On October 5, the Russian and Tajik defense ministers signed an agreement that extended Russia’s lease of a large army base in the Central Asian country for another 29 years. With the current lease expiring at the end of 2013, the deal guarantees Moscow a continuation of its military presence in Tajikistan until at least 2042. Under the new agreement, Tajikistan will continue hosting Russia’s largest ground force deployed abroad for free. The roughly 7,000 military personnel serving at the base as well as their families will be granted immunity from legal prosecution in the country.
BACKGROUND: The deal was signed during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Dushanbe, ending a lengthy period of negotiation and heated debates. Moscow and Dushanbe initially announced their intention to extend the presence of Russian troops in Tajikistan in September 2011. Shortly afterwards, however, it became apparent that the two countries had major disagreements on the terms of the new base deal. Dushanbe reportedly insisted that Russia should pay rent, while Moscow was keen on using the strategically important base free of charge. Dushanbe also resented a 49-year lease deal pushed by Moscow, proposing instead a shorter term arrangement.
The agreements inked during Putin’s visit to Tajikistan are designed to satisfy both countries. Russia has secured an extension of its basing rights in Tajikistan on very favorable conditions. Over the next three decades, Moscow will only pay a “symbolic sum” for stationing its troops in the strategically located Central Asian country. Continue reading
As talks continue over the extension of Russia’s use of a military base in Tajikistan, the Central Asian country’s envoy to Moscow suggests that the two countries have reconciled their positions on all parameters of a new lease except its duration. Speaking to the media on June 29, Abdulmajid Dostiev acknowledged that the finalization of the new deal is held back only by disagreements over how long Tajikistan will host the Russian base under the lease. Moscow insists on extending its basing rights in the country for the next 49 years, arguing that a long-term arrangement is needed to secure funding for the development of the facility. The government in Tajikistan, in contrast, seeks to limit the new lease to ten years or less. Yet, according to the diplomat, Dushanbe and Moscow are now “very close” to a new base deal (ozodi.org, June 29).
Dostiev’s remarks came in response to Russia’s Ground Forces Commander, Colonel-General Vladimir Chirkin’s announcement that negotiations with Tajikistan over the future of the base have reached a deadlock. Speaking at the Russian parliament on June 26, Chirkin blamed Dushanbe for the stalemate: “Tajikistan has demands that are absolutely impossible to meet; [they] run counter to our proposals. We are now facing a situation from which there might be no way out whatsoever.” The Russian general admitted that the major point of contention had to do with the duration of the new lease, with Tajikistan unwilling to agree to the 49-year arrangement favored by Moscow. Chirkin has also suggested that unless the two countries find a way out of the deadlock, the Russian troops might vacate their garrisons in Tajikistan after the current lease expires in 2014. Echoing Chirkin’s statement, Russia’s Ministry of Defense announced that it had stopped funding the development of the base pending the outcome of “difficult talks” with Tajikistan (gazeta.ru, regnum.ru, June 27; interfax.ru, July 3).
The Russian general has also proposed that Dushanbe benefits more than Moscow from the latter’s military presence. Chirkin warned that disagreements over energy, land and water distribution might eventually lead to armed conflicts involving Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. According to Chirkin, the Russian troops based in Tajikistan would serve as a “guarantor of stability and security in the region” if such conflicts erupt. Russian officials and experts have made similar claims before, pointing to rising political tensions within Tajikistan and the uncertainties surrounding Afghanistan’s post-2014 future as major security threats that Dushanbe would not be able to tackle without Russia’s assistance (ria.ru, June 26; news.tj, avesta.tj, June 28).
On June 7, Tajikistani President Emomali Rahmon returned home from a week-long tour of China. The tour included a five-day state visit followed by Rahmon’s participation in the 12th summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Beijing. Following the trip, the Tajik President’s office announced that ten new deals signed in Beijing would bring Tajikistan about $1 billion in new Chinese investment, loans and aid. Experts suggest that the new deals will increase China’s economic clout in Tajikistan, giving Rahmon more leverage in dealings with Moscow.
