All the members of the organization are well aware of that, but they are in no hurry to throw away the explosive “suitcase without a handle”: it would be too dangerous.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) is squeamishly referred to by many in Armenia, a member of the organization along with Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, as a “dump”, rallying for leaving it as well as for a “strategic revision” of the international treaty framework with Russia. Nevertheless, the Armenian capital hosted the summit of this “dump” yesterday with zealous claims concerning Azerbaijan and demands of its strong support in the confrontation with Baku. The officials it received, by the way, were not exactly “trash”, but the most influential people of Russia and the CSTO: President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, CSTO Secretary General Stanislav Zas. Not to mention the presidents of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
The protests were accompanied by slogans “Putin is a murderer!”, “Russia is our enemy!”, “Russia, get out of Armenia!”, and so on.
It is possible that the country’s authorities had a hand in organizing this disgraceful show, shaking with the same hand the hands of the arriving dignitaries, who would decide to what extent they would help Armenia, and whether they would help it at all in the latter’s understanding. The current “understanding” is that the CSTO and Russia are not Armenia’s allies, they do not fulfill their obligations, i.e., they do not protect it from the Azerbaijani “aggression”, they are being stingy and won’t supply Armenians with sufficient quantity and variety of weapons. But they must do this without any reference to their Charter and to Azerbaijan. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan already publicly says that the CSTO is a failed organization, and that Yerevan is looking for new allies in the West. The problem is that he finds them only in the form of verbal support and promises, but hope, however slim, as we know, springs eternal.
Pashinyan and Co. were set against the CSTO and Russia from the beginning, openly discrediting the bloc and Moscow, but there was nowhere else to go: if not for Moscow’s intervention, there would probably be no issue of the existence of “Artsakh” as it is now. And maybe not in 44 days but in twice as long, but Azerbaijan would have recovered all its lands with dangerous consequences for the Armenian statehood itself. Those who held a parallel rally in Yerevan for supporters of Armenian-Russian cooperation probably understand this: on the Victory Bridge, when Putin’s motorcade was crossing it, and further along its long route, people greeted the Russian president with posters “Together” and “Welcome!”.
The internal split in Armenia over the CSTO and relations with Russia has gone very far (as they say and write in Yerevan). Namely, it is alleged that the relevant Armenian agencies handed over to the West the CSTO technical documentation concerning military planning and the collective air defense system, the specifications of the new weapons systems received from Russia. It is hard to say how reliable this information is. But there is no doubt that Yerevan had access to sensitive CSTO information, including that pertaining to the CSTO itself. However, the bloc and the Russian Federation are not that naïve: keeping in mind Armenia’s behavior with respect to the organization in general and Russia in particular and Armenia’s flirting with the West, it is unlikely that Armenia had top-secret sensational information unknown to the enemy’s military.
The Armenian authorities cannot forgive the fact that a non-member Azerbaijan is a closer and friendlier partner to the CSTO states than Armenia. Take for example the recent advice President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko gave to Pashinyan: “You demanded that we make our position [on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict] clear. Don’t you know our position by now? We want the conflict between the neighboring states to be resolved peacefully. The second item was Armenia’s request to the CSTO to make a roadmap to restore its territorial integrity. What kind of a roadmap? I can answer this straight away: sit down with Ilham Aliyev, and, if necessary, ask the President of Russia to help you. And make a decision! If you don’t make a decision today, it will get worse. We don’t need this conflict!”
Indeed, who among the CSTO members will go against Azerbaijan and confirm that it has “seized” Armenian territory? Prior to the summit, the Vice-Speaker of the Federation Council Konstantin Kosachev said in a conversation with Argumenty i Fakty that the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is not within the competence of the CSTO.
“To support only one side in this conflict,” he said, “would be to exacerbate it. We must take the position of peaceful settlement and help to make the terms of that settlement acceptable to all parties.”
But back to the multi-act event in Yerevan. According to official information, the CSTO Collective Security Council discussed current problems of international and regional security. One of the most important issues is the improvement of the CSTO crisis response system and discussion of joint assistance measures for Armenia. The session of the Collective Security Council (CSC) was chaired by Pashinyan and attended by Putin, Lukashenko, the presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, as well as Stanislav Zas. As it became known the day before, Imangali Tasmagambetov of Kazakhstan will replace the latter as Secretary General by rotation at the start of next year.
At the Collective Security Council session, Pashinyan said that the date marked two anniversaries for the CSTO this year: the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Collective Security Treaty and the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the CSTO. Nevertheless, “… the mood here is, unfortunately, by no means celebratory.” Because, he explained, during the last two years, a CSTO member country, that is, Armenia, has been exposed to Azerbaijan’s “aggression” at least three times, and the organization did not contain that “aggression”. He stressed that this caused a great damage to the image of the organization both inside and outside the country. He did, however, credit the organization with its prompt response to the January events in Kazakhstan: “In this case, we resolved the issue overnight, which allowed Kazakhstan to avoid domestic chaos.”
Putin expressed hope that a peace treaty would be signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan, noting that the October summit of the leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia in Sochi laid a good foundation for future compromises on issues of principle. According to him, only the consistent implementation of the trilateral agreements reached in 2020 and 2021 on the matters of delimitation of the border, the unblocking of transport communications, the solving of humanitarian problems will help achieve normalization of relations between Baku and Yerevan. But no timeframe for the signing of the treaty was mentioned.
