combining the research capabilities of the CSTO member states, which could become an instrument for preparing the materials on the relevant issues of international and regional security.

In the framework of the above-described activities, productive interaction with the leading research centers of the CSTO member states was organized in 2023. MOUs were signed with the Institute for Security in the CIS, China and modern Asia, the Russian State Social University. Special expert events were held with participation of the leadership of the Belarus Institute for Strategic Studies, the National Institute for Strategic Studies with the President of Kyrgyzstan and the Center for Strategic Studies with the President of Tajikistan.

Certain practical steps were made to build-up the analytical potential of the CSTO Secretariat by way of changing the staffing focused on enhancing the information and forecast capabilities.

Conclusion

The results of the session of the CSTO Collective Security Council in Minsk demonstrate that during the Belarus presidency period 32 objectives were implemented out of the planned 34, which confirms not only the efficient actions by Belarus, but also high efficiency of the CSTO functioning. The Organization proved to be capable of achieving the required results despite the challenges in its responsibility zone and the crisis of the traditional security architecture. The non-achieved objectives are associated with Armenia and resuming the cooperation between the CSTO and OSCE due to external factors being beyond the control of Belarus or other CSTO member states.

It also seems possible to forecast that in the 2024-2025 horizon the CSTO will continue its stable development and will be capable to effectively cope with a series of critical tasks including counteracting terrorism, trafficking in drugs and illegal migration. There are no other collective formats for assuring security of the member states, and the urge to diversify the traditional allies is a dangerous misconception, the price of which may turn out extremely high.

We believe that the Republic of Kazakhstan during its presidency term will continue the intense progress established during the term of Belarus presidency in the CSTO, will elaborate on the constructive initiatives of official Minsk and will achieve success along the lines, which did not turn out successful so far.

Let us also state that creating the security architecture does not tolerate too much fuss and noise, so it does not make sense to demand from the CSTO any scandalous behavior, pathos and dramatic statements. Let us remind here, that when the Organization had to demonstrate its capabilities to stabilize the situation in Kazakhstan, the collective security system responded impeccably.

Let us emphasize that as the result of the Minsk summit the Regulation for the CSTO response to crisis situations and for collective decision-making and practical implementation procedure was revised and the new version was adopted, which allowed for significant facilitation of the endorsement of such measured in case of need.

Hence, the substantial part of the CSTO activities remains behind the scenes and not accessible to the general public. So do not rush to bury our Organization, it has always been, still is and will remain a reliable factor for assuring peace and lawfulness in Eurasia.

1. Lukashenko voiced the objectives and priorities of Belarus presidency in the CSTO. BELTA, 23.11.2022. https://www.belta.by/president/view/lukashenko-ozvuchil-tseli-i-prioritety-belorusskogo-predsedatelstva-v-odkb-536495-2022/?ysclid=lppb0wtvyk725334781

2. Lukashenko asked Pashinyan not to rush with disintegration. Vedomosti, 15.11.2023. https://www.vedomosti.ru/politics/news/2023/11/15/1005877-lukashenko-prizval-pashinyana?ysclid=lpmkonvxqp336611094

3. Tasmagambetov: nobody is talking about Armenia exiting the CSTO. BELTA, 12.11.2023. https://www.belta.by/politics/view/tasmagambetov-rech-o-vyhode-armenii-iz-sostava-odkb-ne-idet-601398-2023/

4. The CSTO General Secretary announced Armenia withdrawing the document about aid to this country from the summit agenda. Izvestia, 20.11.2023. https://iz.ru/1608057/2023-11-20/gensek-odkb-zaiavil-o-sniatii-armeniei-s-povestki-sammita-dokumenta-o-pomoshchi-strane

5. Lukashenko reprimanded Armenia for «walking out in protest without any reason». NEWS.RU, 23.11.2023. https://news.ru/cis/lukashenko-otchital-armeniyu-za-demarshi-bez-prichiny/?ysclid=lppgxrf8un755340334

6. The CSTO, SCO and CIS leaders had a working meeting in Beijing.  RIA Novosti, 27.09.2023. https://ria.ru/20230927/sotrudnichestvo-1899026030.html?ysclid=lppicpwqea809988146

