A file photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin with the leaders of the CSTO member countries in Moscow (Image courtesy: Kremlin.ru)
As the situation along the entire perimeter of their borders from Ukraine to Afghanistan remains tense, members of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) have vowed to raise cooperation to a "qualitatively new level of allied relations" to counter "a wide range of modern challenges and threats".
While Moscow's 'special military operation' continued in neighbouring Ukraine, all eyes were on the Kremlin where Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted a meeting of the leaders of the CSTO member states late Monday.
In attendance were the Presidents of Belarus (Alexander Lukashenko), Kazakhstan (Kassym-Jomart Tokayev), Kyrgyzstan (Sadyr Japarov), Tajikistan (Emomali Rahmon) and the Armenian Prime Minister (Nikol Pashinyan).
Though the meeting was dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Collective Security Treaty and the 20th anniversary of the creation of the CSTO, it turned out to be a show of solidarity against the "collective West".
The expanding military presence of NATO in the Eastern European region, new countries being drawn into the alliance and modern weapons being supplied to Ukraine in growing volumes was discussed extensively by the heads of state behind closed doors.
The leaders also noted that the number of challenges and threats to security are steadily growing, not just in the area of responsibility of the organisation but also in the whole world.
Citing that the event was taking place at a difficult time, Lukashenko pointed that the collective West is "waging a fierce struggle" to maintain its positions and the pressure will only increase if it does not encounter a united opposition from the CSTO allies and other integration associations in the post-Soviet space.
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko
"All means are being used, including those in the area of responsibility of our organization: from NATO saber-rattling near our western borders to a full-scale hybrid war unleashed against us, primarily against Russia and Belarus," the Belarusian President said in his lengthy opening speech.
The key Moscow ally said that Belarus had paid attention to the "unjustified growth of the military presence of the West in Ukraine and in the region as a whole" even before the start of Russia's military operation.
"NATO is aggressively building up its muscles, drawing Finland and Sweden, which were neutral yesterday, into its net, acting on the principle 'who is not with us is against us', hypocritically continuing to declare its defensive orientation," he added.
Lukashenko called the CSTO position as "truly defensive and peace-loving" and in complete contrast against the background of growing military presence of the United States on the western flank of the organisation and numerous NATO exercises which are currently underway. He warned that without the strengthening of political, economic and military ties, the organisation "may not exist tomorrow".
In his opening remarks, Vladimir Putin highlighted the CSTO peacekeeping forces' first-ever prompt and effective operation in January which prevented the seizure of power in Kazakhstan by extremists.
Taking into account the experience gained from the operation, he reaffirmed the determination of member states to continue to cooperate as partners in various areas of military and defence construction, and to step up coordinated actions in the international arena.
"We will also deal with the issues of equipping the CSTO Collective Forces with modern weapons and equipment, increasing the operational compatibility of their military contingents, and improving the coherence of the joint actions of our military structures and special services," said Putin.
Slamming the expansion of the North Atlantic Alliance, the Russian President said that it is being done "in the foreign policy interests" of the United States.
"In addition to this endless expansionary policy, the North Atlantic Alliance is also going beyond its geographic destination – beyond the Euro-Atlantic area, is trying to get more and more actively involved in international issues and control and influence the international situation in terms of security, and not in the best way, in other regions of the world. This certainly requires additional attention on our part," Putin told the gathering.
At the end of the meeting, the leaders of the states adopted a statement which not only spotlighted their efforts to maintain peace in the Eurasian space which have "stood the test of time" but also expressed readiness to ensure the security of the borders of the CSTO zone of responsibility.
The CSTO Secretary General Stanislav Zas, who also attended the meeting, said that a serious challenge for the member states was the sharp increase in the aggressiveness of world powers and military-political blocs towards the Russian Federation and its allies.
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