Lukashenko criticized the involvement of mediators in the settlement of the conflict, such as the European Union and the OSCE, when there is Russia to turn to. In his opinion, with Western mediation the conflict will be frozen again for many years: “They don’t need stability and peace in our region, they need devastation controlled by them.” Lukashenko is convinced that “…the conflict situation on the border of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is of the same kind.”
But back to the president of the Russian Federation, who, along with his Belarusian counterpart, apparently set the tone of the entire summit. He acknowledged the existence of problems in the CSTO, but at the same time emphasized that the bloc helps protect the sovereignty of the member countries. He said the presidents would discuss the problems in detail “without any cameras”. One can only guess what they talked about without witnesses: after all, no need to wash dirty linen in public and make ill-wishers happy.
The Russian leader also noted the work continued to improve the collective rapid deployment and rapid response forces, the collective air and peacekeeping forces. According to him, measures to maintain their combat readiness are carried out regularly. He believes that the effectiveness of these measures “was confirmed by the CSTO peacekeeping operation in Kazakhstan in January, which helped prevent extremists from seizing power and stabilize the political situation in the republic.” Now this can be regarded as rubbing salt into Pashinyan’s wound. Putin also voiced support for the decision to equip the CSTO peacekeeping forces with modern weaponry, military and special-purpose vehicles and equipment. He talked about the improvement of the CSTO communication system, joint formation of chemical, biological protection and medical support, functioning of the unified system of technical coverage of railroads within the organization. Putin also mentioned the expansion of military-technical cooperation among the CSTO member states, interaction among intelligence services and law enforcement agencies in the fight against extremism, terrorism, transnational crime, drug trafficking, etc.
Here is where Pashinyan should start thinking whether it is worth “poking the bear” as zealously as Armenia does, when he has no real alternative to ensure at least some security. Would it not be more reasonable to get something rather than nothing? He did fail to achieve his goal: the document on assistance for Armenia was not adopted at the summit. According to Zas, the document on the assistance is “at a high level of readiness” but needs to be revised.
But as it turned out, Pashinyan himself refused to sign the declaration of the Collective Security Council under the pretext that Yerevan proposes accelerating the political and diplomatic work with Azerbaijan on the issue of “the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Azerbaijani troops from the sovereign territory of the Republic of Armenia to their starting positions as of May 11, 2021”. Hiding behind a vague reasoning about the absence of a clear political assessment of the situation on the part of the CSTO, as well as the fact that it can be misunderstood by the Azerbaijani leadership, Nikol Pashinyan said the following: “… considering this … I believe that the documents of the Declaration of the Collective Security Council of the CSTO and joint assistance measures for the Republic of Armenia, submitted for signing, are underdeveloped and I am not willing to sign these documents in their current form” (statement disseminated by the press service of the government of the Republic of Armenia—Author’s note). No wonder Lukashenko, greeting Pashinyan, asked why he looked so “gloomy”: apparently, the Prime Minister of Armenia knew how things would end up through the “fault” of the CSTO or his own.
Following the Yerevan event, the organization adopted 15 decisions and two documents were sent back for revision, including the aforementioned one on assistance for Armenia. Lukashenko added that “the Armenian friends proposed two amendments, but it was decided not to adopt them today, … we decided not to go deep.” That is, take it any way you want; but it is more likely that Pashinyan demanded too much in defense of and assistance for Armenia, perhaps something beyond the competence of the CSTO and incompatible with the relations of the member states with Azerbaijan, as well as with the current and medium-term geopolitical context.
In short, many things were discussed at the official meetings in Yerevan, as well as on the sidelines, but nothing groundbreaking happened, unless it happened behind the scenes. Obviously, the CSTO members discussed the situation around the relations between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan (which, everyone acknowledges, is alarming), and the war in Ukraine. But that is a topic for a separate discussion. We will only quote Lukashenko’s opinion here, because it is directly related to the CSTO: “This theory has been circulating in the media recently: the fate of the CSTO depends on the operation of the Russian Federation in Ukraine. If Russia wins, the CSTO will live; if, God forbid, it does not win, the CSTO will cease to exist. And many hotheads in our countries, too, have begun to discuss this problem. … We have come to a consensus: if, God forbid, Russia collapses, then our place is under those ruins.” However, he added, in a more optimistic tone, “we have no intention of leaving the political and military-political arena. The CSTO will continue to exist and no one and nothing will collapse. But we need unity.”
Speaking of unity, Pashinyan’s behavioral model—volatile and offering no guarantees of anything—has prompted the question of whether Armenia will stay in the CSTO. According to RIA Novosti, Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for the Russian president, responded, “It will.” He is probably right. But it is also obvious that Armenia, under its current leadership, cannot be considered an outpost of Russia and the CSTO in the South Caucasus. It is simply using the opportunities Moscow, CSTO and EEU offer it, trying to squeeze more out of them than it is entitled to. But the Kremlin and both these organizations are not known for the naivety Yerevan wishes for.
The bottom line? Pashinyan has effectively allowed his team to spit upon the CSTO and Russia, putting a minus in his foreign policy “ledger”, because this will not be forgotten or forgiven. And, interestingly, it is unlikely to be appreciated in the West: defectors are used, but not respected. Second: the fact that Pashinyan is playing many cards (arms supplies from India, which are still not there, French peacekeepers, who are not there either, the same with US arms aid and Iran’s assistance, etc.) puts more minuses in that ledger. Meanwhile, tensions, to put it mildly, continue on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
This is it. Armenia has two ways out: not to stall the peace treaty with Azerbaijan and to do it directly; to stop badmouthing Russia and its CSTO allies. They could still be of use to Yerevan: don’t bite the hand that feeds you…
Tranlated from Minval.az