Armenia Questions CSTO Role

The military alliance’s intervention in the Kazak crisis came in stark contrast to its inaction over Karabakh.

Armenia Questions CSTO Role

The military alliance’s intervention in the Kazak crisis came in stark contrast to its inaction over Karabakh.

Thursday, 27 January, 2022

The deployment of Armenian troops as part of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) mission to quell unrest in Kazakstan has led to fierce domestic debate about Armenia’s future in the bloc.

Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan, currently chair of the CSTO, responded immediately to Kazak president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s call for intervention on January 5 as protests mounted in cities across the country. A day later, he announced that peacekeeping forces would be dispatched to Kazakstan, prompting a public backlash.

Cricitism centred on the fact that Armenia’s pleas to the CSTO to intervene during the war in Nagorny Karabakh in the autumn of 2020 - and again the following year - went unheeded.

A statement signed by 20 Armenian civil society organisations noted that “the same CSTO did not take any practical steps to eliminate external aggression against the Republic of Armenia”.

It also highlighted the fact that the current government in Armenia was itself formed as a result of popular street protests in 2018.

“It is possible that the government of Armenia, due to its security vulnerability, is being used by a club of authoritarian countries,” the statement continued. “But this will in no way justify its short-sighted behavior and cast doubt on its intention to be in the family of democratic states.”

Although the CSTO troops were withdrawn from Kazakstan within a matter of days, discussions continue in Armenia about its role within the military bloc.

Military expert Karen Hovhannisyan agreed that Pashinyan’s rapid response risked damaging Armenia’s international standing.

“From a democratic point of view, it was wrong for Armenia to make such a hasty decision within several hours,” he said, noting that Tokayev has called for help in the face of supposed attacked from terror groups and foreign actors. “The involvement of terrorist organisations must be supported by arguments, must be proved, but instead of that the decision was made just in a couple of hours.”

The other CSTO members are Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan. Uzbekistan left the alliance in 2012.

While there have been no public calls for Armenia to leave the CSTO, many have been angered by the lack of support from a military alliance mandated to support its members.

Gayane Abrahamyan, a former member of the now-defunct My Step faction once headed by Panshinyan, said that Armenia was being used as fig-leaf by other CSTO members.

“A group of authoritarian countries needed the leader who came to power through street protests and revolution to announce this intervention,” she said.

The intervention appeared particularly galling in the light of Kazakstan’s longstanding official pro-Azerbaijan position. Tokayev personally congratulated Azerbaijani president of Ilham Aliyev on his victory following the 44-day war in 2020.

The leader of the non-parliamentary opposition party Bright Armenia, Edmon Marukyan, slammed the CSTO and Kazakstan in particular for its lack of action, noting that in May and November 2021 Azerbaijani forces had seized control of territory in Armenia’s Syunik and Gegharkunik provinces.

“And, despite all our appeals, neither rapid reaction forces nor slow reaction forces came to help...,” he wrote on Facebook. “Armenia has always applied to the CSTO in every possible means whether it was written or verbal, but received no response; the deployment of troops did not happen in particular because of the position of Kazakstan.”

Hovhannisyan said that Armenia could never hope for military support from the CSTO, arguing that Moscow was still courting Baku’s military and economic cooperation.

“No matter what article [of its treaty] Armenia referred to, the CSTO would never support Armenia, because, firstly, the majority of the CSTO member states…have their own national interests or are in good relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey,” he said. “And secondly, since by the CSTO we mean mainly Russia, Russia does not want to have any military problem or military intervention within the CSTO which may in future somehow impede Azerbaijan to join the Eurasian Economic Union or the CSTO.”

Security council secretary Armen Grigoryan told Armenian television that the country needed to act responsibly and build on the Kazak intervention as a precedent for potential future military support from the CSTO.

Hovhannisyan agreed, arguing that Armenia had made some geopolitical gains through its troop deployment, particularly given its military defeat in the recent Karabakh war.

“No matter how critical we are today about the actions of the CSTO, thanks to developments that took place in Kazakstan, the CSTO and our intervention within its format, the situation in the region has changed after the 44-day war in 2020,” he concluded.

This publication was prepared under the "Amplify, Verify, Engage (AVE) Project" implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.

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