7. Luo Shi-Xiong: the security concepts of China and the CSTO member states are the same. BELTA, 26.10.2023. https://www.belta.by/politics/view/lo-shisjun-kontseptsii-bezopasnosti-kitaja-i-gosudarstv-uchastnikov-odkb-sovpadajut-596123-2023/?ysclid=lppjt42hyp509384915

8. The meeting of the Coordination Council of the authorized agencies of the CSTO member states in bio-security took place in Minsk. CIS website, 17.07.2023. https://e-cis.info/news/568/110555/?ysclid=lppkkhf5rn645623645

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CSTO challenges and prospects at the end of the year under the presidency of the Republic of Belarus

photo: paodkb.org
4 2023
Alexander Shpakovsky

Alexander Shpakovsky | Minsk

Minister-counsellor of the Embassy of the Republic of Belarus in the Russian Federation

Alexander Shpakovsky

Alexander Shpakovsky

Minister-counsellor of the Embassy of the Republic of Belarus in the Russian Federation

On 23 November 2023, a session of the Collective Security Council (CSC) of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) took place with participation of the leaders of the member states (except for Armenia). This event drew the line under the period of the Belarus presidency in CSTO. To access the results of the Belarus cadence, it seems feasible to analyze this summit from the standpoint of the military and political situation in the zone of the CSTO responsibility during 2023, as well as to benchmark the results against the objectives and tasks announced by official Minsk at the very start of this year within the National Action Plan by the priority areas of CSTO activities.

Solidarity strengthening and disintegration risks

In connection with this, let us remind here that the presidency of the Republic of Belarus in the Collective Security Treaty Organization in 2023 was in line with the slogan announced by President Alexander Lukashenko: «Through solidarity and cooperation towards peace and security». Belarus headed the CSTO in the period of acute systemic crisis of the international relations featuring an unprecedented aggravation of the military and political situation in Eurasia and further polarization of the approaches to the new world over, deepening of the confrontation and growth of conflict potential between the global centers of power. Hence, in the developing situation, Minsk determined the main objective for its presidency. In the internal contour that was enhancement of the cohesion of the CSTO member states.

Back in November 2022, at the summit in Yerevan Alexander Lukashenko emphasized that «CSTO is subject to different challenges and threats both of the transnational nature and associated with the inter-state contradictions». [1] It was not only about discrepancies between the member countries and Armenia on the issues associated with the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but also about the controversy between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, which often resulted in the skirmishes on their borders. External challenges added to the above-listed ones, such as the conflict in Ukraine, the growing militarization of the NATOs eastern flange, instability in Afghanistan, sanctions-related pressure of the collective West on Belarus and Russia, as well as the attempts on behalf of the USA, the EU, France and Great Britain to expand their positions within the CSTO responsibility zone. An important element of the developing situation was the fact that the geopolitical adversaries of Russia were not hiding their goals of breaking up the integration projects of Moscow (including the CSTO) using a broad variety of different economic, political, diplomatic and military tools. 

In the light of the above it should be noted that the negotiations between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan allowed for avoiding the escalation of the contradictions and come-up with a compromise solution on the issue of the border delimitation. In particular, on 2 October 2023, in the city of Batken (Kyrgyzstan) the joint session of the government delegations of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan took place on delimitation and demarcation of the borders. It is worth noting that the national negotiations groups were headed by the directors of the national secret services S.S. Yatimov, the Chairman of the State Security Committee of Tajikistan, and K.K. Tashiyev, the Vice-Premier and the Chairman of the State Security Committee of Kyrgyzstan. According to the official bulletin of the Tajikistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the session was held in the atmosphere of friendship and mutual understanding, «the need to strengthen friendship, mutual understanding and trust between the border districts of the two states was emphasized». The final protocol was signed based on the results of the negotiations fixing the achieved agreements, assignments were issued to the Work Groups to describe the projected line of the Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan border.

It is also important to emphasize that during 2023 the CSTO and its member states provided all possible support of the process of peaceful and mutually beneficial resolution of Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan disputes. Bishkek and Dushanbe demonstrated positive attitude and willingness to achieve agreement on disputable issues, both states actively participated in the CSTO activities and held productive bilateral negotiations. Eventually, success was achieved in preventing the unfavorable scenario and creating the stable prerequisites for resolving the existing problems. During the CSTO summit in Minsk, the leaders of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan demonstrated their commitment to the principle of cohesion within the Organization and the common approach to major foreign policy relations.

