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Operational Group of Russian Forces in Tajikistan

Subsequent to the declarations of independence, Tajikistan was the first Central Asian state to openly call for the maintenance of Russian troops on its territory. The country hosted the 201st Division, called Gachinskaia, which was founded in 1943 and set up in Dushanbe, then Stalinabad, at the end of World War II. It formed one of the contingents of Soviet troops sent to Afghanistan between 1980 and 1989.

When the Soviet Union dissolved at the end of 1991, the main military force in Tajikistan was the 201st Motorized Rifle Division, whose position and resources the Russian Federation inherited. The Russian military is present in Tajikistan at the request of the Tajikistani Government to support the current regime. Russia's 201st Motorized Rifle Division is part of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Collective Peacekeeping Force established in 1993. Russian border forces also dominate the multi-national CIS forces guarding the Tajikistani-Afghan border.

The Russian military presence in Tajikistan predated the civil war, and the 201st Motorized Rifle Division had been deployed in Tajikistan since the Soviet period. The Russian Army's 201st Division, fresh out of Afghanistan, helped ex-communists return to power in May 1992. Although nominally neutral in the civil war that broke out in Tajikistan in the fall of 1992, the 201st Division, together with substantial forces from neighboring Uzbekistan, played a significant role in the recapture of the capital city, Dushanbe, by former communist forces. The resulting civil war claimed between 20-50,000 lives.

As the civil war continued in more remote regions of Tajikistan during the next three years, the 201st Division remained the dominant military force, joining with Russian border troops and a multinational group of "peace-keeping" troops (dominated by Russian and Uzbekistani forces and including troops from Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan) to patrol the porous border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

In the absence of a strong policy guidance from Moscow, the 201st Division turned into an independent political force. Although the local Russian military in Tajikistan was ordered to stay neutral in the evolving conflict; informally it took side and transferred weapons to the Popular Front. The pro-Communist Popular Front was struggling against the Coalition government formed in May 1992, which included representatives from the Democratic and Muslim Opposition. Without the help of the 201st Division, Emomali Rakhmonov would never have come to power. Russia reinforced the 201st Motorized Rifle Division as fighting in the Tajik conflict worsened and the division became more involved.

Domestic forces could not insure Tajikistan's security. Therefore, the Rakmon regime came to rely upon two foreign armed forces: the Group of Russian Border Troops in Tajikistan (GRBTT) and the Joint CIS Peacekeeping Force in Tajikistan. Tajikistan lacked resources to maintain forces along its 2,000-kilometer border. During the CIS Kiev summit in March 1992 Tajikistan confirmed that Russian Border Guards would maintain Dushanbe's borders. In late August 1992 a reorganization of former-Soviet border forces districts occurred and jurisdiction for the "southern border of the CIS" was transferred to the GRBTT.

The second external force to provide security to Rakhmonov's regime was the CIS Collective Peacekeeping Force in Tajikistan (CCPFT), created under the collective security provisions of the Tashkent accord, to separate warring factions and safeguard the newly appointed coalition government. The 201st MRD was not part of the originally-designated force and was tasked to guard key installations and military facilities, but was drawn into the CCPFT once the magnitude of the mission and the lack of resources became apparent. It was not until October 1993 that an actual CIS Collective Peacekeeping Force was finally dispatched to Tajikistan. Limited contingents from Uzbekistan, Kazakstan, and Kyrgyzstan joined Russian troops from the 201st MRD; all were commanded by a Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the CIS Joint Armed Forces.

Ethnic tensions within Central Asia affected the willingness of Tajikistan's neighbors to send forces to the CCPFT. The participation of regional powers in peacekeeping was extremely sensitive in Central Asia, where frontiers are often artificial, ethnic groups are divided and deep-rooted rivalries have recently re-emerged. Peacekeeping operations by Central Asian states in neighboring states, in which they might have an ethnic minority or territorial claims, could put further strain on the fragile inter-ethnic relations in the region. Thus, many Tajiks, who, as the only non-Turkic peoples in Central Asia, have a historical fear of being subjugated by the Turkic majority, view with suspicion the deployment of Uzbek or Kyrgyz peacekeeping troops in Tajikistan, particularly in the south. Not surprisingly, the leaders of the other Central Asian states are aware ofthese 'nuances' and are concerned about the possible boomerang effects of meddling in Tajik affairs.

In 1994 and 1995, Russian and Central Asian authorities requested that the CIS troops be recognized as peacekeeping troops under United Nations (UN) jurisdiction, which elicited numerous debates as the 201st Division fought against the Tajik Islamic-democratic opposition alongside theCommunists of Khudj and and Kuliab, and could not therefore be considered as a neutral force.

The openly avowed purpose of the continued occupation was to protect Russia's strategic interests. Those interests were defined as preventing radical Islamic politicization and the shipment of narcotics, both designated as serious menaces to Russia itself. Meanwhile, Tajikistan formed a small army of its own, of which about three-quarters of the officer corps were Russians in mid-1996. Tajikistan, having no air force, relied exclusively on Russian air power. In mid-1996 the preponderance of the estimated 16,500 troops guarding Tajikistan's borders belonged to Russia's Federal Border Service. Border troops received artillery and armor support from the 201st Division, whose strength was estimated in 1996 as at least 12,000 troops.

