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Russia-Tajikistan relationship is getting onto the normal track

October 08, 2012, 16:39 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

Russia’s relations with Tajikistan, which have developed not without certain problems over the past years, seem to be getting better. First and foremost the issue of the Russian military base’s presence in Tajikistan – most sensitive for Russia - has been settled at last. In exchange Russia will extend assistance in upgrading the Tajik army. Migrants from Tajikistan will be allowed to work in Russia much longer.

On the whole, Russia’s foreign policy on the Central Asian track grew far more active lately, experts say. Which is particularly important at a time when the United States and China are struggling for influence in the region.

Russia and Tajikistan have signed an agreement on the status and terms of presence of the Russian military base in Tajikistan during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Dushanbe late last week. Russia’s 201st military base will remain in Tajikistan until 2042 in exchange for a token lease payment. Its personnel will enjoy the diplomatic status, which implies immunity from searches, arrest of property, etc.

Moscow has made several reciprocal decisions that are of great importance to Dushanbe. “Russia undertakes to upgrade and rearm Tajikistan’s armed forces and strengthen the material and technological base of the military with modern armaments,” President Emomali Rakhmonov told a news conference following Putin’s visit. Also, according to the Tajik leader, Moscow will extend assistance in training personnel for the Tajik armed forces.

Besides, Russia will increase the duration of Tajik labor migrants’ presence in its territory. A total of 1.13 million Tajik workers are officially employed in Russia. According to some estimates, there are as many unofficial migrants. Their cash transfers home reach three billion dollars, which is equivalent to half of their country’s gross domestic product. “In drafting the agreement on migrants progress in negotiations on other documents was taken into account,” the RBC Daily quotes a source in the Kremlin as saying.

The main of the concluded agreements is the new treaty on the presence of the Russian military base till 2042, with chances of five year extensions. The military base in Tajikistan opened in 2004. It is the largest Russian army group stationed outside Russia. Originally, the agreement was signed for a period of ten years, till 2014. However, shortly before the end of the lease term the Tajik authorities raised the question of reconsidering the status of the base, including the introduction of a lease payment for its presence. The mass media mentioned a sum of no less than 250 million dollars a year. Moscow found the terms unacceptable. The negotiations began back in 2008 to last for three years.

In March 2012, after Vladimir Putin returned to the presidential seat, Tajikistan grew increasingly obstinate. Moscow was forced to suspend the funding of the base. In June the commander-in-chief of Russia’s armed forces, Vladimir Chirkin, said that the talks on the 201st military base were stalled, and that Russian military might be forced to leave Tajikistan in the near future.

Russia was utterly unhappy about the risk of losing a strategic facility on the border with unstable Afghanistan – a source of the heavy flow of narcotic drugs. The Kremlin regards the base in Tajikistan as a buffer on the way of likely penetrations by Islamists into neighboring post-Soviet territories. However, as experts say, Tajikistan needs the Russian military base to a no smaller degree than Russia. To protect the 1,500-kilometer-long border (Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan is in fact the border of the whole CIS) is very costly for the budget of the republic and for its armed forces. The base’s personnel numbers more than 7,000 officers and men, which is equivalent to half of Tajikistan’s own 12,000 strong army, and its level of armaments and logistics support is far higher.

Putin’s visit to Tajikistan was another in a series of trips to the post-Soviet countries of Central Asia lately. Previously, he visited Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The visits contributed to strengthening Russia’s relations with these countries, which is particularly important against the background of stronger competition for the Central Asian region between the United States and China. Both have gained a far firmer foothold in the region over the past decade.

Moscow’s worries are easy to understand. The worsening of problem with the base in Tajikistan coincided with Uzbekistan’s decision to quit the Collective Security Treaty Organization. At the end of June Tashkent formally declared it was suspending its membership of that organization. In July, Kyrgyzstan told Russia it would raise the lease payment for hosting Russian military facilities. Russia faced the risk of losing part of its influence in three of the five countries of Central Asia, located in the explosive region close to Afghanistan.

Russia set eyes on relatively loyal Tajikistan as the main line of defense against a new tide of radical Islamists and drug smugglers infiltrating from neighboring Afghanistan, says the daily Vedomosti.

Moscow has far smaller influence on the other CIS republics, also having common borders with Afghanistan – Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Apparently, the Russian leader is determined to keep building up Moscow’s presence in Central Asia – a region where the United States and China in their struggle for influence offer political support to authoritarian leaders and launch investment projects in exchange for loyalty, the newspaper writes.

MOSCOW, October 8