On March 28, Tashkent hosted the 81st meeting of the Council of Border Guard Commanders of the Commonwealth of Independent States, which was established as a political successor of the Soviet Union in 1991. It was a landmark event, as the first meeting of the Council took place in the Uzbek capital in 1992, and now, 27 years later, the CIS border guards once again met in the same city.
Participants of the meeting included border guard chiefs of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, the Coordination Service of the Council of Border Guard Commanders, the CIS Executive Committee and Anti-Terrorist Center, and also the Executive Committee of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure.
The agenda included discussion of the situation at the external borders of the Commonwealth of Central Asian States, the draft cooperation program for 2021-2025, and a number of items related to legal framework, organizational matters and HR.
Protecting external borders
The Council of Border Guard Commanders was established in July 1992 by the resolution of the Council of CIS Heads of State and is a body charged with protection of the external borders of the CIS member states. It coordinates activities of the member states’ border troops that require joint action. It also promotes the development of border troops through aligning national legislations on border protection, mutual exchange of information, military and technical cooperation and personnel training.
After 27 years of cooperation, the Council has accumulated significant experience in joint response to emerging security threats and challenges with such organizations as the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the SCO, the UN Office of the Higher Commissioner for Refugees and other international organizations. It has by now signed over 30 documents on mutually beneficial cooperation. The Council’s efforts made it possible to create a foundation for a comprehensive system of efficient border protection coordination, expanding formats of border cooperation in the former Soviet republics in order to successfully resolve practical issues.
Border guards discuss preparations for special operations
“The agenda included nine items on which CIS border guard chiefs passed over 20 resolutions,” chairman of the Council’s Coordination Service, Lieutenant General Alexander Manilov told journalists.
“Today we note that Uzbekistan’s border guard agency has been very active in all events of the Council, which demonstrates that we are finding new opportunities in the Central Asian region and along the external borders of the CIS,” he said.
At the meeting, the participants analyzed the situation at the external borders of the Central Asian region and its trends for the near future.
The Council’s members approved the draft cooperation program for enhancing border security in 2021-2025 and resolutions of the Council of the CIS Heads of State on the list of troops to be included in the group of border guards and other troops of the CIS member states deployed for crisis settlement at external borders.
“The Council reviewed the progress of preparations for joint special border operations to prevent illegal activities at the external borders of the CIS in the northwestern, western and Central Asian regions in 2019, and also organizational matters of such operations in 2020,” Manilov said.
The Council adopted a set of documents on joint research work aimed at improving the forms and methods of border protection in the CIS.
The humanitarian sphere was also in the focus. The meeting’s participants paid special attention to the organization of a relay race along the CIS external borders in 2020 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the victory in World War II.
The next meeting of the Council will take place in Belarus in the second half of the year.
Settlement in Syria impossible without resolving the problem of refugees
Yuri Veselov, military commentator
By the end of July 2018, the Russian-Syrian center for admission, distribution and accommodation of Syrian refugees registered a total of 7 million refugees, now living in 45 different countries. Out of them, about 3 million are staying in Turkey, 1.5 million in the Lebanon, and some 800,000 in Jordan. Others have found shelter in other Arab countries and in West Europe. More than 1.5 million are willing to return home.
In addition, Syria has over 7.5 million internally displaced people, i.e. those who lost their homes during the war. These people are currently staying with relatives or friends or at specialized camps. Their situation is the most miserable, since responsibility for their financial well-being mostly rests with the government. At the time the war started in 2011, Syria’s population was about 22 million people. This means that more than half of the country’s population was left without a roof over their heads.
In 2018, Russia’s leaders, supported by some other countries, officially asked the United Nations for providing humanitarian aid to Syria, which under guarantees of Russian organizations could be distributed between internally displaced people and refugees returning home. Lengthy talks on the subject were intense and did not succeed. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, responsible for these activities, refused to grant this request under the formal excuse of “inappropriate use of funds.” In accordance with the UN official documents, international humanitarian aid in such situations can and should be provided to registered refugees stationed in active camps and under the control of designated UN representatives.
As to the displaced, they are not seen as war refugees, and aid to them can be provided via non-government institutions, on the basis of unilateral initiatives or inter-state agreements. But Syria is under sanctions from the leading international powers and Arab countries, and its government cannot hope to receive broad assistance from them.
This creates an artificial paradox, when on the one hand, the world demands that Damascus mount efforts to bring refugees home, but on the other hand, it openly creates barriers for allocation of financing for the process, even though substantial spending for the purpose has been envisaged in the 2019 budget.
In February 2019, Brussels hosted the 3rd EU International Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region under the auspices of the United Nations, at which it was announced that $7 billion would be allocated to fund “the political settlement process and UN activities.”
Officials of the UNHCR predict that this year they will have to reduce food spending for refugees. The UN asked for EUR 4.4 billion for Syrian refugees abroad (Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq) and EUR 2.9 billion for specialized camps inside Syria. Germany allocated EUR 1.44 billion, the European Union EUR 2 billion, and Saudi Arabia EUR 464 million for Arab and African refugees in these countries.
Russia believes that in order to resolve the big problem of refugees and displaced persons, it is first of all necessary to lift the economic and political blockade from Syria and ensure an influx of investments in restoring the country’s economy. Some Arab countries are beginning to believe that the sanctions introduced against Damascus are only aggravating the situation in the Arab world and help to disintegrate it.
Recently, the Russian leaders have held talks with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt and the Lebanon trying to persuade them that it would be advisable to restore Syria’s full membership in the League of Arab Countries and remove restrictions on cooperation. The item was expected to be discussed at the conference of Arab heads of state and government that has opened in Tunisia.
Simultaneously, Russia is taking steps to provide targeted humanitarian and organizational help to Syrian refugees and displaced persons. These include accompanying trucks with UN cargoes to the Al Rukban camp at the border with Iraq and Jordan, and lengthy and so far unsuccessful talks with Americans controlling the situation at the camp about not preventing refugees from moving to other regions of Syria.
Russia is also conducting diplomatic work among European governments, especially since the European business community is interested in capital investments in the Syrian economy and restoring trade with the country.