The summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) in the capital of Armenia on 23-24 November provided another major public humiliation for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was snubbed, reprimanded, and exasperated by his closest allies.
Putin came to Yerevan after his long absence from public view following the dishonour of the Russian military retreat from Kherson, having also skipped the G20 summit in Bali.
Putin may have expected to get some comfort amid his CSTO allies, Russia’s only military alliance, which, by the way, is a far cry from NATO. Its other members are Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
It all started on the wrong foot. Putin’s host, the Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, used his opening speech to criticise the alliance’s effectiveness.
Pashinyan accused CSTO of failing to help Armenia in its ongoing conflict with Azerbaijan after unsuccessfully trying to invoke the CSTO’s collective-defence provision earlier in the year when its territory was attacked.
Pashinyan said such an attitude does “grave harm to the image of the CSTO both inside our country and outside its borders”.
The summit will be remembered for Pashinyan refusing to sign the CSTO declaration and an irritated Putin throwing his pen on the table. Another highlight was Pashinyan’s body language, as he did his best to stay at maximum distance from Putin, including in the official family photo.
Then, during the summit, Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev lectured Putin about the need to seek peace in Ukraine.
“Any war ends with peaceful negotiations. We need to use every chance to achieve at least a truce”, said Tokayev, who had refused to recognise Russia’s annexation in September of the four Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson.
But Putin suffered the most terrible blow from his closest ally, Aleksandr Lukashenko.
We can only wonder if the Belarus dictator was drunk when he spoke of leaders discussing Russia collapsing, CSTO dissolving, and the personal fate of dictators – “rightfully buried under the rubble”.
Here is the exact translation of Lukashenko’s words:
“You know, the [idea that the] existence and the fate of the CSTO are dependent on the success of the Russian Federation’s operation in Ukraine has lately become popularised by the media. If Russia wins, the CSTO will keep going, but if, God forbid, it doesn’t win, the CSTO will dissolve. Many hotheads in our countries are also discussing this issue. I think we’ve reached a shared conclusion that if God forbid, Russia collapses, then we will be rightfully buried under the rubble.”
As long as Putin is in power, Lukashenko will at least have a place where he could seek asylum. With Russia collapsing, he knows he is finished.
And there is, of course, a big difference between Lukashenko and the leaders of Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. For those four, Putin’s possible demise has no incidence on their personal positions. On the contrary, they may feel relieved if he disappears.
After the humiliations suffered in Samarkand at the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation last September, Yerevan was another milestone revealing Putin’s growing international isolation.
There are very few friends left. On 22 November, Putin received in Moscow his Cuban counterpart Miguel Diaz-Canel. Cuba is a beautiful country and probably the only place where Putin could live in exile.
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Look out for…
- 20th autumn meeting of the OSCE on Saturday.
- Foreign Affairs Council (Development) on Monday.
- Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans meets with Adel Al-Jubeir, Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs and climate envoy.
Views are the author’s.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Alice Taylor]