Debate on Cooperation Between the UN and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)
Tomorrow (16 February), the Security Council will hold a debate on cooperation between the UN and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). UN Secretary-General António Guterres and CSTO Secretary-General Stanislav Zas are expected to brief. Russia, a founding member of the CSTO, is organising the debate as a signature event of its February presidency, and its Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov will chair the meeting. The remaining CSTO member states—Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan—have been invited to participate in the meeting under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.
Tomorrow’s debate will be the third meeting on the CSTO organised by Russia in recent years. On 28 October 2016, the Council held a debate on cooperation between the UN and the CSTO, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). On 25 September 2019, the Council held a ministerial-level debate on cooperation between the UN and regional and subregional organisations, with a focus on the role played by the CSTO, the SCO, and the CIS in countering terrorist threats. Each of these debates took place while Russia was Council president.
The CSTO originated from the Collective Security Treaty, which was signed on 15 May 1992 following the fall of the Soviet Union. According to the CSTO charter, its goals are “strengthening of peace, international and regional security and stability, protection of independence on a collective basis, territorial integrity and sovereignty of the member states”.
Moscow has circulated a background paper ahead of tomorrow’s debate. It describes the history and purpose of the CSTO and outlines the framework that governs cooperation between the UN and the CSTO, including the General Assembly’s biannual resolutions on UN and CSTO cooperation and the 18 March 2010 joint declaration on cooperation between the organisations’ respective secretariats. It further notes that UN-CSTO cooperation has been developing on several different tracks, including peacekeeping, counter-terrorism, and drug trafficking, and invites member states to “present their vision of ways to strengthen security in the greater Eurasian region using existing regional mechanisms such as CSTO”.
Council members are divided in relation to the CSTO. Some members—including the UK and the US—are apparently sceptical of the organisation’s motives and regard it as a vehicle for spreading Russian influence throughout the region. During the 28 October 2016 debate, for example, the US argued that “regional organisations are strongest when they reflect the goals and aspirations of all their members, rather than the dominance of a few” and said that organisations where “one or two states set the agenda” are not “truly regional”. Russia, on the other hand, is strongly supportive of the CSTO and regularly advocates for greater cooperation between the organisation and the UN. At the 28 October 2016 debate, Moscow described the CSTO as “truly vital” to the region and suggested that the UN and the CSTO should enhance their practical cooperation, particularly in relation to peacekeeping, combating organised crime and terrorism. These divisions may be reflected in Council members’ statements tomorrow.
The CSTO’s peacekeeping activities are expected to be discussed during tomorrow’s meeting. According to Russia’s background paper, the CSTO has been undertaking “intensive work” to develop its peacekeeping capacity with a view to contributing to UN peacekeeping operations. The paper says that the CSTO has appointed a special representative for peacekeeping and established a joint working group with the UN Department of Peace Operations (DPO) and the UN Department of Operational Support (DOS) to facilitate dialogue regarding potential CSTO contributions to UN peacekeeping operations. It also refers to the “peacekeeping role of the CSTO in stabilising the situation in [Kazakhstan] during terrorist attacks and armed riots in January 2022” and says that CSTO troops completed their mission in Kazakhstan on time and without incident.
In this context, Council members are likely to discuss the recent unrest in Kazakhstan. The anti-government protests, which were sparked by an increase in the price of liquified petroleum gas, began on 2 January in the western region of Mangystau and quickly spread throughout the country. Protesters reportedly targeted government buildings and key infrastructure in the former capital, Almaty, leading to a violent crackdown by local security forces and the resignation of Kazakh Prime Minister Askar Mamin and his cabinet on 5 January. Following a request from Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, CSTO peacekeepers were deployed to Kazakhstan on 6 January, the first deployment of its kind in CSTO history. More than 200 people were killed, thousands were injured, with thousands also arrested during the protests, which subsided by 11 January. CSTO troops completed their withdrawal from Kazakhstan on 19 January.
According to media reports, Tokayev has said that the CSTO contingent was responsible for guarding buildings and infrastructure and did not participate in the suppression of the protests. During a 10 January virtual meeting of the CSTO Collective Security Council, the organisation’s governing body, Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly said that the CSTO was able to “prevent the undermining of the foundations of the state, the complete degradation of the internal situation in Kazakhstan, and block terrorists, criminals, looters, and other criminal elements”.
In a resolution adopted on 20 January, the European Parliament condemned the “dramatic and continually deteriorating situation of human rights in Kazakhstan” and the “violations of fundamental freedoms and human rights committed by the Kazakh authorities against demonstrators”. The resolution also expressed regret regarding the loss of life during the protests and urged Kazakh authorities to abide by their international obligations. Some Council members may make similar statements during tomorrow’s meeting.
The debate will also provide an opportunity for Council members to discuss cooperation between the UN and regional organisations more generally. In this regard, some Council members are expected to highlight initiatives throughout the region by regional organisations other than the CSTO, including the EU and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
The work of the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA) is another likely topic of discussion tomorrow. According to the background paper, the CSTO has been working closely with the UNRCCA “to address the root causes of potential conflicts and to develop shared solutions to shared problems”. Council members may be interested in hearing more from Zas regarding this work. Members are also likely to commend the UNRCCA for its activities in the region pertaining to counter-terrorism, border demarcation, transboundary water management, and the women, peace and security agenda.
Divisions among Council members regarding the CSTO have hindered the Council’s ability to agree on products regarding the UNRCCA in recent years. Until early 2015, members issued a press statement following each biannual briefing on the UNRCCA’s work. In recent years, Russia, the penholder on the UNRCCA, has sought to add specific references to the CSTO, the CIS, and the SCO to the press statement. The P3 have opposed adding these references, and a press statement on the UNRCCA has not been issued since January 2018.
The role of regional organisations in Afghanistan is also expected to be discussed during tomorrow’s debate. The background paper notes that the CSTO is making an active contribution to threats emanating from the country, including through its working group on Afghanistan. On 18 October 2021, the CSTO undertook military drills involving over 5,000 troops near Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan. According to media reports, these drills were the largest military operation conducted on the Tajik-Afghan border in many years. At a 28 November 2021 summit of the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO)—a regional organisation established to promote sustainable economic development in Central Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia—leaders of ECO member states committed to providing aid to Afghanistan. Some Council members may refer to these developments in their statements tomorrow.