Andrey Areshev, political scientist
On October 15, a regular meeting of the CIS heads of state was held under the chairmanship of the President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko in the format of a videoconference. In his speech, the Belarusian leader stressed the positive significance of the “integration dome that sheltered the former Union republics from chaos and economic collapse three decades ago.
In his opinion, over three decades, the Commonwealth “has passed a difficult path of formation and has become a regional organization recognized by the international community.” Universality, voluntariness, equality are the key principles that have contributed to the containment of many destructive processes, the stabilization of economies, and the preservation of trade and economic ties between countries. One of the key achievements of the CIS can be called the preservation of close human contacts, trusting political relations, multifaceted economic ties with an eye to further integration.
Addressing the current problems of the Commonwealth, Russian President Vladimir Putin noted the concentration of militants of international terrorist groups near its borders. The leaders of some of them are hatching plans to extend their influence to the Central Asian states, to the Russian regions, “they are betting on inciting ethno-confessional conflicts and religious hatred.” Hence the need for joint coordinated actions, which may be hindered by conflicts on the territory of post-Soviet countries and, in particular, differences in approaches to events in Afghanistan after the Taliban movement came to power in this country (banned in the Russian Federation).
“The military-political and humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan has created a serious threat to the security of our countries,” stated Tajik President Emomoli Rahmon, who has repeatedly stated the need to create an inclusive government in Kabul with the involvement of local Tajiks. The transitional government formed by the Taliban does not reflect the entire palette of Afghan society, Vladimir Putin stressed, in turn: “At the same time, the intention to hold general elections has been announced, measures are being taken to resume the normal work of state administration bodies. We will certainly work together within the CIS to ensure that these promises are backed up by deeds, to monitor this.”
Of course, you will have to follow – and very closely. On the eve of the online meeting of the heads of state, a number of events dedicated to topical issues of collective regional security took place. Thus, on October 13, during an online meeting with the heads of special services of the CIS countries, the President of Russia noted the importance of increasing the level of coordination of their work, especially in terms of neutralizing potential threats emanating from Afghanistan. “We are all well aware of the serious impact that events in this country can have on the situation in Central Asia, Transcaucasia, and other regions,” the Russian leader said, pointing to the importance of discussing these threats at the CSTO and SCO summits ast September.
It is worth adding to this that the curtailment of the American presence in the region is only partial. Already in October, Pentagon emissaries intend to discuss the possibility of deploying certain “counter-terrorism forces” on the territory of Uzbekistan for potential strikes against Afghanistan. Most likely, we are talking about the possible return of US aviation and its allies to the Khanabad airfield, from where, after the tragic events in Andijan, the American contingent was moved to the Kyrgyz Manas base.
The issue of the resumption of the Pentagon’s presence on the territory of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan continues to attract increased attention of the media and the expert community. In Moscow and Beijing, the prospect of the appearance of American military facilities in Central Asia is extremely negative. Nevertheless, the corresponding interest remains, as evidenced by the visit of US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman to Uzbekistan in early October, during which “the importance of the US strategic partnership with Uzbekistan” and “further joint steps to resolve the situation in Afghanistan” were emphasized. A week later, a delegation of the House of Representatives headed by Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee Gregory Mix visited Tashkent to discuss the “Afghan issue”.
In turn, Moscow is doing everything possible to interest Tashkent in the prospects of Eurasian integration, up to the announcement of a “migration amnesty” for 158 thousand citizens of Uzbekistan and the announcement of plans to lease up to 1 million hectares of abandoned Russian lands to Uzbek dehkans. Earlier, the Russian government approved a pilot project to attract foreign workers, including 10,000 builders from Uzbekistan. Against this background, it is logical to assume that Moscow would have expected Tashkent’s unequivocal rejection of American proposals and more active participation in integration processes in the Eurasian space.
It seems that there are grounds for restrained optimism. Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov actively participates in events within the CIS and the EAEU. As for the American bases in Uzbekistan, “this issue is not worth it and is not being discussed,” he assured, commenting on leaks in the media. In turn, the head of the information service of the Ministry of Defense of Uzbekistan, Bahrom Zulfikarov, said that the republic does not plan to deploy American army units on its territory: “According to my information, Uzbekistan has not received an offer to deploy the United States anti-terrorist forces on its territory and does not plan such steps, since this is prohibited by the constitution and is not provided for by the defense doctrine of our country.” By the way, among the documents adopted by the heads of state is a Statement initiated by the Russian side on the development of cooperation in the field of migration, listing the problems in this area and a set of good wishes.
An equally sensitive problem is the placement of Pentagon biological laboratories along the perimeter of the Russian borders, the dangerous consequences of which have been repeatedly drawn attention to in the Security Council and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia. Among the documents agreed upon by the heads of State is a Statement on Cooperation in the Field of Biological Security, stating the importance of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction (BTWC) as one of the pillars of the international security architecture.
The Head of the Russian state expressed his conviction that “the CIS states will jointly develop a system for monitoring biological risks, exchange information on combating epidemics, infectious diseases and responding to health emergencies, as well as strengthen the contractual and legal framework for such professional cooperation.”
Following the results of the meeting of the CIS foreign ministers held in Minsk the day before, a statement was adopted on the inadmissibility of “creating international mechanisms that duplicate the functions of the BTWC and bypass the UN Security Council.” The meeting participants opposed “attempts to use so-called “voluntary assessment visits” to microbiological dual-use facilities as an alternative to verification under the BTWC, as well as the creation of a structural unit in the UN Secretariat to conduct investigations of the alleged use of biological weapons.” As you know, the development of clear mechanisms and procedures that would allow the Convention to really work is torpedoed, first of all, by Washington implementing dangerous military biological programs on the territory of third countries.
Speaking at the meeting, the President of Uzbekistan put forward a number of proposals aimed, in particular, at developing industrial cooperation and combining efforts to further develop the system of interregional transcontinental transport corridors. Despite the allegedly amorphous nature of the Commonwealth, which is often criticized, the commonality of the cross-border challenges and threats facing its participants objectively testifies to the preservation of this platform for the exchange of views and the coordination of divergent interests. The chairmanship of the CIS in 2022 passes to the Republic of Kazakhstan.