At the same time, N.V. Pashinyan, the Prime Minister of Armenia, did not participate in the meeting in the Belarus capital. On 14 November 2023, talking on the phone with the President of Belarus Pashinyan informed of his non-participation in the forthcoming event. These actions by Yerevan shortly before the CSTO summit looked ambiguous, however, they were rather calmly perceived by the allies within the Organization. N.N. Eismont, the spokesperson of the leader of Belarus informed, that Lukashenko «was not concerned» with the position of the Armenian Prime Minister, but called Pashinyan «not to rush, not to make any hasty decisions, but to think seriously about the next steps toward disintegration». [2] The Kremlin also demonstrated a pragmatic response to the activities of the Armenian leader expressing the regret towards the decision of Yerevan not to make the «time check» with the allies. In his turn, Imangali Tasmagambetov, the SCTO General  Secretary, summarizing the results of the Minsk summit, emphasized that «the Armenian party continues its work in the organization, Yerevan continues its multi-lateral contacts with the CSTO in the standard operating mode, Armenia was and still is our ally». [3]

In fact, the absence of Armenian representatives did not significantly affect the agenda of the negotiations, the approval of the respective documents and the transfer of presidency in the CSTO from Belarus to Kazakhstan. At the same time, Pashinyans refusal to participate in the Collective Security Council session in Minsk did not constitute a scandal distracting the public attention from the summit itself (on that, probably, the CSTO ill-wishers were counting hoping to speculate on the topic of the lack of unity within the military block).

At the same time, it should be frankly admitted that the situation between the CSTO and official Yerevan raises certain concerns and obviously needs normalization. The contradictions between the Armenian leaders and the CSTO member-states started long before the presidency of Belarus and were not eliminated in 2023 despite the political and diplomatic efforts on behalf of official Minsk. It should be noted that the Armenian party distanced from discharging its CSTO commitments, refused to participate in various events and to send its representatives to the collective governance bodies of the Organization. Simultaneously, media presented rumors about Armenia exiting the CSTO, and those were warmed up by the ambiguous statements of Pashinyan and his cronies. At the same time, Armenia claimed the necessity of «diversifying its security policy», invited the EU monitoring mission to its territory and signed the military cooperation agreement with France and Great Britain.

Evaluating the claims of Yerevan about the CSTO refusing to discharge its commitments with respect to assuring the security of Armenia in the conflict with Azerbaijan, it is worth reminding that the Organization was ready to send its peace-supporting mission to monitor the situation at the Armenian-Azerbaijan border, however, this proposal did not go any further. According to Imangali Tasmagambetov, the SCTO General Secretary, «the Armenian party did not demonstrate any interest towards this document despite the support of all the other allies, and moreover when we were close to finalizing it, the Armenian representatives asked us to remove it from the agenda». [4]

At the same time, Armenia remains a member state, and all the other CSTO members are committed to develop the alliance with the Armenian partners. Imangali Tasmagambetov, the SCTO General  Secretary, intends to make the Armenian leaders aware of the results of the Minsk summit, and there is still the possibility for Armenia to sign the adopted documents. At the same time, the attempts of the Western countries to impose over Yerevan their patronage in the sphere of security resulted in intensifying the contradictions in the Southern Caucasus, serious backset in the Armenias position, in creating the risk factors for the interests of Russia and Iran. Further disintegration will aggravate the situation even more. The principle «it takes two tango» needs to be remembered, and right now the ball is on the side of the Armenian leaders, and further development of the situation and the destiny of the Armenias nationhood fully depends on their will. In connection with this, the position of Alexander Lukashenko voiced on this issue on the sidelines of the Mins summit appears to be very relevant: «Problems have always existed and will continue to exist. But if we have the intent to resolve them, this should be done at the negotiating table, not just by walking out in protest without any reason». [5] It is obvious that maintaining the relationship of allies, honest discussions across the entire range of the existing disputes and achieving the mutually beneficial solutions is in the interests of Armenia itself, all the CSTO member states and the countries of the Trans-Caucasian region. 

External contour: the results of the international cooperation

The implementation of the CSTO plans at the external contour deserves special attention. The main task there was increasing the role and value of the block in the  international relations system, as well as assuring complete match between the CSTO activities and the regional/global security agenda.

