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Russia: the Kremlin’s collective security vision hits brick wall

17 giugno 2009

Da Eurasianet, di Sergei Blagov15 giugno

Russia’s desire to forge a new security infrastructure in Eurasia is running into problems.

A June 14 summit in Moscow of the Collective Security Treaty Organization devolved into a very awkward affair for the Kremlin, as the authoritarian-minded leader of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenka, boycotted the gathering, and Belarus and Uzbekistan opted not to sign a key agreement to create a rapid reaction force.

Lukashenka’s no-show was especially embarrassing for the Kremlin, as Belarus was supposed to assume the CSTO’s rotating presidency. With Belarus unwilling to accept the mantle of leadership, however, Moscow had to assume the title of provisional president. “In the absence of [our] Belarus partners, we decided to transfer temporary presidency to the Russian Federation, the host nation of the summit meeting,” Medvedev announced.

Belarussian officials also insisted that, under Article 12 of the CSTO Charter, the deal on the formation of the rapid-reaction force was illegitimate in the absence of unanimous approval by all six member states. Belarussian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Popov criticized Russia on June 14, complaining about statements made by “official representatives of one CSTO member state” that called upon other members to ignore Belarus’ boycott and approve the CSTO agreements anyway. Lukashenka’s decision to stay away from the Moscow meeting came after Russia slapped a ban on the import of Belarussian dairy products, citing health concerns. Popov on June 14 characterized the ban as “economic discrimination.”

Uzbek President Islam Karimov also tweaked Moscow by his refusal to join the rapid reaction force agreement. Tashkent, like Belarus, reportedly was discontent with Moscow’s unilateral attitude concerning the new troop formation. Earlier this spring, speculation mounted that Karimov would shun the summit, and that Tashkent might withdraw from the CSTO altogether. To the Kremlin’s satisfaction, the Uzbek leader announced in early June that he would be coming to Moscow. Now, though, Russian officials may be wishing he had simply stayed away.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev tried to put the best spin on the undesired turn of events. He indicated that the door remained open to Belarus and Uzbekistan to sign the rapid reaction accord at a later date. The Russian president also suggested Belarus was conflating bilateral and multilateral issues, adding that the multilateral format must not be held hostage to bilateral problems. He argued that milk disputes between Russia and Belarus remained a “technical issue” that could be resolved via bilateral consultations.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Foreign Ministry on June 15 defended the legitimacy of the rapid reaction force agreement, alleging that Minsk’s interpretation of the CSTO Charter was incorrect.

Pro-Kremlin analysts in Russia have predictably supported the Russian government’s decision to impose the dairy ban on Belarus in early June. They have also criticized Lukashenka, describing the Belarussian leader’s actions as blackmail. One analyst, Dmitry Orlov, the head of the Political and Economic Research Agency, suggested that Lukashenka’s boycott undermined Belarus’ own state interests.

But other Russian analysts questioned the wisdom of the Kremlin’s policies. Russia’s political elite seems to be pathologically incapable of honoring its commitments, suggested Vladislav Inozemtsev, head of the Center of Postindustrial Society Studies. “[Russia’s political supremo Vladimir] Putin is a petty businessman, seeking financial gains,” and it makes Russian policies unpredictable, Inozemtsev was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency on June 14.

Sergei Musiyenko, head of the ESOOM analytical center, argued that Russia’s milk ban was reminiscent of earlier bans on imports imposed on Georgia and Moldova. He also said that Russian economic pressure was unlikely to coerce Belarus into recognizing the independence of Georgia’s separatist territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

On June 15, another Russia-hosted international gathering, the Yekaterinburg summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, got off to an adventurous start. Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been expected to attend the gathering, as Iran is an observer nation in the SCO. But a mounting popular backlash against his attempt to rig Iran’s June 12 presidential election kept Ahmadinejad from flying to Yekaterinburg. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. He indicated that he would try to make it on June 16 to the summit, but with popular resistance to his administration steadily spreading, it remained uncertain whether Ahmadinejad could leave Tehran.

Editor’s Note: Sergei Blagov is a Moscow-based specialist in CIS political affairs.

Posted June 15, 2009 © Eurasianet

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