ALMATY -- Residents of some Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) member states are raising concerns that their countries could be drawn into Russia's military escalation along the border of Ukraine.
Russia has massed more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine's borders, and Western leaders have warned that any incursion into the ex-Soviet nation would be met with "severe consequences".
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday (February 16) said Russia's military build-up seemed to be continuing around Ukraine despite Moscow announcing the pullback of some forces.
"We have heard the signs from Moscow about readiness to continue diplomatic efforts, but so far, we have not seen any de-escalation on the ground," Stoltenberg said ahead of a meeting of NATO defence ministers.
"On the contrary, it appears that Russia continues their military build-up," he said.
Western leaders have been shuttling to Moscow in an effort to keep the lines of communication open, giving Russia a chance to air its grievances about NATO's expansion into Eastern Europe and ex-Soviet states.
Russia is trying to secure written guarantees that NATO will withdraw its presence from Eastern Europe and never expand into Ukraine.
The United States and NATO have officially rejected Russia's demands.
Meanwhile, CSTO officials have suggested that the organisation could play a role in a potential conflict.
NATO endangers all CSTO members, CSTO secretary general Stanislav Zas claimed in an interview with Belarusian TV station ONT on January 23.
"The militarisation of Eastern Europe near the CSTO's western borders -- the intensification of military activity on these borders -- doesn't contribute to improving the security of all our countries," Zas said.
The Russian-led CSTO includes six former Soviet republics: Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Belarus and Armenia.
'This isn't our war'
"Russia's problems with NATO are Russia's problems with NATO -- they are not our concern," said Osmon Kangeldiyev of Bishkek, an activist in Kyrgyzstan's Reform political party.
"This is about Russia's purely geopolitical interests, which we aren't obligated to defend even though we belong to the CSTO," he said.
As it is, Kyrgyzstan has limited resources, so Kyrgyz soldiers need to defend their own country, not Russia, he added.
Scepticism toward the CSTO has prevailed in the Zhogorku Kenesh, the Kyrgyz parliament, after the organisation ignored a conflict on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border in spring 2021.
At the time, Kyrgyz deputies wondered whether Kyrgyzstan's membership in the CSTO was justified.
"The CSTO paid no attention when one country openly attacked another. Why then did we join the CSTO?" asked Kyrgyz member of parliament Aybek Osmonov.
In Kazakhstan, too, there is widespread aversion to the possibility of the country being dragged into Russia's conflict with the West.
Aziza Ryspayeva, a math teacher in Almaty whose 19-year-old son is doing compulsory military service, said she would not allow him to deploy in response to a summons by the CSTO.
"So my son can risk his life for another country's interests? No thanks," she told Caravanserai.
Russia can deal with external threats itself and should not embroil service members from Kazakhstan or the other CSTO member states in its campaigns, agreed Askhat Ustemirov, an army lieutenant living in Nur-Sultan.
"This isn't our war," he told Caravanserai.
Ustemirov expressed doubt that Moscow would pull the CSTO into conflict with Ukraine, but he acknowledged that the Kremlin could pressure Nur-Sultan and gain reciprocal political support in return for the military help it provided through the CSTO in January to stabilise Kazakhstan.
"Putin views Kazakhstan as his debtor," Ustemirov said.