To achieve these purposes, on 20 June 2023, the President of Belarus had a meeting with the Foreign Relations Ministers of the member states, where he spoke about the need of a deeper partnership between the CSTO, United Nations organization and SCO. This meeting was followed by consultations of the Deputies Foreign Relations Ministers of the CSTO member states in Minsk, where they shared the opinions on the developing the dialogue of the CSTO with other international organizations and separate countries. In the beginning of September, Moscow hosted a meeting of the CSTO representatives on the agenda of the 78th session of the UN General Assembly, where they discussed the possibilities of engaging the CSTO in the peace-making activities of the UN organization and emphasized the importance of the efficient CSTO participation in the global peace-keeping efforts. Then, on 20 September 2023, on the sidelines of the 78th session of the UN General Assembly  in New York Belarus organized the meeting of the Foreign Affairs Ministers of the CSTO member countries.

These comprehensive political and diplomatic efforts resulted in a working meeting  on 27 September in Beijing of Imangali Tasmagambetov, Zhang Ming and Ilham Nematov, the top administrative officials of the three leading Eurasian regional organizations the CSTO, SCO and CIS. In the course of the negotiations the participants assessed the situation with security in their zones of responsibility and  raised their voices for a more active interaction between the information and analysis units of the three organizations. They especially focused on cooperation in counteracting terrorism and extremism, trafficking in drugs and cross-border crime. [6] In essence, these efforts to consolidate the CSTO, SCO and CIS capabilities in the security sphere are logical and mutually beneficial in line with the challenges of the World Order transformation period

As a follow up of the cooperation expansion, think tanks activities synchronization and search for a compromise in resolving the existing problems, Belarus initiated a high-level conference in Minsk on 26-27 October «Eurasian security: the reality and outlook in the transforming world». The main discussion was dedicated to the prospects of Eurasian security in the on-going crisis of the traditional World Order, chronic military and political contradictions between the key players and practically complete absence of communication between them.

About 300 experts representing 30 countries participated in the conference including high-ranking government officials of the CSTO and SCO member states, as well as of a number of other friendly countries, officers of the secretariats of the UN, CIS and other international organizations. The Foreign Affairs Ministers of Belarus and Russia (Sergey Aleynik and Sergey Lavrov), of Hungary (Peter Szijjarto), Ko Ko Hlaing, the Minister of the Allied Governments Affairs of Myanmar, Imangali Tasmagambetov, the CSTO General Secretary, and Dmitry Mezentsev, the State Secretary of the Union State of Russia and Belarus took part in the high-level session of the conference. The speakers focused on the need to improve the global security architecture, which should be based on multilateralism, respect of sovereignty in domestic and foreign policy, unacceptability of arbitral sanctions and dictate in international relations. 

In our opinion, the conference quite explicitly strengthened the role and position of the CSTO in the regional and global security system and confirmed the ability of Belarus to organize high-level events to search for tradeoff solutions in the process of transfer to the multipolarity. The synchronized position of the speakers was another contribution to the global majority evidencing the firm commitment of the humankind to building a fair World Order additionally strengthening the positions of the like-minded countries in their counteracting the coercive sanctions policy at the international level. No doubt such discussion are very relevant today, hence, it is necessary to make such conferences in Belarus annual and include them into the CSTO plans for all the stakeholders of the member states.

Belarus is convinced that the expansion of partnerships and the global dialogue with the global players interested in such cooperation, especially with China, will contribute to strengthening the CSTO positions on the global arena. In this relation, the speech of Luo Shi-Xiong, the charge d'affaires ad interim of China, deserves special attention, as he highlighted the coinciding security concepts of China and the CSTO member states. «Being an important mechanism of military security in the Eurasian Region, the STO is making an active contribution to the regional security assurance. Each CSTO member state is a good friend and a reliable partner for China supporting long-term relations of friendship and cooperation», the Chinese diplomat remarked. [7]

Overall, summarizing the results of the Belarus presidency in the context of external political objectives we can say that practically all of them were achieved except for improving the contacts with the European partners. However, in this case we need to take into account the specifics of the current situation, in particular the determination of the collective West and the organization controlled by it for escalating the standoff against Russia and Belarus including the breakdown of the CSTO military and political unity, which does not allow to count on constructive dialogue along these lines.

