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Tajikistan - Russian Relations

Russia's main interest in Tajikstan was supporting stability. Russia considered spillover from events in Afghanistan and Pakistan as the main threat. Russia was concerned about rising instability both from extremists originating in the south and also the ongoing disputes on water, borders and other issues between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Many observers feel that Russia is blowing the threat of instability out of proportion; portraying Tajikistan as weak helps justify the continuing presence of the Russian base, and infighting between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan potentially increases Russia's influence.

Like the other Central Asian republics, Tajikistan joined the CIS, which was created in December 1991, three weeks before the Soviet Union collapsed officially. Shortly before opposition demonstrators forced President Rahmon Nabiyev to resign in August 1992, he asked several presidents of former Soviet republics, including President Boris N. Yeltsin of Russia, to help him stay in power. They refused this request. In the fall of 1992, the increasingly embattled coalition government that succeeded Nabiyev asked the other members of the CIS to intervene to end the civil war. However, such assistance was not provided.

Through the mid-1990s, Russia played a role in independent Tajikistan by its military presence there, in the form of the 201st Motorized Rifle Division and the Border Troops. Russian personnel in Dushanbe acted as advisers to the post-civil war government. Russians also held important positions in the Dushanbe government itself, most notably the Ministry of Defense, which was led from 1992 to 1995 by Aleksandr Shishlyannikov. Yuriy Ponosov, who had a generation of experience as a CPSU official in Tajikistan before the breakup of the Soviet Union, became Tajikistan's first deputy prime minister in March 1996.

The protection of the Russian minority in strife-ridden Tajikistan is a stated foreign policy goal of the Russian government. Russia's concern was eased somewhat by the conclusion of a dual-citizenship agreement between the two countries in 1995. Russia also has justified its active involvement in the affairs of Tajikistan by citing the need to defend the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border -- and thus, the CIS -- from penetration by Islamic extremism and drug trafficking.

Before the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, Tajikistan had no army of its own. Administratively, the republic was part of the Soviet Union's Turkestan Military District, which was abolished in June 1992. By the end of the Soviet era, the old military system, which commonly (although not exclusively) assigned draftees from Tajikistan to noncombat units in the Soviet army, had begun to break down, and draft evasion became a common occurrence in Tajikistan. Reform plans for Tajikistan's conscription system were overtaken by the breakup of the union.

Following independence, the Nabiyev government made repeated efforts between December 1991 and June 1992 to organize a national guard. Those efforts met strong opposition from factions fearing that an antireformist president would use the guard as a tool of repression. When his national guard plans failed, Nabiyev turned to private armies of his political supporters to kill or intimidate political opponents. In 1992 additional armed bands were organized in Tajikistan, some associated with opposition political groups and others simply reflecting the breakdown of central authority in the country rather than loyalty to a political faction.

The main regular military force in Tajikistan at independence was the former Soviet 201st Motorized Rifle Division, headquartered in Dushanbe. This division, whose personnel are ethnically heterogeneous, came under jurisdiction of the Russian Federation in 1992 and remained under Russian command in early 1996. Officially neutral in the civil war, Russian and Uzbekistani forces, including armored vehicles of the 201st Division and armored vehicles, jets, and helicopters from Uzbekistan, provided significant assistance in antireformist assaults on the province of Qurghonteppa and on Dushanbe. The 201st Division failed to warn the inhabitants of Dushanbe that neo-Soviet forces had entered the city, nor did it interfere with the victors' wave of violence against opposition supporters in Dushanbe. In the ensuing months, the 201st Division was involved in some battles against opposition holdouts. Russian troops stationed in Tajikistan were a major source of weapons for various factions in the civil war. Combatants on both sides frequently were able to buy or confiscate Russian military hardware, including armored vehicles.

