What assistance can the Russia-allied post-Soviet countries provide to Putin?

The Collective-Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) is led by Russia and includes

  • Belarus, population 9 million,
  • Armenia, population 3 million,
  • Kazakhstan, population 19 million,
  • Kyrgyzstan, population 7 million, and
  • Tajikistan, population 9 million.

It’s sort of an alternative to NATO, at least in the eyes of the Kremlin beholder. But can CSTO countries be really considered anti-NATO just because Russia is anti-NATO?

Its emblem symbolizes attacks in all directions but don’t take it at face value. This projection of power is a long stretch.

After Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, Putin had to do a lot of team building for CSTO premiers. Most of them have exited politics, at least partially. Russia’s aggressive stance towards the world was not helping them to survive at all.

Troops. The probability of CSTO member states sending troops for the war against Ukraine is negligent. Besides Russia, CSTO countries were taking part in the CSTO Rapid Reaction Force with a battalion each that they were also deploying as the UN Peace Keepers. Their Russian counterparts who have been more numerous and better trained sustained heavy losses in March 2022 near Kyiv in northern Ukraine.

Ukraine’s fears have not materialized. Gradually, almost all of Russia’s CSTO partner countries have expressed their positions on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Military equipment. Supplies of military equipment from these countries to Russia also does not seem likely. Military-technical support is not going to work because Western countries’ space reconnaissance will undoubtedly reveal it thanks to monitoring key railway junctions and tracks.

Moscow’s attempts to attract allies have failed, the embattled Belarus dictator being an exception. Among serious deterrents are the reluctance of these countries to turn into Belarus, subjecting themselves to sanctions on their already weak economies and facing unpredictable reaction of their societies.

Even Belarus’ Lukashenko who has been bringing his son Kolya to important meetings since very young age, decided to dress him and his graduation date in the colors of the flag of Ukraine e few days ago.

Politics, diplomacy. The CSTO countries have not expressed formal political support for the Russian aggression through their UN votes (see below).

CSTO countries retained more or less neutral as per the last CSTO summit. The final statement made no mention of Ukraine, and the speeches of the participants focused on their own problems, except Putin’s and Lukashenko’s.

Recent CSTO and Eurasian Economic Union summits have shown that Russia’s allies are ready to develop a partnership with Russia, and the war crimes of the Russian military have not created a toxic environment for Moscow in the partner countries.

Dual-use parts for military equipment. Russia’s Orlan-10 drones, T-72 tanks, KAMAZ vehicles, and Caliber missiles are full of Western components. Thus, military-technical assistance to Russia has been provided covertly through the existing cooperation channels. It can be redirected to the CSTO countries that in turn, have close ties with Russia in terms of defense.

For example, the “Tinis” company (located in Kokshetau) that is part of the “Kazakhstan Engineering” company of the Ministry of Defense and Aerospace Industry produces components for Russian-made aircraft and helicopters. Its main consumers are aircraft and aircraft repair companies in Russia and Belarus.

“Tinis” supplies parts for Su, MiG, IL, Mi helicopters, cooperates with Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation, Russian Helicopters Holding, and aircraft factories in Ulan-Ude, Kazan, with the Kumirtau plant, the “Kalashnikov” Concern.

In “Tinis” own words, no Russian-made plane or helicopter operating in Russia and Belarus today flies without our “Tinis” products.… There must be small valves or control units in our production. Even the 5th generation of Su-57 has our valves.

In addition, the Ukrainian military intel GUR reports that the Russian manufacturer of air defense “Ulyanovsk Mechanical Plant” works through Kazakhstan to obtain German components.

Another example is the Kyrgyz company “Dastan”, which develops and manufactures torpedo weapons for submarines and surface ships (including UMGT-291, USET-80, SET-65) and equipment for the Russian Navy (guidance equipment, hull parts, detonators, etc.). The company works in cooperation with Russian companies, including the sanctioned plant “Dagdiesel” (Caspian), which develops and manufactures submarines, engines, diesel power plants for ships of the Russian Navy.

The results of the April meeting of the working group of military-technical cooperation at the CSTO International Commission on Military-Economic Cooperation can testify to the readiness to continue and even deepen Russia’s cooperation with partner countries.

Following the event, Kyrgyzstan and Russia considered the development of cooperation and integration of enterprises and organizations of the CSTO member states’ defense and defense organizations and held talks on “starting work on a military and dual-use investment project in Kyrgyzstan.”

Making holes in the sanctions. Russia can count on help with circumventing sanctions.

Despite the fact that several officials of the Kazakh government have publicly stated that Kazakhstan will not help Russia circumvent sanctions, it should be expected that assistance will be provided, at least, on the fringes of sanctions.

This may include the purchase of Western-made equipment for Russia’s oil and gas industry. Kazakh companies that use similar equipment and consumables can legally purchase them and then transfer them to Russian partners.

