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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A New Military Union?

Up until recently many were inclined to look at Boris Yeltsin's appeal to the leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States as just another move in the internal political battle. But the fact that these leaders have now met in Minsk shows that it is more.

Although the main theme of the discussions is supposed to be the formation of an economic council, the participants in the meeting cannot ignore the question of a collective security pact, an idea put forth by Yeltsin. The more so since Belarus has decided to join the existing collective security pact, after a dramatic vote in the parliament.

Having announced that it was time to create an effective security system within the CIS, Boris Yeltsin, in effect, seriously changed the focus of Russia's military policy and her diplomatic dealings with the former republics.

From the moment the Soviet Army collapsed, it was obvious that the armed forces in the Commonwealth states needed some form of joint organization. and not only to economize by having centralized deliveries and common standards. First and foremost, to avoid any misunderstanding that could develop into a conflict. Up until recently, Moscow saw the answer to this in the creation of a military union, which would include all of the former Soviet republics.

If we look at the problem from a purely practical point of view, the formation of a military union would indeed be the most rational solution to the problem. The deployment of the former Soviet army troops was based on confrontation with a foreign enemy, not on administrative borders of the republics. As a result, the tank unit has ended up in the army of one state, while the air division that was supposed to provide it with air support now belongs to another army.

So a military union between two neighboring states would allow the retention of the military capabilities of these combined units, and would relieve the individual states from the need to create parallel structures. Specialists think that it would be rational for Russia and all of the republics in the Caucasus to have a unified air defense system.

But, as often happens, concrete policy contradicts expediency. Many of the potential members of such a military union have much too tense a relationship with each other. Other states of the CIS do not want to take any military obligations at all on themselves. So Ukraine and Belarus announced their neutrality. As a result of this, only Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan originally signed the treaty on collective security.

These countries have not yet ratified the treaty. Its provisions demand much more interaction and trust among the states than exists today. If this treaty went into effect now, Yerevan would have the right to demand that its allies aid it in the war with Azerbaijan.

On the other hand, this treaty makes it more likely that Russia would take upon itself the sole responsibility for security on the southern borders of the former Soviet Union. Thus it would be fulfilling tasks that are in the interests of the European states of the Commonwealth that do not intend to sign the treaty. After all, the military union of Russia with the Asian republics protects Ukraine and Belarus from any consequences of conflicts in the southern republics.

And, finally, the idea of a military union is not too appropriate for the current military and political situation in the CIS. A military bloc of states is created to counteract an external threat. Its structure and organization are determined by the type of threat that the member states are trying to repel. It is impossible to say that there are no such threats for the CIS. But the main danger for the commonwealth is within. Karabakh, Pridnestrovye, Tajikistan, Ossetia, Ingushetia, Abkhazia -- and all other "hot spots" in the former Soviet Union. There is no guarantee that new ones will not arise.

To this must be added the serious mistrust and even fear that some states have for each other. In order to minimize these dangers, to stamp out the fires of conflict, to quiet the mutual suspicions, the creation of a system of collective security seems to me to be more productive than the creation of yet another Euro-Asian military bloc.

Skeptics will note that there is not much sense in yet another security system. The states of the CIS are already members of the Council on Security and Cooperation in Europe, to which all republics of the former Soviet Union were admitted without regard to geography. The CSCE explained this at the time by saying that they wished to avoid conflicts within the CIS.

Unfortunately, this did not bring results. But is the security system at fault? After all, the structure of the CSCE was directed from the very beginning at preventing a military conflict between the East and the West.

There is still no structure which could develop and implement measures to end ethnic and other regional conflicts. and this will not be easy. It will be especially difficult, in my opinion, to work out rules by which peacekeeping forces could be organized, and according to which they could operate. It will also be difficult to determine the role of Russia in all of this.

On one side, only Russia has the capability of forming peacekeeping forces. On the other, if Moscow takes upon itself the main role in the future security system, it might be suspected of trying to assume the role of a colonialist power. All of these are very difficult problems. There is no such system in the world. But the fact that this idea has a future is borne out by the attention it has merited from leaders of the CIS.

Alexander Golz is a political observer for Krasnaya Zvezda