The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) came into being on May 15, 1992, its founding members being Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. They were joined in 1993 by Azerbaijan, Belarus and Georgia with the treaty fully coming into force on April 20, 1994, for a five-year period. When the agreement came up for renewal in 1999, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Uzbekistan declined.

 In an echo of the NATO treaty, the CSTO Article 4 states: “If one of the Member States undergoes aggression, it will be considered by the Member States as aggression to all the Member States of this Treaty… all the other Member States at the request of this Member State shall provide the latter with the necessary help, including military… in accordance with the right to collective defense pursuant to article 51 of the UN Charter.”


After having been in existence for almost 30 years, the CSTO deployed in support of one of its members, Kazakhstan, for the first time in January 2022. Faced with unprecedented political unrest in which more than 200 people had died, the Kazakh President, Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, requested the January intervention to counter what he described as a coup attempt backed by “foreign terrorists.”

Needless to say, there were no terrorists, and the Kazakh President’s call was simply to save himself and his regime from elements in his own government that were trying to oust him – and it is more than likely Moscow responded purely to preserve a government that was friendly towards Moscow. 

Approximately 2,500 troops, the majority being Russian, deployed along with 100 Armenian, 150 Kyrgyz, 200 Tajik, and 100 Belarussian troops. This was a purely symbolic presence which did raise questions about how this peacekeeping force could do what Kazakhstan’s 45,000 own regular forces couldn’t achieve.

Despite Putin reiterating the accusations that he had acted because there had been foreign involvement, intervening, in what was demonstrably a domestic crisis, this fueled speculation about how, when, where and under what circumstances the alliance might intervene next. They didn’t have to wait long for the answer.


On Feb. 24, 2022, less than seven weeks after the Kazakh intervention, Putin initiated the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and only Belarus, of the Kremlin's five partners in the bloc, has provided support to Russia.

Members of the CSTO were unhappy at the bloc’s inaction during deadly border violence and disputes. A decades-old border wrangle between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan boiled over in September 2022 when stone-throwing became exchanges of small arms fire and then artillery exchanges, resulting in over 100 people being killed or wounded.

In the same month fighting on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan broke out, during which about 300 troops were killed in around three months of fighting, fears of a full-scale war breaking out. Skirmishes between the two sides continued for several months more until a, hopefully secure, cease-fire agreement was signed in May. Then, more talks were held on the sidelines of the European Political Community meeting in Moldova in early June. The fact that the CSTO did nothing and it fell to the US and the European Union to broker a cease-fire did not go down well with other members of the bloc.


A further blow to CSTO unity had come in October 2022 when Kyrgyzstan abruptly canceled the planned military “Indestructible Brotherhood” exercise on its territory. That decision followed a surprise no-show by the Kyrgyz President, Sadyr Japarov, at a Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) meeting in St. Petersburg on October 7, Putin’s 70th birthday.

 Some Russian commentators said this was foolish and accused Japarov of “weighing up options as they observed how strong we [Russia] are and how we will achieve victory in the fight against Ukraine.” Kyrgyzstan’s behavior was a direct result of the border clash with Tajikistan with large sections of Kyrgyz social media, accusing Moscow of being complicit in the fighting.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked alarm in Kazakhstan in spite of the CSTO military intervention in January. The sense of threat for a country that shares a 7,644-kilometer border with Moscow has only been heightened by threats from hardline Russian politicians against Kazakhstan’s declared neutral stance in the war.


Following Moscow’s military mobilization in September 2022 and fears of a second round of conscription earlier this year, Astana held its own defense exercises in areas close to the border with Russia.

As the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan continued into early 2023, Armenia’s calls to the CSTO to intervene largely went unheeded, the bloc’s response is limited to a fact-finding mission and has effectively ruled out sending troops. As a result, the Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinian, had to field questions from his own media about whether, under pressure from an angry public, he might consider leaving the CSTO. His answer was: “I said the opposite: that there are fears the CSTO will withdraw from Armenia.” As late as June 1, Pashinin was saying in an interview with CNN that Yerevan remains Moscow’s ally, but he has made it clear to Russian authorities that Armenia “is not their ally in the war against Ukraine.”

Analysts believe that, in the absence of an alternative security umbrella and because of fears of what Russia might do, following its actions in Ukraine, the members of CSTO are likely to sit tight for the time being without “a real alternative for balancing out the negative consequences of that decision [to leave].”

With Russia’s invasion continuing to fail and with the belief that the Ukraine counteroffensive is about to start, those earlier cracks are already beginning to widen, with only Belarus still appearing to be totally loyal. In recognition of that loyalty, Russia has agreed to deploy tactical nuclear weapons there, the first time Russia has positioned the weapons outside of its own borders. The defense ministers of Russia and Belarus met in Minsk on Thursday, May 25 to sign the “nuclear sharing” documents which put the seal on the plan.


This led the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, to suggest, in an interview given on Sunday, May 28, that other countries could join the pact between Russia and Belarus, as a Union State, and if they did there would be “nuclear weapons for everyone.”

He then went on to aim his comments specifically at Kazakhstan “If someone is worried... I don’t think [President of Kazakhstan] Qasym Tokayev is worried about this, but if something suddenly happens, then no one minds Kazakhstan and other countries having the same close relations as we have with the Russian Federation."

 Whether or not this was Lukashenko ad-libbing or he had been prompted to do so by Putin is unclear, but the Kazakh President made it clear that he was not interested in such a union or acquiring nuclear weapons.


“One of these days, the President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko offered Kazakhstan to join the Union State,” the Kazakh president said.

“I appreciated his joke. I think that there is no need for this since there are other integration associations, first of all, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).”

He continued: “As for nuclear weapons, we don’t need them, since we have joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.”

Tokayev said that Kazakhstan remains “committed to our obligations under those international documents.

“I think that cooperation in this vast Eurasian region, or, as they say now, Greater Eurasia, should develop in the economic direction in which we are all interested. We need to create a real common market.”

A week or so later, the president of Kyrgyzstan, Sadyr Japarov, indicated further dissatisfaction with what Russia and the CSTO had to offer and the fact he was considering other options.

At a conference in Cholpon-Ata on Saturday June 3, which was attended by the EU Council President, Charles Michel, as well as the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, Japarov said that he was ready to work with the EU.

As discussed above, Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has resulted in Russia’s partners in the region to question their long-standing relationship with the Kremlin and to seek economic, diplomatic and strategic alternatives which global powers such as China and the European Union are only too happy to provide.

“Kyrgyzstan is ready to work hand in hand with the European Union to resolve shared problems, encourage dialogue and find lasting solutions,” President Japarov said.

In response, Michel said “We offer a sincere partnership” to the region’s five former Soviet republics.

Of particular interest was the potential for solar and hydroelectric power in Kyrgyzstan, a mountainous country where a number of the region’s main rivers rise and where Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are cooperating on plans to build the huge Kambarata-1 dam.

In spite of the tensions that have existed between the states of Central Asia, it seems that economic necessity rather than political orthodoxy is increasingly driving their actions.

Russia’s almost total focus is now on Ukraine and many of the concerns of those countries in the region are subordinated to Moscow’s aspirations or totally ignored. If Kyiv wins and Russia continues to fail then the cracks in the unity have the potential to become full-on breaches.

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