In January 1993, a Russian, Colonel (later Major General) Aleksandr Shishlyannikov, was appointed minister of defense of Tajikistan (a post he held until 1995, when he was replaced by Major General Sherali Khayrulloyev, a Tajik), and many positions in the Tajikistani high command were assumed by Russians in 1993. Meanwhile, in mid-1993 the joint CIS peacekeeping force was created. The force, which remained by far the largest armed presence in Tajikistan through 1995, included elements of the 201st Division, units of Russian border troops, and some Kazakstani, Kyrgyzstani, and Uzbekistani units. By 1995 the officially stated mission of the 201st Division in Tajikistan included artillery and rocket support for the border troops.

Border security was a key part of Russia's continued military role in Tajikistan. In June 1992, the formerly Soviet border guards stationed in Tajikistan came under the direct authority of Russia; in 1993 a reorganization put all Russian border troops under the Russian Federal Border Service. By 1995 an estimated 16,500 troops of that force were in Tajikistan, but about 12,500 of the rank-and-file and noncommissioned officers were drawn from the inhabitants of Tajikistan.

The presidents of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Russia descended on Dushanbe 28-31 July 2009 for bilateral and multilateral meetings. One of the more substantive issues to emerge during the summit concerned future military cooperation between Tajikistan and Russia. The Russians were reportedly considering paying Tajikistan for hosting the 6,800 members of the 201 Russian Motorized Rifle Division based in Dushanbe. In exchange, Russia was exploring weapons exports to Tajikistan at market prices, and training Tajik military staff on a commercial basis. Presidents Rahmon and Medvedev ordered Tajik Minister of Foreign Affairs Zarifi and Russian Minister of Defense Serdyukov to review the status of the base and report back in 45 days.

Russian investment in Tajikistan remains largely state-led, with mobile telephone operations the major exception. One Russian Ambassador commented to the press here that no Russian company would invest in Tajikistan unless pressured to do so by the Government of Russia. He cited corruption as the main deterrent. This practice reinforces the Tajiks' tendency to view Russia-U.S. activity here as a Great Game, a zero-sum competition for power over Central Asia. They routinely fail to understand that we can't -- unlike Russia -- command U.S. companies to do business here. That said, recent initiatives to improve the business climate are a small step in the right direction, provided they continue to receive government support.

Although Russia is Tajikistan's largest investor, its economic influence in Tajikistan is felt most strongly through another means altogether: labor migration. As many as one million of Tajikistan's population of 7 million work as migrant laborers in Russia, sending back over $2.5 billion in remittances last year. The 2008 world financial crisis hit the Russian construction sector, where many Tajiks work, especially hard, and remittances fell by 35% in 2009. Many Tajiks nevertheless remain in Russia in the hope of finding new work. Although Tajiks working in Russia are officially required to obtain work permits, the fact that travel between the two countries is visa-free made it difficult to enforce this requirement. Russian politicians have floated the idea of instating a visa requirement for Tajiks traveling to Russia, but nothing has yet come of this. Local migration expert Saodat Olimiva points out that Tajiks working in Russia spend as much as two-thirds of their income there, indicating that the guestworker arrangement is in Russia's interest as well.

Russia continues to be the dominant external economic partner of Tajikistan, although its position is slipping somewhat. From 2005 to 2009, Russia invested $971 million in Tajikistan. In 2008 it accounted for 75 percent of total foreign direct investment (FDI), or $325 million -- 28 percent more than in 2007. According to the Government of Tajikistan, in the first half of 2009 Russia invested $39 million -- more than any other country. Other major investor countries were Kazakhstan ($25.8 million), the Netherlands ($8.9 million), China ($5.7 million), the United Kingdom ($5.5 million), Iran ($1.0 million) and other countries ($32.3 million). Russia's low investment compared to previous years was due to the global financial crisis.

