12.06.2022 Author: Vladimir Odintsov

Does Turkey Intend to Replace the CSTO in Central Asia?

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Today there are two large military blocs in the world – NATO and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which, aside from Russia, Belarus, and Armenia, includes Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan as full members. In addition to the members of the CSTO, it includes observer status nations, and Serbia has been such since 2003.

On June 6, at a meeting of the Council of the CSTO Parliamentary Assembly in the Armenian capital, Speaker of the Kyrgyz Parliament Talant Mamytov noted that the organization’s crisis response system is an essential component of its activities. At the same time, given the growing challenges and threats to security, including international terrorism, religious extremism, drug trafficking, and much more, Mamytov pointed to the need for member states to deepen interaction for a timely response. “It is necessary to concentrate the efforts of the CSTO not only on countering security challenges and threats, but also on eliminating the causes of their occurrence,” he underscored. Talant Mamytov suggested creating a full-fledged military-political structure based on the Collective Security Treaty Organization.

On June 7, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in an interview for the film “CSTO Allies – 30 Years Guarding Collective Security,” noted that it was no secret that NATO countries are wary of the growing importance and influence of the CSTO. Lavrov added that NATO is committing precisely those prohibited actions that its members had previously pledged not to do. Therefore, “the CSTO should act as a factor ensuring balance in the Euro-Atlantic region,” he stated. Along with promoting discussions about security in the region, the presence of the CSTO will become more significant, Lavrov concluded. “Now a heated discussion has begun on how to implement the decisions of OSCE summits on ensuring the indivisibility of security. This is one of the fundamental questions that we are raising,” Lavrov highlighted.

On May 16, a meeting of the heads of the CSTO countries was held in Moscow during which Russian President Vladimir Putin noted that NATO expansion is artificial, and said that the North Atlantic Alliance is going beyond its geographical purpose, and in this way is trying to influence other regions. The Russian president also noted that the CSTO plays a very important stabilizing role in the former USSR, and expressed the hope that the organization’s influence will only increase. Today, a number of countries, and not only in the former Soviet Union, are increasingly turning to the idea of joining the CSTO, which has sufficient capabilities to respond to the challenges that exist today in connection with the expansion of the North Atlantic Alliance. There is hence no need to increase its power bloc, said CSTO Secretary General Stanislav Zas on May 22.

Nevertheless, by various means the “collective West” continues to try to counter the influence of the CSTO, seeking to offer the members of this organization and the entire post-Soviet expanse “alternative opportunities to the CSTO” to protect their security. NATO is trying to turn one of its members, Turkey, into such a lever of primarily anti-Russian influence.

Having provoked an escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh, Ankara, at the behest of Brussels and Washington, has already tried to take an active role in resolving this conflict and, under Moscow’s forceful non-interference in its outcome, has tried to push through advertising a military alliance of the countries of the region with Ankara as opposed to membership in the CSTO. To promote its relevance in the region, Ankara sent investments and preachers to the post-Soviet space, as well as opened broad educational programs in the region. It even introduced such concepts as “Uzbek Turks,” “Tatar Turks,” and “Kyrgyz Turks” in the media. Turkey, against this backdrop, has consistently carried out the integration of the entire Turkic world around itself, creating the “Turkic Council” in 2009 which included all countries, except for closed Turkmenistan, with a predominant ethnic group.

In parallel with the spread of pan-Turkic ideas, Turkey contributed to the growth of homegrown nationalism in Central Asia. Ankara’s emissaries in particular used the desire for a new, post-Soviet self-identification of the republics, almost everywhere based on ethnic nationalism, which inevitably leads to Russophobia, and the introduction of the ideology of pan-Turkism only strengthened these sentiments, creating the illusion of a new community within a Turkic empire under the leadership of Turkey.

Turkey has chosen the sale of weapons to the countries of this region as one of the ways to gain a foothold in Central Asia. One must also not forget that in the modern world the concepts of “purchasing weapons” and “ensuring the defense capability of the state” have long passed into the political arena. A recent bulletin, The Military Balance, by the International Institute for Strategic Studies estimated that there are 220,000 military personnel in the Central Asian republics. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have the largest armies. And it is these republics that spend more on military needs than others in the region. Because the states of Central Asia, in fact, do not have a full-fledged military-industrial complex, they have to depend on foreign partners, leading to the sale of weapons to them as an element of politics.

In the hopes of using these features, Turkey in recent years has actively begun to try to gain ground in the arms market in Central Asia, and here Erdoğan’s idea of the “Great Turan” has been an excellent disguise. That is why Ankara has been developing military-technical cooperation with Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and other republics in recent months. In March 2022, Turkey signed a roadmap for military-technical cooperation with Kyrgyzstan, and in May, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev visited Ankara, where, among other things, military and technical agreements were signed.

But, if you remember history, Turkey, similarly to the Ottoman Empire, was created by Britain as a constant threat to Russia from the south. And now London and Washington are actively trying to use Turkey, as a member of NATO, to counter Russia, especially in the Central Asian region, through Erdoğan’s pushing the idea of the “Great Turan.” It was via the topic of arms sales that Ankara recently “tied” Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to it, taking advantage of the complicated relations between these two republics. Large arms purchases have recently been made by Kazakhstan. Not without the support of the Western-oriented regional media, there are talks about the need to create a united armed forces of the “Great Turan” that could automatically withdraw these countries from the CSTO. There are proposals to withdraw from the EAEU, including due to alleged fears of secondary sanctions from the West.

The West, encouraging Turkey’s arms contracts with the countries of Central Asia, clearly expects that, after the events in Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkey will be able to get Armenia out “from under the umbrella” of the CSTO. Similar developments are taking place in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, where the moods of certain sections of society, influenced by the West through NGOs, have become more and more pronounced, such as to reconsider their stance on the CSTO and move away from the Russian orbit.  With such a development of events, Washington, London, and Brussels hope for the emergence in the medium term of a “Central Asian NATO” under the wing of Ankara – a kind of new military alliance among Turkic countries, supposedly capable of radically changing the balance of power in the region, whose positions could be significantly strengthened if, under certain circumstances, Ankara and Baku create a “Union State” similar to the current link between Moscow and Minsk.

Yet, all these Western “wishes” are not destined to come true. Not only does Turkey itself no longer feel very comfortable in NATO, but at the same time, many of its formal allies in the alliance are now talking about the need to exclude it from the bloc. In addition, Turkey’s favorable contacts with Russia, which Ankara and the current Turkish leadership see as a more reliable partner than the West in economic, political and military terms, clearly restrain the actions of this country against Russia. And this is confirmed by the official statements made in recent days by President Erdoğan and many other Turkish politicians about their unwillingness to participate in the anti-Russian sanctions policy imposed by Washington or in any participation against Moscow in its special operation to denazify Ukraine.

Vladimir Odintsov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

 


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