Know your CSTO from your GUAM

The 23 countries of emerging Europe and the five Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan make use of many sub-regional formats, initiatives, and organisations to coordinate and advance their policy priorities and relations. 

We have put together a non-exhaustive, two-part guide to several of the most important.

In part one, we look at Europe-based organisations. Here, we focus on Eurasian initiatives which include Asian members. 

Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) 

Formed at the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Commonwealth of Independent States originally included every newly-independent constituent state of the USSR except for the three Baltic States and Turkmenistan.  

Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova have since suspended their participation or fully withdrawn, meaning that today, only Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan are full members. Turkmenistan became an associate member in 2005. 

The United Armed Forces of the CIS was a short-lived military entity, existing from February 1992 until December 1993, that succeeded the Soviet armed forces and was meant to control Soviet nuclear weapons. As individual member states formed their own national militaries and Russia gained de facto control of Soviet nukes, it was disbanded.  

While the CIS still hosts a council of its members’ defence ministers, operates the Joint CIS Air Defence System for its full members except Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, and coordinates border security, most of its work today concerns economic and political cooperation and social development. 

Every full member of the CIS except for Azerbaijan is also a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States Free Trade Area (CISFTA). Despite suspending participation in the CIS, Ukraine is still de jure in the CISFTA. 

Eurasian Economic Union (EEU or EAEU) 

Five CISFTA members—Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia—are also members of the Eurasian Economic Union. The treaties forming the EEU were signed in 2014 and came into effect in 2015. Cuba, Moldova, and Uzbekistan are observer states.  

The EEU succeeded the Eurasian Economic Community (EAEC)—which included Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan—that lasted from 2000 to 2014; Uzbekistan was also an EAEC member from 2005 until 2008. 

The EEU is a single market of 183 million people that promotes the free-flow of goods and people. Despite plans for a single currency at its founding, none has been created. 

Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO)  

The Collective Security Treaty Organisation was formed as a military alliance in 2002 to implement the 1992 Collective Security Treaty (CST). Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan have been full members of the CST’s mutual-defence pact since the treaty came into effect in 1994. Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Uzbekistan also became full members in 1994 but withdrew in 1999. Uzbekistan joined a second time in 2006 and withdrew a second time in 2012. Serbia is an observer. 

The last year has seen increasing divisions within the alliance. The CSTO’s only intervention to date occurred in January 2022, when Kazakhstan’s president requested CSTO military reinforcement to put down an uprising, but Kazakhstan has since declined multiple Russian requests related to supporting its invasion of Ukraine.  

Two members—Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan—engaged in a conflict against each other in September 2022. The same month, Azerbaijani troops attacked positions inside the territory of CSTO-member Armenia and over 300 people died in ensuing fighting. However, the CSTO declined to come to Armenia’s aid—despite the requests of its prime minister—because Russian troops were stretched thin in Ukraine and Central Asian member states have important economic and cultural ties with Azerbaijan. 

Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)  

The fighting between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan broke out while the presidents of both countries were at a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation hosted in Uzbekistan. The SCO is the successor to the Shanghai Five—formed in 1996 between the People’s Republic of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan.

In 2001, these five countries and Uzbekistan formed the SCO. India and Pakistan joined in 2017, and Iran joined in July 2023. Belarus and Mongolia are observers, though Belarus is in the process of becoming a full member, and the leaders of Azerbaijan and Turkey—both dialogue partners of the organisation—and Turkmenistan have been invited to summits as well. Afghanistan is also officially an observer, but no member states have formally recognised the new Taliban government. 

The SCO works extensively on economic and security issues as well as matters of culture, health, education, and technology. It has two standing bodies: the Secretariat in Beijing and the Executive Committee of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) in Tashkent. RATS works to counter the ‘three evils’ of terrorism, extremism, and separatism.  

C+C5, C5+1, and EU-Central Asia Summits 

Just as Russia has done much of its engagement with Central Asian nations through the CIS and CSTO, China has historically used the format of the SCO for much of its dialogue with the region. However, in May 2023, Chinese leader Xi Jinping held China’s first summit with the leaders of the five Central Asian states without other SCO members present (C+C5). That summit came after meetings of C+C5 foreign ministers began in 2020. 

The emergence of the C+C5 format comes after meetings of the United States Secretary of State with the foreign ministers of the five Central Asian states since 2015 in the C5+1 format. This format has met up to twice a year and has produced US-funded projects in the fields of counterterrorism, business competitiveness, climate adaptation, and green energy.  

In 2022, the five Central Asian heads of state held their first summit with the president of the European Council. A second summit in this format was held in 2023. 

Organisation of Turkic States (OTS) 

Neither the US nor EU are prepared to commit to security guarantees on par with those of the CSTO or the volume of resources invested by China in Eurasia through its Belt and Road Initiative. Instead, the West has welcomed the engagement of NATO-members Turkey—and, to a much lesser extent, Hungary—as counters to Moscow and Beijing’s influence in the region.  

The Organisation of Turkic States—known as the Turkic Council until 2021—is comprised of full members Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan and observers North Cyprus, Turkmenistan… and Hungary. Although Hungarian is not a Turkic language, Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán has embraced the pseudoscientific cultural movement of Hungarian Turanism as part of his nationalist agenda and has pursued a heterodox foreign policy that has positioned Hungary as one of Europe’s most active countries in Central Asia. 

The OTS General-Secretariat is located in Istanbul, and Turkey is the country in the bloc by economy and population. OTS works on a wide range of policy issues, with cooperation on energy, trade and transport, education, and culture being among the most important. The close relations of OTS to North Cyprus is a sign of Turkey’s influence within the organisation. Turkey is the only sovereign country in the world that recognises North Cyprus as a country—the United Nations recognises it as the territory of Hungary’s fellow EU-member, the Republic of Cyprus, that is under Turkish occupation

GUAM Organisation for Democracy and Economic Development 

Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova formed the GUAM consultative format in 1997 to coordinate commercial and diplomatic relations. Uzbekistan joined in 1999, and the name was changed to GUUAM, but withdrew in 2005 shortly after the Andijan massacre. In 2006, the format was elevated to an organisation—headquartered in Kyiv—and GUAM established a peacekeeping force. 

The four nations have struggled with separatist breakaway states protected by Russian troops. GUAM’s organisational charter calls for “deepening European integration for the creation of a common security space and the enlargement of economic and humanitarian cooperation,” and the organisation is often viewed by Russia as pro-Western.  

Community for Democracy and Rights of Nations  

An anti-GUAM of sorts, the Community of Democracy and Rights of Nation is comprised of four breakaway states with limited to no international recognition: Abkhazia (internationally recognised as part of Georgia), Artsakh in Nagorno-Karabakh (internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan), South Ossetia (internationally recognised as part of Georgia), and Transnistria (internationally recognised as part of Moldova).  

Established in 2006, its members have condemned the use of military deployments, diplomatic isolation, and economic blockades by other actors working to end the frozen conflicts to which they are party. It has also worked to facilitate visa-free travel between its members. 

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