Armenia and CSTO: try to escape or another display of discontent?
Political analysts’ views on Caliber.Az
INTERVIEWS 13 March 2023 - 14:10
Armenia in fact undermines its status in the CSTO on its own. Yerevan submitted a proposal to the military organisation to give up the quota of deputy secretary general, Foreign Ministry spokesman Vahan Hounanyan said on March 10. He did not disclose the details or the reasons for this decision, although in principle this move correlates with the attitude towards CSTO, which the Armenian ruling team has been demonstrating for a long time. It would be appropriate to recall how, for example, in early January, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that Armenia had refused to host the military exercise "Unbreakable Brotherhood-2023" of the CSTO Collective Rapid Reaction Force in its territory.
In practice, Yerevan's current decision means limiting Armenia's participation in the CSTO system, which also includes Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
The position of deputy secretary general of the CSTO is automatically held by representatives of member states. The secretary general himself is appointed alternately for a two-year term from each member country.
So, what is the new decision of the Armenian leadership aimed at? Is it some kind of indicative signal from Yerevan that it intends to continue its gradual, progressive movement toward withdrawal from this military bloc? And how might the other members of the CSTO react to this intention? After all, if Armenia eventually ceases to be a member of this organization, it may well raise the issue of the inexpediency of the presence of the Russian 102nd military base in Gyumri and the Russian border guards on its borders with Türkiye and Iran.
Prominent experts from the bloc's states shared their views on the matter with Caliber.Az.
According to political expert Askar Dzhakishev, Ph.D. in history and professor at the Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University (Bishkek), the news that Yerevan submitted a proposal to the CSTO to reject the quota of a deputy secretary general is a continuation of the Pashinyan government's policy towards the organization.
"Since Pashinyan became prime minister of Armenia, the country's leadership's relations with the CSTO have not been good. It was Yerevan that initiated this political cooling. Suffice it to recall the arrest of the CSTO general representative from Armenia, which was a cold shower for Moscow. Other high-ranking politicians loyal to Moscow were also arrested. Such steps by the new Armenian authorities were unpleasantly discordant with the policy of the previous Armenian leadership. It seems to me that the bad aftertaste left by Moscow and the CSTO leadership was reflected in their inarticulate steps during the last Azerbaijani-Armenian armed conflict. There was an impression that Moscow and the CSTO deliberately paused until a certain point, not intervening in the conflict in order to teach the Armenian leadership a lesson in international politeness.
Today, seeing that Moscow and the CSTO member states fail to achieve the steps desired by Yerevan, there is a trend towards the gradual replacement of the CSTO, the current guarantor of Armenian security, with the formation of a new security system with the help of Western countries, who have apparently promised the necessary support in case of Armenia's withdrawal from the CSTO and a break with Moscow. In this regard, downgrading Armenia's status in the CSTO is one of the first steps in this direction," believes the Kyrgyz analyst.
Igar Tyshkevich, an expert from Belarus and analyst at the Ukrainian Institute of the Future, said that Armenia's decision is evidence of two interrelated processes running in parallel.
"The first and the key one for Yerevan is either unjustified hopes or expectations from the CSTO membership. Taking into account the history of the recent war in Karabakh, Armenia expected more active participation and more active support from the member states of the bloc. But it did not. Moreover, most CSTO partners continued to cooperate with Azerbaijan. Finally, the events of the past few months suggest that there are some similarities between the tactical interests of Azerbaijan, partly Türkiye, and Russia, at least with regard to the issue of transport corridors in the Caucasus. It is therefore logical for Yerevan to outline its attitude in some way," he believes.
The second aspect is the overall CSTO crisis, which is primarily related to Russia's war against Ukraine, Tyshkevich said.
"The CSTO articles imply a certain level of responsibility and a particular reaction in case of aggression against one of the members of the organisation. Russia annexes part of the Ukrainian territories and thus, if recognised, creates risks of being dragged into war. Among other things, the war could spill over into the territory of the Russian Federation itself. That is why already today a significant part of the CSTO states are distancing themselves from more active participation in the organisation and from its further development.
In particular, Central Asia counts on alternative forms of collective security. That is, I want to recall the sharp strengthening of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, namely, its security structures in Central Asia, as well as the intention to reformat the Astana Security Conference into a regional organisation. Which is also important, and which is really a blow to the future of the CSTO," the expert said.
Thus, the CSTO itself is in crisis and is unable to respond to challenges at least as Armenia would like to. And on the other hand, Armenia has not received the necessary support from either the CSTO or the Russian Federation.
"Therefore, Yerevan's decision is, on the one hand, a demarche and an attempt to call for more active action, and on the other hand, a statement of fact.
Today, Yerevan is unlikely to press the issue of leaving the CSTO or disintegrating it, because that would mean creating additional points of tension. That is, Armenia will demonstrate its disagreement with the organisation's policy and minimise its participation, but will not work for its collapse. This also has to do with the Russian military base and the Russian Border Troops in Armenia. At the moment Yerevan has no one to replace them and no appropriate means to do so, and Armenia is politically almost in isolation if we take regional states. Therefore, for Yerevan, withdrawal from the CSTO is more likely to stretch over time, and the withdrawal of Russian troops may become relevant only after the end of the Russian-Ukrainian war," the Belarusian analyst summarised.
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