The Russian-led military alliance known as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) concluded large-scale military exercises in the southeastern part of Kazakhstan on Tuesday, where special forces troops tested their combat skills and military tactics.
Dubbed “Kobalt-2018,” the drills kicked off on Sunday in Kazakhstan’s southeastern region of Almaty, according to reports by RIA Novosti news agency. The exercises involved more than 70 units of combat and special equipment, five units of aviation equipment, and more than 500 units of infantry and artillery weapons. In addition, special forces used unmanned aerial vehicles to carry out intelligence operations drills.
Massive joint drills and wargames have brought together the alliance’s Collective Rapid Reaction Force, including military units of Russia’s Internal Affairs Ministry and National Guard (Rosgvardia), as well as Kazakhstan’s National Guard, and internal units of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Belarus. Over three days, more than 700 commandos staged all kinds of special operations ranging from the detection of an illegal armed group to the complete neutralization of hypothetical terrorists.
“The heads of our states consider the military and political situation in the world and in the zone of responsibility of the CSTO as tense,” Valeriy Semerikov, CSTO Deputy Secretary-General said on Sunday.
“Over the past two years, several decisions have been taken to strengthen the potential of the collective security system to counteract the challenges and threats faced by our states,” Semerikov added.
Launched in 1992, CSTO currently includes Russia, Kazakhstan Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Armenia and Belarus. The military bloc operates under a similar premise to that of NATO: An attack on one member state is considered an attack on all others, and each is obliged to support their fellow members.
Kazakhstan chairs the six-member CSTO for a year, from 2018-2019. It was Kazakhstan that first touted the idea of a collective forces arrangement within CSTO, proposed in 2009.
There are several military groups within the bloc, which include landing brigades and regiments, special services and law enforcement bodies, as well as emergency detachments and military units specializing in combating illicit drug trafficking. The Collective Rapid Reaction Force, comprised of roughly 22,000 servicemen, and the Collective Rapid Deployment Force of 5,000 servicemen form the basis of CSTO’s combat power.
Annually, the parties to the Treaty attend special exercises and operations, including anti-terrorist and operational strategic exercises. Last year’s largest CSTO exercise, known as Boevoe Bratstvo (“Combat Brotherhood” in Russian) brought together 12,000 personnel, more than 2,000 weapons, and 140 aircraft. The 11-day-long wargames, which took place in Tajikistan, were aimed at preventing a hypothetical armed conflict.
Military expert and columnist, Dmitry Litovkin says that drills and wargames are extremely relevant for the Central Asian region due to the “threats from the south.”
“There is Uzbekistan with bandits, as well as there is a danger that ‘guests’ from Afghanistan will ‘pay a visit’ to neighboring Tajikistan, so such [drills] are normal practice,” Litovkin told Sputnik Tajikistan, referring to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and rebel groups of Afghanistan.
Also known as IMU, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) is considered a jihadist movement that emerged just after the collapse of the Soviet Union with an aim to impose Islamic law in post-Soviet Uzbekistan. After being banned by the government led by the late Islam Karimov, IMU fighters scattered throughout the region from where they have launched multiple raids into Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and Karimov’s measures have not solved the problem of religious extremism.
Meanwhile, the terrorist threat to the CSTO member countries located in Central Asia is not only limited to IMU-related problems. Afghanistan continues to be plagued by the threats posed by the Taliban. The Islamic State (IS, or ISIS) has increased its influence in Afghanistan, and some Taliban soldiers and commanders have sworn their allegiance to the radical group, better known for its activities in Iraq and Syria.