ALMATY -- A sense of unease has set in over Central Asia after Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to intervene in Belarus, and many in the region are beginning to question the objectives, risks and benefits of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) military bloc.
Putin Thursday (August 27) promised to send in a Russian security force if the post-vote situation in Belarus deteriorated further.
Demonstrators have flooded the streets of the former Soviet country daily, demanding the resignation of authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenka since he claimed a sixth term in disputed elections on August 9.
In a violent crackdown, Lukashenka dispatched his security services to disperse protesters, prompting accusations of torture and police violence.
"It won't be used unless the situation starts to get out of control," Putin said of the reserve force, unless "extremist elements ... begin setting fire to cars, houses and banks, begin seizing administrative buildings".
Putin's sabre-rattling aroused immediate criticism from countries around the world.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, for example, on Thursday called on the Kremlin not to meddle in the crisis engulfing Belarus.
"Belarus is a sovereign and independent state. And nobody, including Russia, should interfere there," Stoltenberg was quoted as telling Germany's Bild daily.
Such statements by Putin were undoubtedly reassuring to Lukashenka, who almost two weeks earlier cited Russian willingness to prop him up.
The Kremlin "will provide comprehensive assistance to ensure the security" of Belarus, said Lukashenka August 15, according to Belta, a Minsk news site.
"Therefore, today I had a long, detailed conversation with Russia's president about the situation. I must say, I was even somewhat surprised -- he is absolutely engrossed in what is happening," Lukashenka said.
The protest movement in Belarus has come at an awkward time for the Kremlin with Putin's own popularity sharply eroded as he faces a resolute and growing level of dissatisfaction among his once loyal political base.
Mass protests and arrests have been commonplace in Moscow and other parts of the country, with unprecedented protests occurring now in eastern Russia.
Many observers see Putin and his regime in a panic as they fear the protests spreading further in Russia.
The attempted assassination of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny earlier this month is another sign of how seriously the Kremlin is taking the Belarus crisis.
Moscow also has major military interests in Belarus with the presence of two strategically vital Russian military facilities.
"The first site is a tracking station that can detect, at a distance of 5,000km, any missiles flying toward Russia," Moscow journalist Maksim Shevchenko said in an interview with radio station Ekho Moskvy.
"The second is the naval base situated near Minsk, which enables communication with all Russian nuclear submarines," Shevchenko said, referring to the Russian navy's 43rd Communications Centre.
The Kremlin will do whatever it can to prevent having another state hostile to Russia, similar to Ukraine, emerge in Belarus, said Shevchenko.
Questioning the CSTO alliance
The spectre of the CSTO crushing Belarusian demonstrations has raised many questions among analysts in Central Asia.
The CSTO military alliance is comprised of six ex-Soviet states -- Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Belarus and Armenia.
The main principles of the alliance are that signatories may not join other military alliances, while aggression against one signatory would be perceived as aggression against all.
"As for the military component, we have an agreement with the Russian Federation as part of the Union State and of the CSTO. These are precisely the issues that fit this agreement," Lukashenka said in his August 15 remarks quoted by Belta, referring to the deployment of foreign troops to Belarus.
The Kremlin regularly uses the CSTO to implement its strategic goals, according to Michael Andersen, a Danish journalist living in Kyiv who has covered events in post-Soviet countries for 20 years.
In particular, he suspects that the Kremlin is installing anti-missile systems in Central Asian countries for its own political reasons and not to "ensure the military security of CSTO countries", as Moscow claims.
The CSTO artificially "creates" threats to the security of its member states and, in events like those in Belarus, tries to find supposedly guilty parties, usually Western countries, said Orozbek Moldaliyev, a Bishkek-based political scientist and former director of Kyrgyzstan's State Commission on Religious Affairs.
Decisions to provide CSTO military support to a member country come only if doing so benefits the Russian regime, he said, citing Moscow's actions amid the Kyrgyz Revolution of 2010.
"During the bloody events in Osh in 2010, our authorities asked Moscow for support -- one helicopter to observe the situation from the air and a couple of armoured personnel carriers to break through the barricades on the streets of Osh. But then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev refused to help the Kyrgyz authorities," Moldaliyev said.
Kyrgyzstan, despite its membership in the CSTO, was forced to rely on its own forces alone, he said.
It is very doubtful that Kyrgyz soldiers will go to Belarus to support Lukashenka, he added.
"Everyone knows that Lukashenka rigged the elections. Batka [Lukashenka] made his bed; now let him lie in it," Moldaliyev said.
Other analysts are urging their countries to avoid meddling in Belarus.
Kazakhstan must not interfere in the affairs of Belarus, where the people are striving for freedom and opposing an authoritarian usurper of power, said Gaziz Abishev of Nur-Sultan, a political scientist and former adviser to the Kazakh vice minister for investment and development.
Central Asian countries' participation in the CSTO could spoil relations with friendly states, according to Almaty-based political scientist Islam Kurayev.
After military exercises by Turkey and Azerbaijan near Armenia's borders, the CSTO began conducting its own exercises in Astrakhan Province, Russia, near Azerbaijan's border, he said on his Facebook page.
