Bringing the Near Abroad Closer to Home

Here’s some fodder for Russia apologists: In Foreign Policy this week, Leland R. Miller argues that Russia is using the Collective Security Treaty Organization, an often-overlooked alliance of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, to regain control over former Soviet states. Miller says that in the past year, Moscow has been stepping up efforts to integrate CSTO member states more:

Russia’s investment in the organization has paid off. The CSTO has held annual joint military exercises since 2005, but in 2009 it went a step further, establishing a “Collective Rapid Reaction Force.” The force’s ostensible purpose is to coordinate regional responses to natural disasters, drug trafficking, and terrorist threats, but Russian leaders are increasingly envisioning a grander view of its role. In February, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that the force should be “armed with the most modern weapons and must be on par with NATO forces.” The agreement also allows Russia-for the first time since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991-to legally station its troops within the territory of its neighbors.

Even more significantly, Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan announced in January the formation of a tripartite customs union, a trade pact intended to increase economic integration among the three former Soviet countries. For Russia, this is an important first step toward consolidating its leverage over its former vassals — and laying the groundwork for a more comprehensive “common economic space” that Moscow hopes to establish by 2012.

These steps have led some to ask whether the world is witnessing a rebirth of the Soviet Union. Those fears, however, are premature — so far. Although Russia has managed to significantly revitalize its influence in Central Asia, it has hit a number of speed bumps in reasserting its old hegemony in the region.