MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik)
The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) is gradually transforming itself into a full-blooded military set-up.
A key factor here has been the decision taken just now at the organization's Moscow summit to set up a collective rapid-response force to help bloc members to repulse aggression or in an emergency.
The strengthening of the CSTO has been one of Russia's main foreign policy successes in recent years. The process was a long and difficult one: the treaty, signed in 1992 following the collapse of the Soviet Union, remained on paper for a long time. It was not until 2000, when Russia began regaining its influence in Central Asia, that the treaty took on a life of its own. In 2002, an organization with a permanent structure was set up on the basis of the treaty. This was a time when Russia and the United States vied for a leading role in Central Asia, where the U.S. set up its bases after 2001 to supply NATO's troops in Afghanistan.
The rivalry ended with the U.S. pulling out of most Central Asian republics where it originally deployed its forces. The government of Kyrgyzstan has recently decided to scrap its agreement with the U.S. on the Manas Air Base. This step will make the Americans seek new supply routes for their troops in Afghanistan.
Current events show a strong desire on the part of CSTO member-countries and above all Russia to pursue an independent policy in this area, keeping third countries out. A collective rapid-response force will give the CSTO a quick tool, leaving no time for third parties to intervene.
The make-up of the force is not yet defined. Russia was expected to make the largest contribution - an airborne division and an assault landing brigade. Some sources say these are units deployed in Ivanovo and Ulyanovsk, that is to say, the 98th Guards Svir Airborne Division (Ivanovo) and the 31st Guards Independent Order of Kutuzov 2nd Class Assault Landing Brigade (Ulyanovsk). Kazakhstan was to provide a brigade and become the second largest contributor.
It has so far been decided that each participating country will contribute a battalion each. This is due, on the one hand, to fears that big-time players, Russia and Kazakhstan, and perhaps Belarus later, might wield too much clout, and on the other, to the insufficient economic strength of the other members to allow them to contribute more.
Still, even such a limited force can deal with a number of situations - above all the suppression of terrorist and radical movements at short notice. A larger force is better fitted to fighting organized gangs or regular armies, but the CSTO is not yet facing such threats.
The rapid-response force is a major but so far only one of the first steps toward creating a powerful military political organization. The bloc's future progress will depend on the ability of its member-countries to address the global crisis - without a workable economy it is impossible to build modern armed forces. In this context, Russia appears to play a much greater role and remain the undoubted CSTO economic leader despite the crisis.
Russia's ability to stay economically sound and act as a powerhouse for its partners will be central to its claims to leadership among former Soviet republics and to the future role of the CSTO as one of the tools of that leadership.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.