Despite all the attention given the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Beijing, it is often overlooked that the most powerful military alliance in Eurasia is the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Four of the five Central Asian countries belong to the CSTO, as does Belarus and Armenia.
Vladimir Putin’s decision to skip both the G-8 and NATO summits in the U.S. and his choice of Belarus, rather than Europe or China, as the destination for his first official visit following his May 7 inauguration as president demonstrates the importance that he attaches to strengthening Moscow’s influence in the former Soviet republics. At a May 15 meeting in the Kremlin with the heads of many of these countries, Putin laid out an ambitious agenda for strengthening regional ties under Moscow’s leadership.
A key element of this strategy was to strengthen the CSTO, established in 2002. Over the past decade, the organization has already gradually augmented its military capabilities and expanded its mandate for multinational military operations against diverse threats, with the declared focus to counter external military aggression against member countries. Russia provides the most CSTO forces and allows members to purchase Russian military equipment at a discount.