Uzbekistan’s withdrawal from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) highlights the growing influence of this often overlooked Moscow-led military alliance in Eurasia. But it also underscores the limited ability of Russia to dominate the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. Even more, it indicates how the typical “great game competition” framework for analyzing great power competition in the region is misleading.
CSTO has served as a key element of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s drive to strengthen Moscow’s influence in the former Soviet Union. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) originally represented the most important institution among the former Soviet republics, except for the Baltic republics, which broke completely with Moscow. Over time, the CIS steadily lost influence, due primarily to the diverging agendas pursued by its twelve member governments. A frustrated Russian government under Putin decided instead to focus on enhancing cooperation among a core group of pro-Russian governments, especially Belarus, Armenia, and the Moscow-friendly Central Asian states.