MOSCOW—A Russian-led security organization said Tuesday it has plans to ensure rapid deployment to Tajikistan, where authorities face the growing threat of Islamist violence from neighboring Afghanistan.
The plans signal the first attempts by Moscow’s answer to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to become more than a paper agreement and establish a military presence beyond training exercises in former Soviet states where it competes for influence with China and the U.S.
Russia sees impoverished Tajikistan as fertile ground for Islamic State militants who have carried out attacks in Afghanistan not far from the two countries’ shared 800-mile border. Moscow and other Central Asian capitals fear that Tajikistan could be used as a foothold by Islamist extremists to destabilize the rest of the fragile and predominantly Muslim region.
“We understand that if any serious incidents occur anywhere, they will occur in Tajikistan,” Nikolai Bordyuzha, the Secretary-General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, or CSTO, said at a news conference. The organization’s other members are Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
“We already worked out this year the possible emergency deployment on the territory of Tajikistan of Collective Rapid Reaction Forces,” he said, referring to a CSTO force meant to deal with military aggression and terrorism.
The Moscow-led organization has suffered from internal bickering and the perception it is only a political tool of Moscow. It is still working to overcome its image after it failed to respond to requests for help from Kyrgyzstan during antigovernment uprisings that unseated the central Asian president in 2010 and subsequent ethnic violence.
The organization is rooted in the security agreements launched after the collapse of the Soviet Union as Moscow sought to retain its military influence over the remains of the U.S.S.R.
Last week, the CSTO finished training exercises in Tajikistan, where 1,500 servicemen from member countries practiced a scenario in which they killed terrorists who were planning attacks to take power in the mountainous country.
Last year, Tajik government forces faced an insurrection led by an ousted deputy defense minister which set off a gunfight in the capital Dushanbe. Local authorities often play up the threat of Islamic State, though violence often stems from other grievances.
The Tajik Defense Ministry couldn’t be reached for comment.
Russia is eager to project power in Central Asia as NATO operates in nearby Afghanistan. Mr. Bordyuzha also said the CSTO was watching the NATO buildup in Eastern Europe where the alliance has expanded troop deployments.
Like NATO, The CSTO treaty says an attack against any member is an attack against all, though that article has never been invoked.
Mr. Bordyuzha said the CSTO was in a position to deploy 1,500 Russian troops in Tajikistan and that 15,000 paratroopers were already at the disposal of the CSTO.
Tajikistan is greatly reliant on Russia for trade and military aid. Russia maintains a military base in Tajikistan, which helps Tajik troops with patrolling the border with Afghanistan.
Mr. Bordyuzha, who formerly worked as the head of Russia’s border guards, said that the recent four-day conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenian rebels in Nagorno-Karabakh could have been a test for the CSTO but that Armenia had not asked for assistance.
Prolonged violence around Nagorno-Karabakh, he warned, could lead to a regional conflict.
“(If) we see a period of prolonged and direct military confrontation, it will blow up the entire Caucasus,” he said. “Many governments will get sucked into the conflict.”
The CSTO may also get a boost from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s creation of a new Russian security agency known as the Russian Guards. The agency, which streamlines many of Russia’s overlapping security agencies could be introduced into the CSTO as a peacekeeping force, Deputy Interior Minister Igor Zubov told state news agency RIA.
Both the U.S. and China have been trying to boost cooperation with Tajikistan. Mr. Bordyuzha said the additional help from other governments was welcome and doesn’t constitute competition in the central Asian region.
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