Trade also took a sharp hit from the crisis. In July, Russian Ambassador Yuri Popov noted that trade between Russia and Tajikistan for January-June 2009 amounted to $400.5 million, 28 percent less than the same period in 2008. Imports from Russia totaled $360.6 million, almost 28 percent lower than 2008 figure, while exports from Tajikistan to Russia amounted to $39.9 million, 19 percent lower than the first six months of 2008. Russia nevertheless remained Tajikistan's largest trading partner, with 24.7 percent of Tajikistan's overall trade.

Russia made major investments in energy, construction, mining, communication, transportation, and other sectors. Among the largest projects is the Sangtuda-1 hydropower plant, officially opened by Presidents Medvedev and Rahmon at the end of July 2009, which is worth around $600 million. Although it is frequently reported that the Tajiks own 25 percent of the project, according to local newspapers their ownership was earlier reduced to 16.45 percent. The project had its problems. For the first quarter of 2009 the Tajik electrical grid operator Barqi Tojik did not remit money to its Russian partner RAO UES. After a riot by construction workers in March 2009, Russian Vice Prime Minister Igor Sechin stepped in to help resolve the problem. Asadullo Ghulomov, Tajikistan's Vice Prime Minister, later stated that Barqi Tojik paid $10 million of its debt to RAO UES in April 2009.

On December 13, 2006, the Tajik affiliate of Russian gas giant Gazprom Zarubezhneftegas received four licenses for prospecting work in Tajikistan, including Sargazon in Dangara district (38,500 hectares), Rengan in Rudaki district (29,808 ha), Sarikamish in Shahrinav district (21,833 ha), and Western Shohambari in Hissor district (5,065 ha). Estimated reserves in the four sites total some 70-80 billion cubic meters of gas. If successfully exploited, this domestic production will help relieve Tajikistan's gas dependency on its neighbors, particularly Uzbekistan, with which it has a strained relationship. Gazprom Zarubezhneftegas reportedly planned to invest up to $1 billion within the three years 2009-2011; its total investment in 2009 totalled only some $30 million, however.

Gazprom's main competition is Canadian-registered Tethys Petroleum, which has signed production-sharing agreements with the Tajik government to develop its own four sites in Tajikistan. Tethys representatives have spoken favorably about the activity of their Russian competitors, saying that the increased exploration and drilling activity will lower costs for inputs to both firms. The firm had some difficulty bringing in chemicals due to Russian export restrictions. The hope was that with Gazprom bringing in similar products, it will be easier for Tethys to do the same -- even buying directly from Gazprom's domestic suppliers.

Another Russian project involved investing $43.3 million to expand the Gazpromneft Tajikistan's network of fuel stations, which already accounts for 60% of gasoline supplies in Tajikistan. In his visit on July 30, 2009, Russian President Medvedev signed an agreement with President Rahmon to open a joint venture to produce energy-saving light bulbs. The Tajik President later signed a law outlawing the use of incandescent bulbs.

At the end of May 2009 an affiliate of the state-owned Russian bank Rosselkhozbank was established in Dushanbe that may pave the way for further financial relations between the two countries. Rosselkhozbank is oriented principally toward the agriculture sector; its Tajik branch reportedly will be working to build and maintain a network of Tajik and Russian companies. Russian mobile telecommunication firms Beeline and Megafon have been in the Tajik communications market since 2005, providing services such as GSM-900/1800 and 3G (UMTS). Beeline currently has 722,000 customers, making it the top communications company in Tajikistan's diverse market.

Russia has also invested in the construction of Tajikistan's only 5-star hotel, the Hyatt Regency, built by the Turkish company ENKA and funded by the investment company Sozidanie (meaning "creation") through the Rusal-owned "Russkie Oteli" company. The local manager of a firm considering building its own five-star hotel called the Hyatt project, estimated at $150 million, a "a money laundering project" for the Russian government that should in fact have cost no more than $40 million. Rusal also has invested in the construction of a large business center in downtown Dushanbe that still lies untenanted.



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Page last modified: 06-02-2014 16:22:52 ZULU