The deputy head of the Kazakh company “KazMunayGas” also spoke about it in March. If necessary, the Kazakh side of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium will purchase relevant equipment and technologies through its companies and hand them over to the Russians.

Also, the large Russian retail chains Magnit and Lenta, owned by Russian oligarchs under the sanctions, are trying to form logistics chains to supply imported goods through Kazakhstan.

Some Russian companies are starting to register in the CSTO countries. For example, there is already a tenfold increase in the number of Russian-registered companies in Kazakhstan (355 in March, 651 in April, and 362 in May), to which Russian law firms offer comprehensive Kazakhstan relocation services.

This is facilitated by the Russian government’s permission to import parallel goods (without the permission of the intellectual property owner), which effectively legalizes the smuggling of foreign goods by Russian retailers that are importing auto parts from Asia, the CIS and Europe.

Therefore, the statements of the country’s leaders that Kazakhstan will not help circumvent the sanctions are not entirely true. The same can apply to other CSTO and Eurasian Economic Union member states, as well as some European producers who are trying not to lose the Russian market by supplying their goods to Russia through third countries.

Training of “peacekeepers.” Finally, CSTO participation can take the form of a peacekeeping operation.

At present, this is unlikely because it requires a UN mandate, among other things. But apparently Russia has considered such an option in the case of “bloodless capture of Kyiv in three days”, the establishment of a puppet government that would invite the CSTO to help in bringing order and disarming Ukrainian armed groups that would massively lay down their arms.

To implement this plan, the CSTO has peacekeeping forces (a total of 3,600 people), while “peacekeeping” activities could involve troops from the Collective Rapid Reaction Forces of the CSTO (a total of 18,000 people).

Russia’s recent intensification of the legal framework for the CSTO’s “peacekeeping activities” may indicate the likelihood of such a scenario.

In particular, in September 2021, a protocol on amendments to the CSTO Peacekeeping Agreement was signed. It introduces the concept of a “coordinating state” and stipulates that under its auspices a collective CSTO peacekeeping force will be created for use in the UN peacekeeping operation.

The protocol was ratified by the Russian parliament in April this year and is currently awaiting ratification by other member states.

The results of the May meeting at the CSTO Joint Staff, during which representatives of the Ministries of Defense discussed “equipping the CSTO peacekeeping forces with modern weapons, military and special equipment, and special equipment, also indicate continued work in the” peacekeeping “direction.

This confirms the fact that Russia prepares appropriate “peacekeeping” tools in advance and does not rule out their use in a favorable international situation.

Such a scenario could become real in the event of a military defeat of Kyiv and the signing of a conditional “Minsk-3” or “Istanbul-1”.

This is evidenced by a kind of training of “CSTO peacekeepers”, which Russia was quite successful in January in Kazakhstan, which resulted in a complete reconfiguration of power in favor of the incumbent President of Kazakhstan.

The lightning-fast decision-making by the CSTO Council, the rapid transfer of 2,030 people and 250 units of equipment by air to Kazakhstan, indicates that this operation was planned and prepared in advance.

Why can’t Moscow prepare a similar operation in Ukraine, which will start at the right time? Especially since Russia shows complete disrespect for international norms, and the need to obtain a UN mandate may also be neglected.

Tasks for Kyiv. What should Ukraine do in such a situation?

First, closely monitor the facts and potential circumvention of sanctions. Providing assistance to the Russian regime strengthens its resilience and undermines the efforts of Ukraine and its partners to achieve Ukraine’s military victory over Russia.

To prevent the use of semi-legal schemes, the mechanisms for applying secondary sanctions for cooperation with Russian subsidiaries should be improved (as well as reducing Russia’s ability to establish gasket firms in third countries).

Given Russia’s sufficient flexibility and experience in circumventing sanctions, the possibility of re-registering them with others in partner countries; the desire of some Western companies to continue business as usual, attention to this area should be high.

This applies to foreign banks that open accounts for Russian legal entities; directly to Russian companies that have already relocated to partner countries; companies that interact with them.

The ideal rule should be that if companies of CSTO countries cooperate with Russian business, then all industry companies in the country without exception should lose access to the European market and technology.

Declared neutrality here should not be formal, but real.

Secondly, the issue of imposing sanctions on the enterprises of the defense-industrial complex of the CSTO partner countries, which are already cooperating with Russian sanctioned enterprises and supplying components to Russian armaments, should be considered.

This may be the case, for example, with Tinis and Dastan. The suspension of supplies of critical components of Russian equipment will significantly weaken the combat capabilities of the Russian Armed Forces and will be a clear and unambiguous signal to other companies.

Serious restrictive and punitive measures should be imposed on Western manufacturers who supply equipment to Russia through third countries. The EU and NATO should toughen the environment for Russia’s closest allies to deter sanction breaches.

Based on the analysis by Yurii Poita for the Ukrainian Pravda.

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