By Armen Zakarian
Senior security officials from Russia, Armenia and four other former Soviet states making up a loose defense alliance met in Yerevan Tuesday to prepare for an upcoming summit of the CIS Collective Security Treaty (CST).
The annual summit is scheduled to take place in Moscow on May 14. It will be the first such gathering since the start of the U.S. anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan that resulted in the deployment of U.S. troops in the two signatories to the treaty: Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Russian officials attending the Yerevan meeting downplayed geopolitical implications of the move. Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov said Washington has assured that the U.S. forces will pull out of what Moscow regards as the zone of its influence once the military campaign in Afghanistan is over. He said similar assurances have been made with respect to neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan.
A small contingent of U.S. military instructors is due to arrive in Georgia later this month to train Georgian forces to fight Islamic militants based in the Pankisi gorge.
According to the Russian secretary general of the CST staff, Valeri Nikolaenko, Russia is seeking to maintain the existing “balance of forces” in the south Caucasus. He said the CST heads of state are likely to approve creation of a new body that will coordinate joint activities in the East European, Caucasian and Central Asian directions of the common defense.