As part of the deals inked during the visit, Beijing has pledged to invest some $600 million to build a large cement plant in Tajikistan’s southern district of Shahritus, on the border with Uzbekistan. When completed, the plant is expected to produce three million metric tons of cement annually, using local limestone reserves. According to Rahmon’s press service, the plant will be a joint project between the Chinese government-run National Materials Group Corporation and the state-owned Tajik Aluminium Company (Talco) (president.tj, June 7). Eager to break its dependence on cement imports, Dushanbe previously negotiated similar deals with Tehran and Islamabad (news.tj, June 11, 2011; June 1). However, joint projects with Iran and Pakistan have taken too long to get off the ground, leading Tajikistan to seek Chinese investment instead.
Beijing has also pledged to build a coal-driven combined heat and power (CHP) plant in Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe. Although negotiated over a year ago, the $200 million project stalled because of disagreements over the plant’s technical specifications. Following Rahmon’s return from Beijing, it was announced that Chinese specialists will begin the construction of the plant “within the next several days” and will complete the project within a year. The CHP plant project is part of the Tajikistani government’s effort to use the country’s coal resources in tackling power shortages. China is also helping Tajikistan’s state-owned cement factory in Dushanbe and a number of other enterprises to switch from imported natural gas to local coal (president.tj, June 7; news.tj, April 28, 2011).
As negotiations continue over the extension of Russia’s use of a military base in Tajikistan, the Central Asian country’s envoy to Russia suggests that his government wants Moscow to pay rent for operating the facility. Speaking to journalists on February 28, Abdulmajid Dostiev acknowledged that the issue of rent has been holding back the finalization of a new treaty which would extend Russia’s basing rights in Tajikistan for the next 49 years. The two countries had agreed to sign the treaty back in September 2011, but they left for later the contentious issue of payment.
Moscow has reportedly sought to prolong the treaty without committing to any payment arrangements. Russia remains the largest source of technical-military and economic assistance to Tajikistan, and Russian diplomats have proposed that this assistance should count as rent. However, the Tajik side wants Moscow to commit to a fixed amount of money that it would either pay in annual rent fees or spend on technical-military assistance to the country. Russian media have speculated that Dushanbe expects Moscow to contribute about $300 million annually, while Tajik experts say Dushanbe would settle for $30 million. Without commenting on the details of Tajikistan’s demands, Dostiev asserted that, “not a single country in the world today would give up the smallest plot of its land for free” (www.ozodi.org, February 28).
After Tajikistan’s independence in 1991, Moscow retained control of the Soviet 201st motorized rifle division, which had been stationed in the country. In 2004, the division was reorganized into Russia’s permanent military base. The base now has around 7,000 troops – Russia’s largest ground force deployed abroad – stationed in Dushanbe, Kulob and Qurghonteppa (www.news.tj, October 21, 2011). Russia has also sought access to the Indian-renovated Ayni air base near the Tajik capital, but Tajikistan made it clear that Moscow would have to pay to use the facility (EDM, February 9, 2011).
On November 22, a court in Tajikistan released two foreign pilots, including a Russian citizen, who two weeks earlier had been sentenced to lengthy terms in jail. The release of Vladimir Sadovnichy, a Russian citizen, and Alexei Rudenko, an Estonian citizen, has been prompted by an unusually strong backlash from Moscow that threatened to ruin Tajikistan’s economy.
Sadovnichy and Rudenko were flying their Antonov-72 cargo planes from Afghanistan to Russia on March 12 when Tajik air traffic controllers denied them permission to land for refueling at the Qurghonteppa (Kurgan-Tube) Airport in southern Tajikistan. The pilots landed their aircrafts anyway, claiming that they did not have enough fuel to return to Kabul. After the landing, the crews of the two planes were placed by State Committee for National Security (GKNB) forces in a hotel where they were held for about two months. In May, Tajik authorities formally arrested Sadovnichy and Rudenko, but released the rest of the crew. Following a trial that had been kept mostly low-profile, the two pilots were on November 8 found guilty of smuggling, violating international aviation regulations, and illegally crossing Tajikistan’s border. They were each sentenced to eight and a half years in prison and the planes were confiscated as “physical evidence”.