From Reuters: Russia and four former Soviet republics staged war games on Friday to showcase a a new NATO-style rapid reaction force designed to cement Moscow’s hold over allies in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Dressed in combat fatigues, the leaders of Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan looked on as the force carried out a mock attack to destroy “insurgents” who had taken control of a chemical plant…

“This is our answer to those threats which our states are coming up against, threats which know no borders — drug crime, religious radicalism and several other threats which we all intend to battle,” [Russian President Dmitry] Medvedev told reporters.

“This is a milestone in the development of the CSTO and our cooperation.”

Five of the CSTO members agreed to create the rapid reaction force in February, when Medvedev said the units should be comparable to NATO structures.

Officials said 7,000 troops and 90 aircraft took part in the “Interaction-2009” drills, which covered an area of 1,600 square kilometres (600 square miles) at the Matybulak firing range in southern Kazakhstan. (photo: AFP)