- Kazakhstan, the oil-rich country of 19 million people, has seen mass unrest recently over the government’s decision to end subsidies on liquefied petroleum gas.
- The cost of LPG, which many Kazakhs use instead of petrol or diesel to run their cars, soon shot up, doubling in some places. Protests immediately spread around the vast country, snowballing from a specific grievance about fuel prices into broader demands for regime change.
- When things started going out of hand, Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, the country’s President, called on the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) for help. It is soldiers from this group that started storming into the nation to curb the protests which threatened the very existence of the regime that has ruled the Central Asian country since it became an independent republic in 1991.
What is the Collective Security Treaty Organisation?
- When the Cold War drew to a close in 1991, the Warsaw Pact, an alliance of eight socialist states, and the Soviet Union’s answer to NATO, dissolved. Less than a year later, Russia and five of its allies in the Commonwealth of Independent States, which was nothing but a loose club of post-Soviet countries, signed a new Collective Security Treaty, which came into force in 1994.
- Although it wasn’t as powerful as the Warsaw pact, in 2002, as Central Asia loomed larger in geopolitics — America had invaded Afghanistan the previous year — it declared itself the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a full-blown military alliance.
- Today it has six members: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan. Uzbekistan had quit the alliance in 2012.
- In the last decade, however, the CSTO’s ambitions have grown. In 2007, it agreed to create a 3,600-strong peacekeeping force and two years later, it established a rapid-reaction force comprising 20,000 elite personnel who are kept on high alert.
- The alliance has also held joint exercises, including a series of high-profile “anti-terrorism” drills last summer and autumn in response to the growing chaos in Afghanistan.
- The recent move of CSTO to help the Kazakhstan regime, though, was the first time that the organsation invoked Article 4, which is very similar to NATO’s Article 5.
- Article 5 of NATO states that an attack against one Ally is an attack against all, a promise of collective defence.
- Article 4 of CSTO Treaty states that if one of the States Parties is subjected to aggression by any state or group of states, then this will be considered as aggression against all States Parties to this Treaty.
- CSTO invoked Article 4 owing to the growing chaos in Kazakhstan as the President blamed foreign-trained “terrorist gangs” for the protests.
Russia’s growing influence
- For Russia, the CSTO is a useful tool to tighten its grip on Central Asia, against both Western and Chinese encroachments. It justifies Russian military facilities in member countries, while also giving Russia a veto over any other foreign bases in the region.
- In turn, the CSTO’s members benefit from cooperation with Russia’s advanced armed forces, including training and discounted arms sales.