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CSTO Meets In Tajikistan To Discuss IS Threat

Tajik and Kyrgyz soldiers in Sughd, Tajikistan.
Tajik and Kyrgyz soldiers in Sughd, Tajikistan.

Members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) have met in Tajikistan to discuss the threat posed by the rise of the Islamic State (IS) group in Afghanistan.

The CSTO, comprising Tajikistan, Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, has been helping Tajikistan strengthen its defenses along the Afghan border.

Russia's Defense Ministry said that during the April 9 meeting, the heads of military delegations from the CSTO countries had "analyzed the challenges of military security in the CSTO's collective security regions."

"Particular attention was given to the current situation in Afghanistan with regard to the activities of the IS international terrorist organization," the Defense Ministry said, according to official news agency RIA Novosti.

Tajikistan's first deputy minister of defense, Zarif Sharifzoda, told reporters at a press conference following the meeting that the "main theme of discussion was the situation in Afghanistan and the activation of the so-called Islamic State and its influence on collective security in the CSTO countries."

Sharifzoda said that the CSTO delegates had discussed various responses to the threat posed by IS in Afghanistan, including "the use of the [CSTO's] collective forces."

There was also an "exchange of views" on the issue of creating a joint air and missile-defense system, Sharifzoda said.

Russian officials raised the issue of a unified air-defense system with CSTO allies in November 2014, during a CSTO summit in Yekaterinburg, with Russian Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov saying that Moscow would "work out a road map" for the system in Central Asia.

'IS Threat' As Catalyst For Russian Military Expansion?

Russia has previously expressed concerns about what it says is an increase in activity by "IS units" in CSTO member states, arguing that the threat should be addressed via an increased Russian military presence in Central Asia.

In March, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said that Moscow was "greatly troubled by the situation on the southern frontiers of the CSTO" and that the "first units" of IS had emerged on the southern borders of Russian allies, including Tajikistan.

Antonov said that in response, Moscow was seeking to bolster Russian military bases in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Previously, in January, Antonov said that Moscow wanted to boost the Tajik Army as a CSTO outpost in Central Asia.

On March 14, CSTO head Nikolai Bordyuzha told reporters in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, that CSTO forces could be at the Tajik border within three days if a conflict broke out there. Bordyuzha said Russia was not looking to create a "second front in Tajikistan, but [Russia] would never permit the security of a CSTO member to be in doubt."

The CSTO chief is one of several Russian officials who has regularly warned Central Asian states about the dangers of militant groups in Afghanistan.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in December 2014 also called on CSTO members to take "preventative measures" against IS in Central Asia, particularly amid the emergence of the militant group in Afghanistan.

"The current situation gives rise to concerns, there are militias of the so-called Islamic State that are threatening that they will include some provinces of Afghanistan in the so-called Islamic caliphate," Putin said, using the term given by the IS group to describe the areas under its control.

In response to the "IS threat," Russia this month reportedly pledged to supply 70 billion rubles (around $1.2 billion) of weapons and military equipment to Tajikistan, according to a report by Russian business daily Kommersant.

According to Kommersant, IS militants are "already trying to infiltrate into Tajikistan" and could "destabilize the whole of Central Asia."

Kommersant quoted anonymous officials on the Russian General Staff as saying that military aid to Tajikistan to counter IS could reach up to 70 billion rubles and could include weapons, ammunition, aircraft, artillery systems and weapons -- much of it secondhand hardware from the Russian Army.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk