Russia ‘Agrees’ to Stabilize Central Asia with Tajikistan Base

Source: Sofia News Agency

Russia‘s securing of a military base lease in Tajikistan till 2042 means that it will be committed to stabilizing Central Asia, including by tackling the Taliban, according to Russian and international analysts.

Their reactions came after on Friday Russian President Vladimir Putin struck a deal with Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon to extend the lease of the Russian military in the Central Asian republic by 30 years.

The deal means that Russia agrees to use military force to maintain peace in Central Asia, a region that is set to grow much more turbulent after the US forces pull out of Afghanistan in 2014, commented pundits, as cited by RIA Novosti.

Destabilization is imminent in Central Asia after US troops’ pullout from Afghanistan, Russian analysts said.

The Taliban is hoping to return to power in Afghanistan or at least increase their influence, which would likely resonate throughout the region, said Alexander Knyazev from the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Tensions between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are also riding high due to the conflict over the Rogun Dam, which is in the works in Tajikistan, he said.

The situation inside Tajikistan is shaky as well, as evidenced by a recent spate of violence in the Gorno-Badakhshan province, where the government failed to suppress a rebellion by a local warlord in July and had to negotiate, said Vladimir Bartenev, head of the Center for Security and Development Studies at the Moscow State University.

The Russian base is crucial in this regard, with 7 000 highly qualified troops keeping hotheads all across the region from rash armed action, Knyazev said.

But they may be in for some serious testing by the Taliban, said Paul Quinn-Judge, an expert on Central Asia at the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based watchdog.

The extent of havoc that the Islamists will be able to wreak across Central Asia after 2014 is hard to evaluate in advance, Quinn-Judge conceded.

But it is at least “conceivable” that the Russian troops in Tajikistan would even be required to conduct operations in northern Afghanistan, returning to the country for the first time after the Soviet Union’s lost Afghan war of 1979-1989, he said.

“Russia would be expected to protect Tajikistan now…and the risk would grow after 2014,” Quinn-Judge said.

The US deadline of 2014 made it imperative that the Russia prolong the base deal, set to expire the same year, experts said, as cited by RIA Novosti.

The cordial accord on Friday, however, was preceded by a year of tense negotiations, with the deadline for the deal’s signing repeatedly pushed back. Just last week, the commander of the Russian Ground Forces, Vladimir Chirkin, predicted that the agreement prolonging Russian troops’ stay in Tajikistan would not be sealed until summer 2013.

“Tajik authorities acted as if they were at a bazaar,” said Knyazev of the Institute of Oriental Studies.

The deal was accompanied by a set of other agreements, including Russia’s pledge to extend residency and work permits for Tajik nationals. Money sent home from Russia by the 1.1 million Tajik workers in the country amounted to USD 3 B in 2011, making up around half of the impoverished republic’s GDP, Putin’s aide Ushakov said.

Russia would also step up cooperation with Tajikistan on combatting illegal drugs, giving Dushanbe USD 5 M to the purpose.

Moscow is also “considering” involvement in Tajikistan’s plans to build a set of hydro power plants on the country’s interior rivers, Putin said after talks with Rahmon. He did not elaborate.

Tajikistan is building the 335-meter-high Rogun Dam on the Vakhsh River. The project was lambasted by neighboring Uzbekistan, which fears the dam would decrease its supply of drinking water, a precious commodity in arid Central Asia.

The package deal on migration, anti-drug campaigning and energy indicated that Russian diplomacy finally learned to use economic incentives to accomplish its goals, said Bartenev of the Center for Security and Development Studies.

Moscow clinched last month a similar deal with Kyrgyzstan, which will host a Russian military base though at least 2032, writing off USD 500 M of Kyrgyz debts in exchange. The Central Asian republic also houses a US military base, but it is set to be closed by 2014.

Speeding the Tajik deal was important for Putin, who is very conscious of Russia’s image in the West and sees Central Asia, a zone of Russia’s alleged “privileged interests,” as a means of boosting Moscow’s international prestige, Quinn-Judge said.

But at the same time, the deal with Dushanbe is bound to irk Uzbekistan, an aspiring regional power which has been leaning toward the United States in recent months, Knyazev said.

A delegation of 17 America senior military officials is touring Uzbekistan this week, adding weight to reports that the United States plan to set up a transit base in the country to aid the pullout of its forces from Afghanistan.

“You can’t exchange a queen for two pawns,” Knyazev said, referring to Russia’s deals with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan at the expense of Uzbekistan. “But I hope Putin is just sounding off on the situation before beginning dialogue with [Uzbekistan’s capital] Tashkent.”

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