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Presence of Russian base in Tajikistan prolonged for another 30 years

October 02, 2013, 17:50 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, October 2 (Itar-Tass) - The agreement on Russia’s military base in Tajikistan, which was originally to expire in 2014, has been prolonged by another 30 years. The discussion over Russia’s military presence in the region has become particularly timely after NATO’s statement it will pull out its international contingent from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The military base issue proved a complex one and took a long time to settle. Dushanbe’s original aim was to negotiate the best conditions possible. Whatever the case, all analysts agree that after NATO’s pullout from Afghanistan the Russian base will remain the sole safeguard of security on the Afghan-Tajik border.

The lower house of Tajikisan’s parliament on Tuesday ratified an agreement to prolong till 2042 the presence of Russia’s 201st military base in the country’s territory. The approval of the documents that the heads of the two states had concluded in October last year could have materialized much earlier, but the process was stalled for nearly twelve months due to unsettled issues related to migration and tax-exempt supplies of Russian oil products.

Now the agreement is to be approved by the upper house of parliament. Then the president will sign it into law. However, the issue is practically settled already.

The 201st ground base remains Russia's largest outside the national territory. Its personnel numbers seven thousand. The base is considered an important element of the overall system of security in the region. Established in 2004, it is located at three sites - in Dushanbe, Kurgan-Tyube and Kulyab.

The talks over the future of that base have been slow-going ever since 2008. In September 2011 Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rakhmon promised the then Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, to conclude a prolongation agreement no later than the April of next year. Last summer the Russian General Staff accused Tajikistan of putting forward unrealistic demands. In a certain while the disputes were resolved, though.

Russia has already paid its price for the fast-tracked ratification of the military base agreement. The Tajik parliament was asked to consider a bilateral agreement on the rules of presence of Tajik citizens in Russian territory, signed in Moscow in February 2013. Pretty lax conditions have been established for Tajiks in Russia. The deadline for guest workers to obtain registration was increased to fifteen days.

Also, a Russian-Tajik agreement on cooperation in the supply of oil products to Tajikistan was approved. The agreement cancelled the export customs duties (in an amount of one million tonnes a year) and likely investments in the construction of small and medium hydro power plants on Tajikistan’s rivers.

The Tajikistan parliament’s ratification of the agreement was timed for the beginning of the election campaign. Tajikistan will be electing its new president on November 6. Analysts say this is not accidental. The authorities’ popularity has been dwindling. Dushanbe ever more often comes under the fire of criticism from international human rights organizations for what they claim is systemic human rights abuse. Among the labour migrants the Tajik authorities’ rating is not very high, either, for they are unhappy with their position in Russia and the authorities’ inability to offer them a decent employment alternative at home. Social tensions are soaring due to high corruption and joblessness.

In a situation like this, analysts say, it is extremely important for Dushanbe to secure Moscow’s political and military support.

As he presented the draft agreement on the military base, Tajikistan’s Defence Minister Sherali Khairullayev said that it would help maintain the country’s security and keep peace and stability in the region. Khairullayev said that the Russian military might offer a helping hand in case of “penetrations of terrorist groups into the country’s territory.”

Also, Russia would help Tajikistan re-equip its armed forces. Under the memorandum concluded in the autumn of last year Tajikistan will be armed with advanced aircraft, artillery, means of communication, air defence weapons, armour and small arms.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu last August said that originally the budget of re-equipping the Tajik armed forces was estimated at 150-200 million dollars, but President Vladimir Putin issued instructions to increase it in view of the risks that would emerge in the wake of the anti-terrorist coalition’s pullout from Afghanistan in 2014. The final costs are still to be calculated, because alongside the supplies of new equipment on a commercial basis some armaments will be provided for free, and others upgraded or repaired. The whole three-phase program is extended until 2025.

According to the Russian mass media, Tajikistan had been pressing for a further increase of the armed forces rearmament program over the already approved 200 million dollars.

Over the past two decades Russia extended to Tajikistan over 400 million dollars in military assistance, says the Russian service of the BBC.

One cannot say that Rakhmon has managed to negotiate some extra bonuses for the ratification of the military base agreement, says the general director of the Moscow State University’s centre for information and analysis, Aleksei Vlasov. The daily Vedomosti quotes him as saying that Russia made no significant concessions but at the same time achieved its aims in the sphere of security on the Central Asian track. All have received what they originally expected.

“It is beyond doubt that for any sovereign country the existence of one’s own strong army capable of defending the country is very good. But in view of Tajikistan’s modern realities and the situation in the region, as well as one million of our migrants in Russia we support this agreement. Over the years of independence Dushanbe has failed to create a strong army of its own, so it has to rely on a foreign one. In our case the Russian army is indisputably preferable,” said the leader of the Islamic Party, Muhiddin Kabiri.

The Islamic group Jamaat Ansarullah (Allah Associates Society) has come out against the new agreement on the Russian military base, stationed in the republic. The Islamists placed a special statement to that effect in the Internet.

The group described the treaty as anti-Islamic and running counter to the interests of Tajikistan and urged the authorities not to effect this document.