President Vladimir Putin's firm and unwavering challenge to the Biden administration to prevent Ukraine from being welcomed with open arms by NATO is a casus belli for Russia. But it is also a casus belli for the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a Moscow-led military alliance that has existed for almost 30 years but is unknown to the vast majority of Spaniards and citizens of the world.
It cannot be said to be an organisation directly antagonistic to the Atlantic Alliance, nor can it be said that its military potential is comparable to the Euro-American defence structure led by the United States. But the strategic importance of the Collective Security Treaty cannot be overlooked, as it dates back to 15 May 1992, when it was signed in the capital of Uzbekistan and is therefore also known as the Tashkent Pact.
The signing of the Treaty, which was initially joined by the republics of Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan - and shortly afterwards by Azerbaijan, Belarus and Georgia - was an emergency solution. It was found by then Russian President Boris Yeltsin in response to the self-dissolution on 1 July 1991 of the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance of May 1955, better known as the Warsaw Pact, the escape from the Soviet clutches of East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and Romania.
With the new treaty, the extroverted Russian leader, one of the architects of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the independence of its 15 republics, secured an alliance of nations in the hands of former communist leaders, guaranteeing them their continued power, as has been the case in most cases. At the same time, Yeltsin was shoring up part of the Greater Russia arms and consumer goods market. But soon after the signing, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Uzbekistan left the coalition.
The Alliance's consolidation came in October 2002 with the creation of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). Its entry into force on 18 September 2003 gave life to the Russian-led armed wing of the Euro-Asian pact, whose content bears many similarities to the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
The purpose of the military forces envisaged in Moscow's regional collective security system is broad. They are obviously aimed at preventing, countering and, if necessary, repelling armed threats and attacks against one or more CSTO member states. But their uniqueness lies in the fact that they include the fight against international terrorism, trafficking in arms, ammunition and any kind of transnational organised crime.
Vladimir Putin has proposed a plan until 2025 to intensify military cooperation among members, bring in third countries and increase peacekeeping operations under the UN flag. It also aims to step up the fight against drug trafficking from Afghanistan, as well as to prevent and combat the infiltration of radical Islam into member states, as three of its five allies are overwhelmingly Muslim.
Article 11 of the CSTO defines the organs of its structure, which are very much in line with those of NATO. At the top is the Council of Heads of State, followed in importance by foreign ministers, defence ministers, the Committee of Secretaries of the Security Councils of each member country, a Parliamentary Assembly and a Permanent Council, whose working bodies are the Secretary General and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both of which are based in Moscow.
The secretary general is the highest official of the organisation and is elected for a 3-year term. Since January 2020, he has been Belarusian Army Lieutenant General Stanislav Zas, 58, a highly respected figure in the coalition. Its working military component is the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which since November 2015 has been under the command of Russian General Anatoly Alexevich Sidorov, 63, with combat experience in the wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya. Responsible for planning, organising, preparing and conducting military operations, it has a Crisis Response Centre to ensure command and control of decision-making.
The regional military cooperation structure has enabled the Kremlin to install radars and military communications centres on the territory of its five allies, as well as to establish bases and barracks for ground, air and naval units. It has also facilitated the establishment of the Collective Rapid Deployment Forces in the Central Asian Region, to go wherever the six allies agree to intervene. The transport aircraft, however, will be provided by Russia.
The main protagonist of the defence organisation is undoubtedly Russia, which has a population of over 146 million and the largest armed forces, with close to one million troops. Equipped with a great technological potential on land, at sea and in the air, a variety of nuclear weapons systems and efficient cyber-defence and space resources, the Kremlin is the cog on which the defence and security of the borders of the nations adhering to the Tashkent Pact is based.
The other coalition countries are late-1991 newcomers with small populations and small, poorly equipped armed forces. Article 4 of the Collective Security Treaty stipulates that if one of the member states suffers aggression "in the form of an armed attack which threatens security, stability, territorial integrity or sovereignty", it shall be considered as such by all member states of the Treaty which, at its request, "shall provide it with necessary and immediate assistance, including military assistance".
But in an alleged NATO attack on Russia, the armies of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan can do little to help their patron. European Belarus, with a population of just 9.5 million, has been presided over since July 1994 by 67-year-old former Soviet military officer Alexander Lukashenko, a staunch ally of Vladimir Putin. But it does not have 80,000 military personnel.
The 3 million inhabitants of tiny Armenia, which along with Belarus is the only one of Moscow's five allies with an Orthodox Christian majority, has been ruled since April 2018 by physicist Armen Sarkissian. But its 50,000 fighters are depleted after suffering the negative consequences of its conflict with neighbouring Azerbaijan.
The 19 million citizens of wealthy Kazakhstan are presided over by 68-year-old Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, in power since March 2019. He has just over 100,000 troops in a territory five times the size of Spain. So much so that at the beginning of January he had to ask the CSTO for help to quell the protests against the rise in fuel prices. This was the first intervention by the Organisation, which sent some 3,600 troops, including 3,000 Russian paratroopers and the rest Armenians, Belarusians, Kyrgyz and Tajiks, who have already withdrawn after restoring the authority of President Tokayev.
Tajikistan's leader since November 1992 has been the 69-year-old economist Emomali Rahmonov, who heads a nation of some 10 million people and has a military component of less than 17,000 soldiers. In Kyrgyzstan, a nation of 6.5 million citizens, the 53-year-old populist Sasyr Japarov, whose armed potential stands at around 25,000 military personnel, has been in power since January 2021. In short, with the Warsaw Pact the Kremlin had its battle-hardened allies on the front line against NATO. With the Tashkent Pact, it has them behind it, except for Belarus, and they are few and poorly armed.