Mission-related objectives: from combat training to cyber security

We should not leave unattended the activities of Minsk to assure the efficient CSTO operations in a number of the new areas from assuring biological security and counteracting cyber threats to traditional combat training of service persons, military and technical cooperation, protection of the critical infrastructure facilities, counteracting terrorism, illegal migration, trafficking in drugs, weapons and explosives.

We should note the successful continuation of well-coordinated actions within the regional Illegal Allien operation, anti-terrorist Mercenary operation, Proxi operation to counteract crime in the IT sphere. The sub-regional anti-drugs Araks Channel operation with participation of the relevant agencies from China, Syria and some other CIS member states deserves special attention.

On 13 July 2023, Minsk hosted the 2nd meeting of the Coordination Council of the authorized agencies of the CSTO member states in bio-security, where specific decisions were made to assure biological security. [8] In September 2023, the capital of Belarus hosted a Coordination conference of the Chief Narcologists of the CSTO member states.

According to the National Action Plan for implementing the priority goals, the session of the Council of the Consulting Coordination Center for response to computer incidents was held. This is where some experts voiced the proposal to create the cyber testing grounds in Belarus, so that the CSTO member states could organize technical exercise for joint response to cyber incidents.

On top of that, a number of joint specialized exercises were planned and organized in the territory of Belarus with participation of the governing bodies of the CSTO collective security forces. Within the joint strategic exercise of the CSTO collective forces Brothers-in-Arms 2023 the six ranges in Belarus hosted the following events: training with the CSTO Collective Rapid Deployment Forces Interaction 2023; special training with the CSTO intelligence forces Reconnaissance 2023; special training with the CSTO army logistics Serial 2023; the first special training with new component of the Collective Forces Radiation, Chemical and Bacteriological Defense and Medical Support units Barrier 2023.

The joint exercise with the forces of the Emergency Ministries of the CSTO member states Cliff 2023 was held. The participants trained the practical actions to eliminate the consequences of an accident with the nuclear reactors equipment at the Belarus NPP, as well as the actions of the Radiation Reconnaissance Team with a demonstration of the capabilities of the mobile radiological defense lab.

The number of the military service people participating in the exercises totaled 2.5 thou people, and the number of armament and special purpose vehicles totaled 500 units. The main objective of the maneuvers was to improve coordination and teamwork of the governing bodies, and it was successfully achieved. The skills of officers in managing the military units during combat and special operations were improved. This proves that despite of all the political ups and downs, the CSTO member states are still interested in the joint training of the armed forces for resolving common tasks. The above-described exercises demonstrated the practical implementation of Belarus efforts to improve the cohesion and solidarity within the CSTO, which has a special strategic value.

The interaction in military-technical sphere was performed via the Inter-Governmental Commission for Military and Economic Cooperation, the members of which became the participants of the 11th exhibition of weapons and military equipment MILEX-2023 in Minsk. Belarus paid special attention to developing common approaches to the defense products standardization and cooperation of enterprises in producing the promising weapon products according to such common standards, which in future will assure joint development and fabrication of modern weapons and military equipment. The draft documents on this topic are undergoing the agreeing procedure inside the member states and upon completion will be delivered to the CSTO governing bodies for review.

In the sphere of information and analytics certain steps were made to build-up the institutional potential of the CSTO, as well as coordinated studies to develop the forecasts (scenarios) for managerial decision-making. Special attention was paid to analyzing the global governing organizations the United Nations, WTO, BRICS, SCO, NATO. The initiative of establishing the think tank for developing common approaches of efficient counteracting the adverse pressure of the external institutes and efficient promotion of our own initiatives. Efforts were stepped-up to develop a network of national analytical centers combining the research capabilities of the CSTO member states, which could become an instrument for preparing the materials on the relevant issues of international and regional security.

In the framework of the above-described activities, productive interaction with the leading research centers of the CSTO member states was organized in 2023. MOUs were signed with the Institute for Security in the CIS, China and modern Asia, the Russian State Social University. Special expert events were held with participation of the leadership of the Belarus Institute for Strategic Studies, the National Institute for Strategic Studies with the President of Kyrgyzstan and the Center for Strategic Studies with the President of Tajikistan.

