CSTO news conference (Part 1): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBqFAcJsKpw
The decision was made during a CSTO summit in Moscow, attended by the leaders and foreign ministers of the member-states: Russia, Belarus and five countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia – Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, the current chair of the group, said the decision was momentous. “I would like to emphasise the importance of this decision to establish rapid reaction forces. It’s aimed at strengthening the military capacity of our organisation.” Speaking at a media conference, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the new units “will not be less powerful than those of NATO”. He said: “the reason behind the creation of the collective forces of operative functioning is a considerable conflict potential which is accumulating in the CSTO zone”. Medvedev added that the force “should become an effective tool which would maintain security in the region”.
Up to now, the organisation has positioned itself as an important political and military alliance in the post-Soviet space. But other countries haven’t perceived it as such. In theory, the CSTO already has a collective force. But it doesn’t have a common command structure. Nor does it have a permanent home. However, the decision to create a truly collective force with a permanent location and a united command would propel the alliance to a new level. Earlier, Russian presidential aide Sergey Prikhodko said the new unit “might be used to rebuff military aggression, conduct special operations against international terrorism and violent manifestations of extremism, transnational organised crime and drugs trafficking, and also for the elimination of effects of natural and technogenic emergencies.” Under existing arrangements, Prikhodko said, each CSTO member-state had its own rapid reaction force that could be committed to action in case of the emergence of common threats. The global financial crisis was also talked about. Russia and four neighboring countries – allied in the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEc) – decided to give each other a helping hand to cope with the credit crunch.
“We're creating a fund of $10 billion. It will be like an air bag for those states whose situation becomes critical,” commented Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko.
This show of unity comes as Kyrgyzstan confirmed its decision to end the lease of the Manas air base by the U.S. military. Since 2001 it provided backup support for NATO troops in Afghanistan. But the once-warm welcome has chilled after incidents between locals and military personnel. There have been reports of fights with the local population. In one incident two women were run over in the capital Bishkek by a vehicle driven by a U.S. serviceman. In another, a Kyrgyz citizen was shot dead by an American soldier who escaped prosecution due to immunity enjoyed by the U.S. military at the base. Now Kyrgyzstan says the Americans have six months to pack up and leave.
“According to the terms of the agreement American soldiers have 180 days to fully withdraw from the base. The count begins from the moment we exchange formal documents with the U.S.,” Kyrgyzstan’s Security Council chairman Adakhan Madumarov said.
The forces, which Medvedev said “will be just as good as comparable NATO forces,” are expected to counter such threats as military aggression, terrorist activities, trans-border crimes and drug trafficking. More importantly, it will add a military dimension to the alliance, which so far has served mostly as a forum for consultations. The CSTO, a security group comprising Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, agreed in early February to form rapid reaction forces. The new forces will consist of large military units from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, RIA Novosti said. Those military units will be armed with modern compatible weapons and military hardware, said the Itar-Tass news agency. The document also includes a number of action plans for CSTO members to implement until 2012.
Two CSTO member states, Belarus and Uzbekistan, however, did not sign the document. Uzbekistan cited “some doubts” and Belarus, which was to assume the rotating CSTO presidency from Armenia did not attend the summit over Russia’s banning of dairy products from the country. The alliance’s presidency was transferred to Russia temporarily. Medvedev said he believes the two countries will eventually sign the agreement. In related news, Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian met with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov Sunday on the sidelines of the CSTO conference. The two met in “a warm and sincere atmosphere” after the conference for talks on deepening their bilateral relations, the Russian Foreign Ministry said, adding that they also discussed a “wide range of regional and international issues.”
In related news:
Russia and Belarus have signed an air defence treaty, boosting military co-operation between the two countries. The agreement was announced following talks between Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, and Alexander Lukashenko, his Belarussian counterpart, at the Kremlin in Moscow. The pact, which has been in negotiation for years, will create a joint force consisting of Russian and Belarussian air force squadrons, missile batteries and radar facilities. Speaking at the summit, which was also attended by Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minsiter, Medvedev said it would "significantly increase the defence capability of Russia and Belarus". Lukashenko said the creation of a joint air-defence field should be part of a package toward "deepening military-technical cooperation". Both nations have opposed Nato's expansion into former Soviet regions, and plans by the United States to create missile defence sites in Poland and the Czech Republic.
General Alexander Zelin, the Russian airforce chief, was quoted by local news agencies as saying that the deal would help Russia and Belarusia to strengthen the monitoring of their airspace. He said the system would include five air force units and 10 air defence missile units. Moscow has been a key sponsor of Belarus in the past, supplying the nation with cheap energy and loans. Belarus, which has been hit hard by the global financial crisis, secured a $2bn loan from Russia last year, and has requested another $3bn. But Lukashenko has also made efforts to improve relations with the West, and was approved for a $2.46bn loan from the International Monetary Fund in January.