CSTO Exercises in Belarus Highlight Moscow’s Concerns Over Europe and the Organisation’s New Military Strategy

CSTO soldier Belarus
A Belarus soldier during a CSTO military exercise (Credits: Mil.ru, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 34 Issue 1
Author: Guido Keller

The forthcoming CSTO exercises in Belarus serve as a clear demonstration of the organisation’s strategic commitment to safeguarding its member states, focusing particularly on protecting Moscow and Minsk from potential external threats originating from Europe.

From September 1st to 6th,2023, in the Republic of Belarus, at the Brestsky, Gozhsky, Domanovsky, Obuz-Lesnovsky, Chepelevo and Lesishche training grounds, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) will organise the military exercises called “Boevoe Bratstvo-2023 (Combat Brotherhood-2023).

Under the agreements reached during the staff talks, the national contingents of the Republic of Belarus, the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Republic of Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Tajikistan will participate in “Combat Brotherhood-2023”.

More than 2,500 military personnel and over 500 pieces of weapons, military and special equipment have been declared to take part in the military drills. The main goal is to improve the coordination and coherence of the work of command-and-control bodies while preparing and conducting a joint operation.

In addition, the exercises are aimed at improving the practical skills and abilities of commanders in managing military units and subunits during combat and special operations. An important task of the exercises is the formation of high morale and combat qualities, psychological stamina and physical endurance among servicemen.

According to the CSTO official website, exercises to ensure nuclear and radiation safety of the population will be held in the Ostrovetsky district of the Republic of Belarus as part of the special exercises of the rescue units of the CSTO countries “Rock – 2023”.

CSTO Exercises in Belarus: Why Do They Matter?

Traditionally, CSTO held these exercised in Central Asia, but since the beginning of the Ukraine conflict, it seems that this organisation has significantly switched its attention towards Europe and the West.

The reason for transferring the venue for the manoeuvres is the change in the political situation on the western borders of Russia and Belarus since both Moscow and Minsk are concerned about a possible Western invasion.

The Ukrainian conflict as well as the Polish statements about the territories of Belarus and Western Ukraine have alarmed Belarus and Russia, pushing these two countries to exercise their influence to redirect CSTO’s attention in Europe.

In the previous years, CSTO exercises were held in the Central Asian region to protect its members, but especially the Russian Federation, from the terrorist threat and the rise of jihadist groups, in particular, because of the difficult situation in Afghanistan.

In addition, it should be noted that earlier, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko stated Belarus was ready to restore relations with neighbouring states and, as a confirmation of good intentions, invites Polish observers to “Combat Brotherhood-2023”. However, according to him, neighbouring countries respond to relevant messages from Minsk with threats and accusations.


Shifting its focus from Central Asia to Europe in the upcoming CSTO exercises underlines Moscow’s evolving foreign policy and military priorities. This change could raise concerns among Central Asian republics, which have historically relied on Russian military and diplomatic support to address security challenges like terrorism, the spread of jihadist propaganda, and regional issues such as border disputes, as witnessed in the recent Tajik-Kyrgyz border crisis.

The CSTO has demonstrated its readiness in a limited capacity, notably only in January 2022, when it dispatched military troops to assist Kazakhstan during protests and riots related to an energy price crisis.

However, the organisation has faced criticism for perceived inaction in responding to the Azerbaijani military aggression against Armenia in September 2022. Therefore, considering Moscow’s military involvement in Ukraine and the organisation’s reluctance to send military troops on the ground, CSTO member states have sought to diversify their defence partnerships beyond Russia.

While the organisation, and by extension Russia, appears to view a so-called ‘European invasion’ as a significant potential threat, Central Asia continues to grapple with challenges and security threats stemming from neighbouring Afghanistan.

Since the U.S. withdrawal in August 2021 and the Taliban’s takeover in Kabul, Afghanistan has become a ‘safe haven’ for various terrorist groups, notably the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Consequently, the Central Asian CSTO member states still face the persistent threats of terrorism, organised crime, and illicit trafficking.

In addition, the CSTO’s shifting attention towards Europe could potentially create an opening for Western nations, particularly the United States, and China, to step into the perceived void that Russia is leaving in Central Asia and the South Caucasus.

With the Ukraine conflict altering the strategic landscape, Armenia and Tajikistan have begun exploring opportunities to enhance their defence and military collaborations with the United States.

Belarus’ recent attempt to invite its neighbouring countries, notably Poland, may indicate Minsk’s desire to find a solution to the European sanctions imposed by Brussels because of its support for Russia.

While President Lukashenko’s invitation did not immediately yield success, it could represent the first step towards a potential rapprochement between Belarus and Europe.

On the other hand, Minks’ invitation to neighbouring countries might be viewed as part of a strategic effort to influence nations deeply involved in supporting Ukraine, such as Poland.

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