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  5. Armine Margaryan: CSTO: Closer to Azerbaijan Than Armenia

Armine Margaryan: CSTO: Closer to Azerbaijan Than Armenia

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After the 2020 Artsakh War, Armenia’s security system –– in place since independence –– has repeatedly demonstrated its inability to react to, confront, and counter external threats to its national security interests. As a result, it is impossible to rely on the existing security system because it is mostly deceptive in nature and at the same time presents significant obstacles to pursuing an independent foreign policy, forming mutually advantageous military-political relations with different centers of power, and establishing a secure foundation for protecting national interests.

Since 1992, Armenia has established and maintained its security system around and within the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The Treaty on Collective Security, ratified by Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan, was the founding document of the organization. In 1993, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Belarus joined the Treaty. In 1999, however, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Uzbekistan refused to sign the protocol for the Treaty’s extension.

In the 1990s the military policy of the participating states of the Treaty was based on the approach that they had been united in terms of their military-political and military-technical bases and infrastructures. Thus they were seeking to conduct a coordinated policy to ensure their collective security. As a result, on October 7, 2002, in Chisinau, the state parties to the Treaty established the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) as a regional military alliance.

Articles 2 and 4 of the Collective Security Treaty serve as the organization’s cornerstone. Throughout its evolution the CSTO has been developing and adopting documents of strategic importance, and has been establishing cooperation in different areas, as well as mechanisms of practical importance relying on the provisions of these articles on the one hand and having a goal to strengthen their operational application on the other. This statement is of key importance for the analysis and evaluation of the effectiveness of Armenia`s membership in the CSTO in the context of fostering a stable security environment, protecting its territorial integrity and forging systemic military-political relations outside the CSTO.

Article 2 stipulates that if, for example, the security, stability, territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Republic of Armenia is threatened, then the CSTO’s other members are required to convene to coordinate their stances as well as develop and take measures to provide assistance to Armenia to counter the threat. Article 4 outlines a collective defense responsibility. If, for example, Armenia is the target of aggression, then other member signatories to the Treaty will regard this as an aggression against all member signatories and, upon a request, are obliged to immediately offer Armenia assistance –– including military support.

In May and November 2021, when Azerbaijan captured around 45 square kilometers of Armenia’s sovereign territory, Armenia appealed to the CSTO under Article 2, which became a matter of criticism among a wide range of experts and analysts. At the time, the relevant authorities did not provide a clear justification for taking this position. At the same time, it is obvious that the territorial and human loss, moral-psychological, political and military blows suffered as a result of the 2020 Artsakh War had brought Armenia to such a dead end that, just six months after the war’s conclusion, the risk assessment of every audacious political step had to be at least 70/30 in order to be taken into consideration and enforced by the state. It is also possible that through bilateral channels other CSTO members urged or perhaps advised Armenia to refrain from invoking Article 4.

In addition, it is worth mentioning that Russia, as a signatory to the November 9, 2020 tripartite declaration, positioned and presented itself as the primary mediator in the post-2020 war period. Thus, Armenia’s invoking of Article 4 would have been commensurate to declaring Russia’s mediation efforts unsuccessful –– a risky option fraught with unpredictable consequences for both Armenia and Artsakh. Afterall, during Azerbaijan’s May 2021 aggression, the CSTO described the incident as merely a border situation and emphasized that, depending on how the situation develops, appropriate action would be taken in accordance with the provision of the Collective Security Treaty and the CSTO charter.

During Azerbaijan’s September 13-14, 2022 aggression, Armenia invoked Article 4. The CSTO sent a monitoring mission to Armenia to assess the situation immediately, simultaneously declaring that the CSTO favored political-diplomatic measures and that the use of military force with the involvement of the CSTO is out of the question. At the time, the Armenian authorities announced that the CSTO mission had registered the fact that Azerbaijan had attacked and occupied Armenian territory, and that they thus expected the CSTO to adopt a clear political stance and a roadmap to restore Armenia’s territorial integrity. At the Collective Security Council session on October 28, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin only emphasized the importance of border delimitation and unblocking of transport routes in order to settle Armenian-Azerbaijani relations. Moreover, the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, imbued with an obsession to appear “more Catholic than the Pope,” brought forward formulations contrary to the provisions of the CSTO statutory documents and to the spirit and language of the Organization in general. At the CSTO gathering in Armenia on November 23, 2022, Armenia refused to sign the draft “On the Declaration of the CSTO Collective Security Council and Joint Measures to provide Assistance to the Republic of Armenia,” stating that Armenia’s CSTO membership had not prevented Azerbaijan from attackingArmenia, and that the CSTO, as a military-political structure, had not yet been able to make a decision on its reaction to the aggression against Armenia. In other words, the CSTO refrained from calling military aggression against its member state aggression and, therefore, considering any function stemming from the commitment of collective defense.

Armenian expert and political circles were hardly under the illusion that the CSTO would fulfill its statutory obligations toward Armenia, given strong military-political ties between Azerbaijan and some CSTO members, as well as the fact that in “CSTO plus Azerbaijan” configuration, Armenia is the only member state where the government not only came to power through a democratic revolution, but was also re-elected democratically, even after the country was defeated in the 2020 Artsakh War. This picture crystallizes even more when we also consider Russia’s displeasure with Armenia’s attempts aimed at the normalization of Armenia-Azerbaijan relations through the mediation of the U.S. and the EU.

At the same time a simple but fundamental question arises – does Armenia, a CSTO member state, have the moral and legal right to expect not only a clear political position from her allies regarding Azerbaijan’s military aggression but also practical steps stemming from the principle of collective security to force Azerbaijani forces to retreat from Armenia’s sovereign territory and restore territorial integrity?

Thus, the term “collective security” in the context of the CSTO refers to a condition of protection of the collective interests of the member states that will enable each member state to ensure its independence, territorial integrity, sovereignty, defense capability, and protection from threats based on the coordination and execution of joint activities. The CSTO Collective Security System, in turn, is a collection of forces and resources of the CSTO member states, the Organization’s bodies and national state administration bodies that ensure the protection of the collective interests, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the member states on a collective basis, in accordance with international law and domestic legislation. Thus, for decades, Armenia, as a CTSO member, through coordinating and implementing joint actions in the political, military, military-technical spheres has strengthened the level of protection of the collective security of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. This in turn should have afforded Armenia the opportunity to ensure its own independence, territorial integrity, sovereignty, defensibility, and protection from threats.

Being part of the forces and resources of the Collective Security System (CSTO troops), Armenia, for decades, has harmonized the main provisions of legislative acts pertaining to defense and security within the CSTO; developed and implemented common approaches for training troops for operational and combat use in matters of military personnel training; as well as coordinated plans for the development, production, supply and repair of weapons and military equipment with CSTO partners.

Armenia has consistently expanded political cooperation in the field of ensuring global and regional security and coordinated its foreign policy stances within the CSTO to support the process of ensuring the CSTO’s collective security interests. It is worth mentioning that such a position has become more of a liability now, especially given NATO’s current position on Russia as the biggest threat to Euro-Atlantic security, and that the EU has deemed Russia as a state that sponsors terrorism.

Armenia, in support of the forces and resources of the Collective Security System (CSTO troops), along with Russia, joined the Joint Group of Forces in the Caucasus region of the CSTO Collective Security and the Unified Regional Air Defense System. The Collective Security forces and resources, in their turn, are designed to prevent and/or repel an armed attack (aggression) against one or more CSTO member states, to counter challenges and threats to the security of the CSTO member states, to support the defense of the populace against threats brought on by military actions, etc. Therefore, Armenia`s presence in the Joint Group of Forces and the Unified Regional Air Defense System has to be understood as a guarantee that in case of being attacked by Azerbaijan, at least the joint forces and air defense will repel the Azerbaijani aggression against Armenia.

Armenia, in support of practical implementation of the Treaty, has been developing military-technical cooperation in the framework of the CSTO and purchasing military products on preferential terms for those national military units that are allocated as part of CSTO multilateral forces and means for implementation of collective security practical functions. Moreover, the supplying party has the right to monitor the intended use of the supplied goods –– in other words, to inspect their presence in those national military units that are allocated as part of the CSTO troops. This model of military-technical cooperation also aims to ensure the Treaty’s practical execution, more specifically, the functions resulting from implementing Articles 2 and 4. Therefore, the trade of arms within the framework of the CSTO is meant to ensure collective security and was thus considered by Armenia as an opportunity to protect its territorial integrity and sovereignty –– on a collective basis.

Armenia has obliged to coordinate its position with the other member states before deciding to deploy non-member state armed units and military infrastructure facilities on its territory. In other words, as a CSTO member state, Armenia cannot unilaterally decide to establish on its own territory institutional military mechanisms and measures with the support of other actors interested in regional security and stability, thus, ensure its territorial integrity and sovereignty. For instance, if the CSTO continues to neglect the fact of Azerbaijan’s militarized foreign policy toward Armenia and continues to abstain from its statutory obligations, according to CSTO regulations, Armenia cannot even consider any possibility of maneuvering.

Here, a question emerges: Can such a small state as Armenia, with its current external security challenges, completely rely on the political discretion of CSTO allies for the sole reason that it is de jure a member state of the CSTO, but de facto does not receive military support stemming from collective defense? And finally, is it generally effective for a small state like Armenia to be part of a security bloc?

Armine Margaryan

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