"The exercises look like Russia flexing its muscles in front of Turkey and Azerbaijan, and we [Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Tajik troops], in turn, will confront our brothers," Kurayev said.
"This act will be very wrong. It is best to refrain from participating in such activities," he wrote.
Putin is already afraid of interfering in Belarusian domestic affairs.Reply
Is the author of this rubbish an expert, I wonder? Only in lying... Also, in whipping up and inciting strifeReply
They are doing what they were paid for...Reply
"G.N. Potanin, an explorer of the Kazakh steppe, wrote in one of his works: "A Siberian Russian-Cossack detachment forayed the Kazakh steppe to sell captured slaves in Irbit. In November 1743, two hundred eighty Cossacks led by their sotnik [lieutenant] Dorokhov made an armed incursion into the Kazakh steppe capturing 42 men who they sold into slavery and also seizing 812 cattle." The second fact: "Acquiring Kazakh girls as maids went on till mid-19th century. The Kazakh Slave Price-list (as of 1737): • A 40-year-old woman - 12 rubles; • A 30-year-old man and wife - 1 horse, 1 foal and 16 rubles; • A 16-year-old man - 12 rubles; • A 20-year-old man - 15 rubles. A horse cost 91.5 kopeks at the time. The third fact: "A Czar decree stipulated in 1808: "All free citizens are allowed to exchange and sell children of the Kyrgyz in the following cases: 1. If they reach 25 years of age 2. If the exchanging or selling party notifies the Border Commission of Orenburg about it 3. Any buyer can hand over their prisoner to others at will."Reply
Belarusians have already woken up; they won't let filthy Putler and impoverished Russia dictate their terms.Reply
We just need to leave this useless Customs Union and harmful CSTO. They will always remain excuses for Russia to meddle in someone else's business.Reply
NO ONE IS SCARED IN CENTRAL ASIA. KAZAKHSTAN IS SCARED, EVEN THOUGH RUSSIA DOESN'T CARE ABOUT KAZAKHS AND THEIR LANDS. THEY SHOULD BE WARY OF THE CHINESE, BUT THEY ARE FRIENDS WITH THEM, WHATEVER THE REASON MAY BE.Reply
Because China is much better than Russia; hey Russia, take a hike and so long.Reply
Northern Kazakhstan is Russian land. You Kazakhs will return these lands to Russians sooner or laterReply
Russian land is marshy land around Moscow. Everything else is not Russian and will secede from Russia sooner or later.Reply
"Saratov" is "sary tau" meaning "Yellow Mountain"Reply
We don't need the CSTO. Russia wants to exploit us. We should not be slaves to the Russians.Reply
The CSTO will intervene if Belarus is attacked by an outsider. Internal protests in Belarus are their own business.Reply
C. A. countries Turkey Azerbaijan should have united long before and formed military and economic union such as NATO. We must educate our military personnel in influential Western, Turkey and Israel military academies, we must shift to NATO standards and form professional army. We must not forget even for a split second that imperialist countries like Russia in North, China in East watching our lands. We must keep the the fate of Uighur brothers in front of eyes.Reply
We do not have any other means my friendReply
I agree entirely. It is necessary to establish a union of Turkic countries. And it's underway already.Reply
What does the CSTO have to do with it? Russia and Belarus form a united state. They laid out all the necessary actions that should be taken if they run into any domestic problems. And the CSTO is to delineate national borders. Don't get antsy, Asia, no one is encroaching upon your sovereignty. Russia has its hands full with its own problems; on top of that, Russia provides jobs for your citizens. Appreciate what you have; don't blow things out of proportion.Reply
Russia has been, and will be, an empire whether regardless of whether you like it or not. And these souvenir countries - the former Soviet republics - are Russian satellites. Of course, Nazis and misfits in these souvenir states don't like Russia at all; that's Nazis and misfits for you. They have always existed under any regime. And they are the vast minority; so disregard those morons. All the souvenir states have a multi-vector foreign policy, just in case you had not noticed (in other words, that is essentially prostitution). They are trying to put their fingers in every pie. And little do they know that their haunches might not be wide enough to do that. That's what we see in the case of Grygorievich [Alexander Lukashenko]. All of them will have to figure out exactly what their "multiple vectors" are very soon.Reply
Bullshit from political analysts.Reply
The Russians already want to poke their long, runny noses into Belarus.Reply
Not everyone, but only those that have access can receive handouts, hoping to jump on a gravy train under the Throne: impoverished, hungry, homeless, jobless. It's the overwhelming majority in Ruthenia - they are the reserve pool and base of everyday slavery.Reply
Russia protects Belarus from the Americans, their sycophants, those sellout demonstrators; and chaos. Anglo-Saxons have made such a mess in Ukraine already. They will soon reach Kazakhstan.Reply
Kazakhstan is independent from RussiaReply
You've been, and will be, dependent all your lives. If not on Russia, then on the Americans, Anglo-Saxons, or the Chinese. They will quickly subdue anyone.Reply
Definitely independent - until help is needed.Reply
Russia is a dependent resource colony of the West.Reply