Kazakhstan’s parliament ratified an agreement on Thursday on establishing a post-Soviet security group’s rapid reaction force.
The creation of a powerful military contingent in former Soviet Central Asia by members of the Russian-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) is seen as Moscow’s bid to counterbalance NATO. But its formation has run into problems caused by the regional rivalries of some members.
Speaking at a plenary session, the Central Asian state’s defense minister, Bolat Sembinov, said the rapid reaction force is designed “to improve the security of the CSTO members against the backdrop of existing and potential threats,” including terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking, natural disasters and to enhance the organization’s role in ensuring international security.
The CSTO comprises Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Observer status is enjoyed by Iran, India, Mongolia and Pakistan.
Five of the seven members signed the agreement in February 2009. Belarus, which initially refrained from signing the deal because of a trade dispute with Russia, joined it later last year.
Uzbekistan has so far refused to join the force, saying it opposes stronger Russia’s role in Central Asia. Uzbekistan is also at odds with regional neighbor Kyrgyzstan, which hosts a Russian airbase.
The Collective Rapid Reaction Force held two-week military exercises in southern Kazakhstan in October 2009, with more than 7,000 personnel from Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan taking part.
Russia’s security strategy until 2020, recently approved by President Dmitry Medvedev, envisions the CSTO as “a key mechanism to counter regional military challenges and threats.”