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Military

Belarus set to join post-Soviet rapid reaction force

RIA Novosti

15:25 02/10/2009 MINSK, October 2 (RIA Novosti) - Belarus has completed the procedures necessary to sign documents on joining a post-Soviet regional security bloc's rapid reaction force, President Alexander Lukashenko said on Friday.

"We have completed all the procedures required for signing the documents," said Lukashenko, who did not sign the treaty establishing the Collective Rapid Reaction Force of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) earlier this year amid economic disputes with Moscow.

"We have always advocated unification processes," he told a news conference. "We cannot chop up our own brainchild with an ax, so Belarus is ready to fulfill its obligations in the CSTO in full."

The CSTO comprises Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Lukashenko did not attend the June summit in Moscow at which the agreement creating the force structure was signed, citing trade problems with Russia and Kazakhstan, while Uzbekistan has also held out against signing the pact, citing doubts over the force's purpose.

The joint force began a two-week large-scale exercise at Kazakhstan's Matybulak training grounds on Friday, with over 7,000 personnel from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan taking part.

According to the CSTO Secretariat, the exercise is aimed at practicing the deployment of the collective rapid reaction force in crisis situations on the territory of CSTO member states.

Analysts say the creation of a powerful military contingent in Central Asia reflects Moscow's drive to make the CSTO a pro-Russian military bloc, rivaling NATO forces in Europe.

Russia's security strategy until 2020, recently approved by President Dmitry Medvedev, envisions the CSTO as "a key mechanism to counter regional military challenges and threats."



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