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The Biden Administration has begun holding military exercises with countries that are a part of a Russian-led military alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
Tajikistan is hosting the drills, called “Regional Cooperation 22,” while U.S. Central Command organized them, according to the State Department. Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan—each members of Russia’s collective defense organization, akin to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)—are all participating.
“Regional Cooperation is an annual exercise aimed at strengthening multinational stability operations, counter-terrorism, and developing cooperation and joint combined capabilities among the states of Central and South Asia, the United States and other participating countries,” the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan said in a statement.
Mongolia, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan are also joining in on the exercises, which are set to last until August 20.
The exercises have been occurring annually since 2004, barring some interruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the State Department. But the news of the collective table-top exercise comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin and his allies have been imploring the CSTO member states—including those participating in the exercise—to better back up Russia as it faces off with NATO and western allies in the war in Ukraine, and to better defend their own turf against NATO influence. Just this May, Putin held a summit with CSTO members, during which his cronies berated member nations to back up Moscow more, warning of what Russia has long considered to be NATO’s increasing sphere of influence.
“Russia should not fight alone against the expansion of NATO,” Belarusian leader and longtime Putin ally Alexander Lukashenko said then.
In a show of how important Tajikistan’s support is to Putin, Putin made Tajikistan his first visit since invading Ukraine. The summertime visit was meant to allow Putin and his counterpart, Tajikistan’s president, Emomali Rahmon, to discuss “issues related to military cooperation.”
The exercises, in Russia’s proverbial backyard, could appear to run counter to Putin’s goals to shore up his collective defense bloc against NATO—U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan John Mark Pommersheim said the goal of the exercises is to “strengthen relationships with our partners in the region.”
The Pentagon doesn’t intend for the exercise to be inflammatory.
“Multi-lateral, U.S. Central Command exercises like this happen over 30 times a year and aren’t planned with the interest of being regionally inflammatory but rather to improve the ability of the [United States] and our allies and partners to respond to a myriad of contingency events, as well as enhance the participants overall interoperability,” a U.S. Central Command spokesperson, Lt. Col. Dave Eastburn, told The Daily Beast.
In previous years the training has consisted of convoy operations, close quarter battle trainings, raid execution, improvised explosive device detection, and mounted movements, according to the Pentagon. This year includes training on military decision-making processes and other training, according to the National Guard, which in June and July had soldiers work on countering improvised explosive devices in Tajikistan.
Pommersheim urged the nations and soldiers participating in the exercises to focus on “peaceful responses to global challenges, information sharing, and security cooperation” in the coming days.
And after the collective exercise concludes, the United States will conduct exercises one-on-one with just Tajikistan in Fakhrabad Training Center, according to U.S. Central Command.
In recent days Putin has also been working to spread the narrative that he and his allies are united in their vision that a unipolar world—in which the United States leads—can no longer be the status quo.
But Putin’s grip on global influence has appeared shaken in recent days. Russia faces a European Union ban on crude imports in the coming months, which could pinch its oil revenues. Just in the last several days the EU’s ban on Russian coal went into effect. Latvia announced its parliament had moved to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terror, to which Russian lawmakers and officials responded with outcry.
In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, nations around the globe have slapped round after round of sanctions on Moscow targeting key Russian industries and oligarchs, isolating Russia on the world stage. And as the consequences settle in for Russia’s defense industrial base, Putin has been working to portray Russia’s weapons supply as just fine. Earlier this week, Putin claimed his country’s weapons were cream of the crop on the world stage and that nations around the world are clamoring to import Russian weapons, which he claimed were decades ahead of other nations’ supplies.
And just as the exercises between the United States and some of Russia’s key military allies kick off, Putin has been working to spread the narrative that Russia maintains “truly” strong relationships with countries around the world.
“Russia sincerely cherishes historically strong friendly, truly trusting ties with the states of Latin America, Asia, Africa,” Putin said at an arms trade show earlier this week.