Matybulak: A newly formed NATO-style rapid-reaction force of former Soviet nations wrapped up its first large-scale exercises on Friday with a dramatic show of firepower that shattered the quiet of a Central Asian plain.
The manoeuvres in southern Kazakhstan were part of a Russian bid to increase the power and status of the seven-nation Collective Security Treaty Organisation military bloc that Moscow hopes will eventually counterbalance NATO.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev watched the more than 7,000 troops with his counterparts from Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, all of them dressed in desert camouflage.
The leaders of members Belarus and Uzbekistan did not attend, however, which may raise concerns about cohesion in the fledgling alliance.
Russian efforts to increase its clout in Central Asia are widely viewed as an attempt to outmanoeuvre the US, whose forces have used bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to support military operations in Afghanistan.
CSTO officials said today the exercise was meant to test the new rapid-reaction force and improve coordination among armed forces in the event of an attack against any member state, something that has worried some Central Asian nations that share borders with Afghanistan or Pakistan.