Certain practical steps were made to build-up the analytical potential of the CSTO Secretariat by way of changing the staffing focused on enhancing the information and forecast capabilities.

Conclusion

The results of the session of the CSTO Collective Security Council in Minsk demonstrate that during the Belarus presidency period 32 objectives were implemented out of the planned 34, which confirms not only the efficient actions by Belarus, but also high efficiency of the CSTO functioning. The Organization proved to be capable of achieving the required results despite the challenges in its responsibility zone and the crisis of the traditional security architecture. The non-achieved objectives are associated with Armenia and resuming the cooperation between the CSTO and OSCE due to external factors being beyond the control of Belarus or other CSTO member states.

It also seems possible to forecast that in the 2024-2025 horizon the CSTO will continue its stable development and will be capable to effectively cope with a series of critical tasks including counteracting terrorism, trafficking in drugs and illegal migration. There are no other collective formats for assuring security of the member states, and the urge to diversify the traditional allies is a dangerous misconception, the price of which may turn out extremely high.

We believe that the Republic of Kazakhstan during its presidency term will continue the intense progress established during the term of Belarus presidency in the CSTO, will elaborate on the constructive initiatives of official Minsk and will achieve success along the lines, which did not turn out successful so far.

Let us also state that creating the security architecture does not tolerate too much fuss and noise, so it does not make sense to demand from the CSTO any scandalous behavior, pathos and dramatic statements. Let us remind here, that when the Organization had to demonstrate its capabilities to stabilize the situation in Kazakhstan, the collective security system responded impeccably.

Let us emphasize that as the result of the Minsk summit the Regulation for the CSTO response to crisis situations and for collective decision-making and practical implementation procedure was revised and the new version was adopted, which allowed for significant facilitation of the endorsement of such measured in case of need.

Hence, the substantial part of the CSTO activities remains behind the scenes and not accessible to the general public. So do not rush to bury our Organization, it has always been, still is and will remain a reliable factor for assuring peace and lawfulness in Eurasia.

1. Lukashenko voiced the objectives and priorities of Belarus presidency in the CSTO. BELTA, 23.11.2022. https://www.belta.by/president/view/lukashenko-ozvuchil-tseli-i-prioritety-belorusskogo-predsedatelstva-v-odkb-536495-2022/?ysclid=lppb0wtvyk725334781

2. Lukashenko asked Pashinyan not to rush with disintegration. Vedomosti, 15.11.2023. https://www.vedomosti.ru/politics/news/2023/11/15/1005877-lukashenko-prizval-pashinyana?ysclid=lpmkonvxqp336611094

3. Tasmagambetov: nobody is talking about Armenia exiting the CSTO. BELTA, 12.11.2023. https://www.belta.by/politics/view/tasmagambetov-rech-o-vyhode-armenii-iz-sostava-odkb-ne-idet-601398-2023/

4. The CSTO General Secretary announced Armenia withdrawing the document about aid to this country from the summit agenda. Izvestia, 20.11.2023. https://iz.ru/1608057/2023-11-20/gensek-odkb-zaiavil-o-sniatii-armeniei-s-povestki-sammita-dokumenta-o-pomoshchi-strane

5. Lukashenko reprimanded Armenia for «walking out in protest without any reason». NEWS.RU, 23.11.2023. https://news.ru/cis/lukashenko-otchital-armeniyu-za-demarshi-bez-prichiny/?ysclid=lppgxrf8un755340334

6. The CSTO, SCO and CIS leaders had a working meeting in Beijing.  RIA Novosti, 27.09.2023. https://ria.ru/20230927/sotrudnichestvo-1899026030.html?ysclid=lppicpwqea809988146

7. Luo Shi-Xiong: the security concepts of China and the CSTO member states are the same. BELTA, 26.10.2023. https://www.belta.by/politics/view/lo-shisjun-kontseptsii-bezopasnosti-kitaja-i-gosudarstv-uchastnikov-odkb-sovpadajut-596123-2023/?ysclid=lppjt42hyp509384915

8. The meeting of the Coordination Council of the authorized agencies of the CSTO member states in bio-security took place in Minsk. CIS website, 17.07.2023. https://e-cis.info/news/568/110555/?ysclid=lppkkhf5rn645623645