Three international military initiatives have been announced in the Kremlin over the past two days, one of them involving an important Central Asian air base used to support U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. These developments appear to represent an attempt to increase Russian influence in the Eurasia region.
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has announced agreement to create a rapid reaction force as part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, or CSTO.
Presidents of the member states: Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan - held a Kremlin summit in which Mr. Medvedev says they discussed mechanisms to confront what he called a wide range of challenges and threats.
The Russian president says all of the leaders agree on the necessity of adopting the appropriate decision, and agree to create a collective force.
New force will combat terrorism, crime
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan notes the new force will strengthen the CSTO's military component, although the new structure's announced purpose is to combat terrorism and international crime, including drug trafficking.
On Tuesday, President Medvedev and his visiting Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko, agreed to create a new joint air-defense system involving five air force and 10 missile units. But Russia's Kommersant business newspaper reports Mr. Lukashenko's agreement was conditioned by demands for Russian weapon subsidies and Russian orders from Belarusian defense industries.
In a separate meeting at the Kremlin Tuesday, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev said his country will close the U.S. air base near Bishkek that American forces have used supply military operations in Afghanistan following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. This was accompanied by an announcement that Russia will give Bishkek a $2 billion loan as well as a $150 million aid grant.
Kyrgyz National Security Council head Adakhan Madumarov says the United States would have 180 days to leave the air base after receiving official notification to do so. But the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek said in a statement it has not received any eviction notice.
Russia hopes to end US military presence in Bishkek
Independent Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer says Russia has long resented the U.S. presence in Central Asia and paid the Kyrgyz big money to drive the Americans out.
Felgenhauer says Moscow is pursuing its long-standing policy of consolidating the post-Soviet realm into a sphere of privileged interests. He says Russia is trying to turn the CSTO into a genuine military union and to squeeze out the Americans, so all [of these initiatives] are strategically linked.
But the reliability of Moscow's new partners is in doubt. Analysts point to the material incentives provided to gain Belarusian and Kyrgyz support, and also to Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon's last minute decision to visit Moscow, after he indicated he would stay away in what was seen as a bid to get more Russian financial support for his impoverished nation.
The Interfax news agency reports that Uzbekistan signed the rapid reaction force accord with unspecified reservations. Tashkent has strained relations with its CSTO neighbors.
Felgenhauer also questions how the new force will be used, noting that the constitution of Belarus prohibits foreign deployment of its military, and that the Central Asian nations today face no genuine military threats.