Challenges and threats facing the world today, first and foremost linked with international terrorism, are forcing all the nations to increasingly concern themselves with issues of security and military cooperation with their partners.
Countries in South Asia and the Middle East where international terrorist units are particularly active pose an immediate and direct threat to the nations of Central Asia (CA), Russia and other former republics of the USSR. We are referring here, first and foremost, to Afghanistan, where a decades-long civil war has been raging and a substantial portion of the land is controlled by terrorist groups and other unlawful armed units.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) has been responsible for the security in most of the post-Soviet space for many years now. Parties to the Treaty on Collective Security signed the agreement in 1992. In accordance with this document, an act of aggression against any member state will be viewed as an act of aggression against all the nations that have signed it and will be retaliated against jointly. In 2002, the agreement laid the foundations for the CSTO. At present, the organization includes Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as its members.
These countries ensure constant readiness to repel any attacks together. Joint field training exercises (FTXs) are an important part of CSTO’s work. Up until 2017, armed forces of the CSTO member-states had held several military drills each year. It was then decided to combine these separate exercises involving different types of troops and units into one long multi-stage drill with a common narrative and under joint leadership. There is an opinion that because of this step forward entire military forces of the CSTO nations, and not just their select units, will be able to hone their skills under field conditions and learn to coordinate their movements better with the view of resolving global issues of strategic importance. These military drills were called “Combat Brotherhood”. They took place for the first time in the Russian Federation, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan from the beginning of October to the end of November 2017.
In accordance with the military training scenario, the CSTO contained and resolved an armed conflict in the Caucasus region and then staged a peace keeping operation. The last phase of Combat Brotherhood 2017 included drills involving CSTO’s Collective Rapid Deployment Forces (CRDF) in Tajikistan. They were especially focused on optimizing military personnel performance in battles under difficult conditions, i.e. in the mountains and deserts.
It is worth remembering that the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border is an area of particular interest both for the CSTO and for Afghan-based terrorists. It traverses mountains with rugged terrain, full of gorges and mountain passes, that can be used for the passage of unlawful armed units and contraband. That is why, the CSTO has been fortifying this border by any available means and staging field training exercises for its forces in the region.
More than 12,000 people from intelligence units, the CSTO CRDF, the CSTO Peacekeeping Forces, law enforcement units, and competent bodies for the elimination of consequences of emergency situations of the CSTO member-states took part in Combat Brotherhood 2017. Over 1,500 pieces of military equipment and approximately 100 aerial vehicles were part of the exercises.
The Combat Brotherhood 2018 drills were held in the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan from September to November 2018. The main aim was for the CSTO armed forces to once again rehearse military maneuvers as practice for combatting the terrorist threat. Aside from actual field exercises, there was also a training for command and control bodies, during which the CSTO military and political leadership had a chance to practice resolving possible conflicts using political approaches. The other stages of the drills focused on resolving issues by military means and on subsequent peace keeping operations in conflict zones. Military intelligence units, the Collective Air Force, the CSTO CRDF, the CSTO Peacekeeping Forces and others took part in the exercises.
The number of participants was equivalent to that in 2017. However, in 2018, noticeably more military (and also aviation) equipment was used.
The Combat Brotherhood 2019 FTXs were staged in Russia, Belarus and Tajikistan from 8 to 29 October 2019. Again the key goal was to prepare for battling international terrorism.
As in the previous years, several inter-related drills were held in the territories of various nations as part of Combat Brotherhood 2019. This year there were four FTXs: Echelon, Search, Interaction and Unbreakable Brotherhood.
On 9 October, the Echelon drill focusing on Material-Technical Support began in the Russian Federation. It included rehearsals of loading weapons and military equipment on rail transport and its transportation; procedures for crossing the state border, as well as organizing material-technical support during combat; establishing local fuel storage centers and ensuring fuel supply; maintaining and repairing military equipment under field conditions, and many other activities required for maintaining capabilities of armed forces.
From 14 to 18 October, the Search field training exercises were held in Belarus. The main goal of the drills was to create a single system of material-technical support for CSTO armed forces comprising troops of six member states. The training included transporting military intelligence troops to needed locations by land and by air; setting up ambushes; isolating terrorist outfits, and liberating communities. Skill levels of CSTO intelligence units gathering information via radio and electronic signals, aerial imagery or about engineering, artillery, nuclear, chemical and biological capabilities were also tested. Approximately 2,000 people took part in the event.
From 16 to 18 October, the Interaction drills took place in the Russian Federation. During these training exercises, the CSTO CRDF and border protection forces of the member-states trained to contain a border armed conflict. Interaction-2017 was held in Armenia, Interaction-2018 in Kyrgyzstan and Interaction-2019 in Russia. During the most recent exercise, according to the scenario, CSTO forces needed to contain a conflict in the collective security region in Eastern Europe. After gathering intelligence, the military personnel isolated a “given” border region, and subsequently eliminated the threat posed by “supposed” armed units. Around 3,000 people participated, including troops from all six CSTO member states and forces of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Emergency Situations (MChS). More than 300 pieces of equipment were used during the exercise.
From 21 to 29 October, the Unbreakable Brotherhood drills were held in Tajikistan. While Interaction exercises take place in various locations because they are aimed at preparing CSTO armed forces to stop conflicts in any area of their responsibility, Unbreakable Brotherhood is always staged in Tajikistan and its main goal is to counter any threats emanating from Afghanistan. As in 2018, the drills took place in the Harb-Maidon training ground, located 15 km from the Afghanistan–Tajikistan border. In accordance with the military training scenario, unlawful armed units from Afghanistan crossed the border and were confronted by Tajik border troops and military personnel from Russia’s 201st Military Base in Tajikistan. Afterwards, the CRDF conducted a counter-terrorism operation crushing the attackers. The final phase involved the CSTO Peacekeeping Forces responsible for post-conflict resolution and maintaining law and order in affected territories. More than 3,500 people and 600 pieces of equipment, including air support, were a part of the Unbreakable Brotherhood drills.
Unbreakable Brotherhood is an integrated training exercise involving all the CSTO member states and all types of troops. It helps the armed forces of the six allied nations to exchange knowledge and experience, maintain skill levels and become familiar with new technology. Hence, in 2019, there was a focus on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles and approaches to combatting such drones, including radio and electronic technology. Unbreakable Brotherhood improves capabilities of the entire CSTO as well as each member state, and showcases to the world how well-equipped, prepared and organized their armed forces are.
It is worth reminding our readers that although CSTO’s main exercises were combined into one in the form of Combat Brotherhood, the organization still conducts other trainings for its forces, as, for example, the anti-drug drills Thunder and other events that increase security in the post-Soviet space.
Dmitry Bokarev, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook“.