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Russia’s CSTO partners want more money for Russian military bases

July 12, 2012, 17:30 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

Russia’s closest partners in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) are bargaining for more dividends from Russia’s military presence in their territories. Thus, Tajikistan has demanded 250 million U.S. dollars a year for the deployment of a Russian military base in the republic. On Wednesday, Kyrgyzstan announced plans to increase the rent for Russian military facilities. So, experts say, the presence of Russian troops in Central Asia is becoming too costly for Moscow.

Tajikistan estimated the stay of Russia’s 201st military base at “at least 250 million U.S. dollars a year,” the Kommersant newspaper writes on Thursday, referring to a source close to the talks on further deployment of the base in that country. The Russian defence ministry however says it has received no proposals on the matter from Tajikistan.

The Russian military base in Tajikistan was set up in 2005 on the basis of the 201st Motorized Infantry Division deployed in that country under a mutual assistance agreement. With about 7,000 Russian servicemen, it is Russia’s biggest land troops base outside Russia. Deployed in Dushanbe, Kurgan-Tyube, and Kulyab, it is a key element of the common security system in Central Asia.

Russian and Tajikistan were to agree conditions for the base’s further stay in the republic in the first quarter of 2012, but failed. A scandal of the presence of Russian troops in Tajikistan erupted last week when Russia accused the Tajik authorities of advancing unacceptable rent terms and suspended its financing. Tajikistan’s ministry of defence labeled Russia’s position as “politically incorrect.” So far, all efforts to find a way out of this deadlock have failed. Even a meeting between the two countries’ defence ministers at a recent session of the CIS Council in Kaliningrad was to no avail.

In early July, commander-in-chief of Russia’s land troops Colonel General Vladimir Chirkin said Dushanbe had laid down more than 20 demands, the bulk of which are unacceptable to Russia. Moreover, Dushanbe keeps changing these demands. “It looks like a petty ‘Oriental bargaining,’ and there seems to be no end to it,” Chirkin said.

Tajikistan, in his words, “is advancing absolutely unrealizable claims, which run counter to our offers.” “It brings the situation to a blind alley: our presence there might be brought into question,” he said.

According to a Tajik political scientist, Parviz Mulodzhanov, who was cited by the electronic newspaper Vzglyad, the unacceptable claims the Russian top-ranking officer spoke of include first and foremost a rent of hundreds of millions U.S. dollars.

He recalled that back in 2004 Russia was allowed to have its 201st military base in Tajikistan practically for nothing in exchange for its promise to invest two billion U.S. dollars to Tajikistan’s economy. The agreement however was later annulled because of differences between the states. “It looks like the conditions now are as follows: either you pay the rent or give some economic preferences and support the energy sector,” Mulodzhanov noted.

On top of that, Kyrgyzstan’s authorities announced their plans to increase the rent for the use of three Russian military facilities – an underwater weapons testing ground in Karakol, a military communications centre in Kara-Balt, and a radio seismic laboratory in Mailuu-Suu starting from 2014, when their rent term expires. Kyrgyzstan is ready to extend it but on new conditions.

According to Kyrgyzstan’s Defence Minister Talaibek Omuraliyev, Russia will have to pay a higher rent for its military facilities, except an airbase in Kant, as adjusted for inflation. The airbase in Kant, he said, is operated in the interests of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, of which Kyrgyzstan is a member, so new rent terms would not be applicable to it.

Currently, Russia pays about 4.5 million U.S. dollars a year for these three facilities, and provides training to Kyrgyzstan’s military as part of its rent.

Meanwhile, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily stresses that these three military facilities are of key importance for Russia. Thus, the 338th communications centre is the only Russian Navy’s facility in the entire Central Asian region which is operated in the extra-long frequency wave band to ensure communications with nuclear submarines on duty in the world ocean. The seismic centre of the Russian defence ministry monitors the situation with eye of possible nuclear explosions in South and Southeast Asian countries, while the Koisary anti-submarine equipment test base No 954 in Karakol on Lake Issyk Kul is one of the Russian Navy’s key trial grounds to test combat torpedoes.

Experts try to find reasons why Russia’s partners in the Collective Security Treaty Organization should come up with their claims that synchronically.

Alexander Karavayev, a deputy director of Moscow State University’s Centre for the Study of the Post-Soviet Space, believes the underlying motives are basically economic interests.

“Moscow is perplexed at the synchronism of problems in the area of Russia’s military cooperation with its partners: from disputes of the lease of the Gabala radar station in Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan’s suspended membership in the Collective Security Treaty Organization to higher rent rates in Tajikistan and now in Kyrgyzstan,” he told the Kommersant. “Some see a hand of foreign players here, but in conditions of an economic recession and the lack of substantial sources of incomes in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, the presence of Russian military bases there is not a matter of geopolitics for these countries but rather a question of commercial yield.”

But assessing the general situation, it seems that the region is at the crossroads, deciding which centre of force to stake on, the internet portal writes. As of now, according to experts, the scale seems to be more inclined in favor of the United States.

Thus, Uzbekistan, which has suspended its CSTO membership for the second time, “has been vacillating between Russia and the United States.” Moreover, positions of the United States and Uzbekistan seem to be getting closer in the recent time.

In Tajikistan as well, the United States is strengthening its positions. More to it, China also wants to have a say, and Tajikistan’s cooperation with India and Gulf countries, primarily, Qatar, is on the rise. The more so the less grounds Moscow has to claim monopoly and an “elder brother” role in relations with Tajikistan.

Moscow, July 12