CSTO evolves into the Holy Alliance of post-Soviet autocracies
Yet another bargaining stage between the CSTO states has ended. The parties have come to a common conclusion that they need to counteract jointly internal political instability in the participating states. Economic challenges and growth in protest moods in the CSTO states have prompted them to such an agreement.
At the informal CSTO Summit held in Bishkek last week, Belarus resumed full-scale activity within the framework of the Organization. For instance, she stopped blocking the appointment of an Armenian representative as the new CSTO Secretary General.
Earlier, the appointment of the new Armenian CSTO SG was blocked twice. In October 2016, Nursultan Nazarbayev did not take part in the Summit under the pretext of being ill. In December 2016, a quorum could not be secured due to the absence of Lukashenka, who did not provide an excuse. Clearly, in addition to the symbolic gesture of support for Azerbaijan, a strategic partner for Kazakhstan and Belarus, sabotaging the new CSTO Secretary General appointment has become an outward manifestation of the behind-the-scenes negotiations among Minsk, Astana and Moscow.
Arguably, the CSTO member states have united in order to counteract the so-called "colour revolutions". Namely, Vladimir Putin, after meetings with the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Belarus, said that Russia would assist the CSTO states in retaining domestic political stability. The CSTO autocracies (4 of 6 participating states) deny the right and capacity for their citizens to publicly protest and change the government, believing that such an action could only be prompted from the outside. "Colour revolutions" are regarded as a complex instrument of external aggression by non-military means.
Clearly, the CSTO has not materialised into a full-fledged military alliance. And, as it often happens in the post-Soviet space, it has found a different niche, evolving into a modern analogue of the Holy Alliance of European Absolutist Monarchies of the 19th century. That said, this has ended the ambitions of the CSTO leadership to acquire international legal personality for the organisation. Further, the CSTO is likely to focus on ensuring internal security of political regimes in the participating states, evolving into a gendarmerie rather than a military union.
Yet Minsk has not decided on the "patriots' case" and is attempting to break new grounds in relations with the West. Meanwhile, Brussels is ready to lower cooperation levels with the Belarusian authorities in anticipation of new political prisoners to appear after the trial against former White Legion activists, irrelevant of the charges, either preparation for riots, or creation of illegal armed groups, or any other. Minsk is unlikely to cross the red line in bilateral relations with the West and new political prisoners are unlikely to appear in Belarus.
The harsh clampdown on protests and arrests this spring in Belarus are unlikely to lead to new moves by the European Union, however, the EU would closely monitor ‘some investigations’, including the ‘patriot’s case’ aka the ‘White Legion’ case.
According to human rights defenders, 17 people remain in custody, of which 16 are former members of the White Legion and one supporter of Statkevich-led the Belarusian National Committee, Sergei Kuntsevich. The law enforcement has been releasing former activists of the White Legion and members of the Patriot Club, most likely in order to mitigate criticism from Western capitals. Amid Minsk Dialogue expert conference with the participation of Belarusian and EU officials, the authorities released from custody head of the Bobruisk "Patriot" Club Nikolai Mikhalkov. In addition, the Belarusian leadership expects to ease some tension by demonstrating greater openness to a dialogue with civil society on human rights issues. For instance, for the first time the Belarusian authorities and human rights defenders held consultations on Belarus’ fifth periodic report to the UN Human Rights Committee.
The Belarusian leadership has attempted to mitigate the West’s attitude towards the criminal prosecution against former activists of the "White Legion" by adding charges of creating an ‘illegal armed formation’ to ‘preparing for mass riots’ charges.
Apparently, Minsk also gains from speculations about possible disagreements among the executives - supporters of stronger ties with Russia, and "pro-Western" reformists lead by Foreign Minister Makei. That said, the Presidential Administration and President Lukashenka have full control over the foreign policy agenda and the law enforcement.
Overall, Minsk is determined to develop relations with Western capitals. The Belarusian authorities are likely to take controversial actions, i.e. to demonstrate the desire for liberalization in some areas and occasionally tighten repressions against the opponents, however without creating new political prisoners.