Gradually the Russian military presence increased, and the Russian leadership made a series of commitments to defend Tajikistan's borders. In addition to border guards, some 6,000 troops in Russia's 201st Motorized Rifle Division, together with a small number of Uzbek troops, made up the majority of a CIS peacekeeping force in Tajikistan in 1997.

On June 27, 1997, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and Sayed Abdullo Nuri, the leader of the Islamic opposition, signed (in Moscow) a peace accord known as the General Agreement of National Reconciliation and Peace Establishment. As refugees returned and the disparate political factions attempted to rebuild (or really start to construct in the first place) a unified Tajik state, the position of the CCPFT and GRBTT must necessarily change. "Russian" forces were still be needed in the short term in border regions, but in what role and in what number is yet unknown. However, given the significant number of locally-recruited personnel, it may not be a matter of Russian forces returning home, but ethnic Tajiks shifting to Tajik authority. On the other hand, Dushanbe needed to use its finite funds for rebuilding and it can finance reconstruction by cutting the defense rolls; therefore, an immediate Russian exodus did not result.

After the peace accords of June 1997, the presence of the CIS forces, whose first mission was to prevent the reprise of conflict between belligerents and to disarm the regional militias, was put into question. In 1999, an agreement on the status of the Russian military presence in Tajikistan brought the withdrawal of the latter but maintained the troops of the 201st Division, whose mission was no longer the domestic political stabilization but solely the securitization of the external borders.

Russia, which already had 25,000 armed troops in Tajikistan, tentatively agreed in April 1999 to the establishment of a military base which would help increase the stability in Tajikistan. The Russian and Tajik defense ministers signed a treaty on 16 April 1999 which granted Russia's military the right to establish a base on Tajik territory and to quarter troops from the 201st Motorized Rifle Division at that base for the next 10 years. The provided for the construction of more permanent headquarters for the 6,000-7,000 troops of the from the 201st Motorized Rifle Division already deployed there. The bulk of Russia's troops in Tajikistan are stationed near Dushanbe, Qurghanteppa (close to the Uzbek border), and Kulob (near the Afghan border).

The April 1999 agreement did not provide for the quartering of additional troops in Tajikistan, But in early 2000 Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov requested that Russia reinforce the Russian-led 201st Motorized Rifle Division in Tajikistan's south.

As of 2002, President Emomali Rakhmon sought to affirm his authority over the whole of the territory and to normalize the country by presenting it as capable of taking control over its own borders. The polemics with Moscow over the financing of the Russian troops, equally shared between both parties, deteriorated from year to year, with each seeking to reduce its own costs. The Tajik army then sought to take gradual control over the borders first by adopting surveillance tasks over the 500 kilometers (km) with China, then over the borders with Kyrgyzstan.

According to various sources it appeared that as of 2004 Russian troops in Tajikistan numbered 22,000 to 25,000, including those serving in the 201-st Motorized Infantry Division with garrisons in Dushanbe, Kulyab and Kurgan-Tyube, in a group of the Russian Federal Border Troops and in an anti-aircraft unit. In line with the Military Agreement, dozens of military advisors work at the Ministry of Defense of Tajikistan.

In 2004, the Russian soldiers started to hand over to the Tajiks the responsibility of guarding the 1,400 km of border with Afghanistan. The border zone of Pamir was the first to be retroceded, followed by sections under command of the Moscow and Piandj border battalions, considered particularly strategic in drug-trafficking related issues. This process ended in the fall of 2005. At the occasion of this transfer, Russia left the Tajikborder guards with material worth the equivalent of 10 million dollars and transferred the Federal Security Service (FSB) Training Center at Dushanbe, which provided specialized training (snipers, cynologists, explosives specialists, etc.), to the Tajik army.

Since the signing of the 2004 treaty with Dushanbe, Tajikistan was host to Moscow’s largest military base outside the Federation’s borders. The negotiations over the transformation of the 201st Division into a permanent Russian military base started in 1999 and closed in 2004. The Tajik authorities would like Moscow to pay rent for the base — something the Kremlinhas always refused to do — instead offering material advantages, such as arms sales to the Tajik Army at domestic Russian prices, and training of Tajik military personnel. The former 201st armed Division, now a member of the Rapid Collective Deployment Force, is stationed in Dushanbe, while Motor Rifle Regiments and tanks are distributed between Kur-gan-Tiube and Kuliab. Russia has also been allowed to occupy the Aini air base close to Dushanbe, which stations Russian helicopter squadrons.

The Okno spatial surveillance center, located at an altitude of 2,200 meters, is close to the Chinese border near Nurek. Built at the end of the 1970s, Okno, which only became totally operational in 2002, hosts an optical and electronic monitoring station for the Russian space forces and can see as far as 40,000 km away, thanks to the exceptional visibility provided by local climatic conditions. The specialists who work there are all Russian citizens and generally hold their posts for about 10 years.

Under the 10-year lease signed in 2004, Russia got exclusive use of three military bases and joint use of an air base in Tajikistan free of charge. As of 2007 it was reported that there were 5,000 Russian troops in country. In all, by 2012 there were more than 7,000 servicemen in three bases deployed in Dushanbe, Qurghon Teppa and Kulob. The presence of Russian troops in Tajikistan reportedly accounts for Russia's second-largest military contingent outside its own territory -- following only the 13,000-strong Black Sea Fleet in the Ukrainian city of Sevastopol.

Official Dushanbe had been at odds with Moscow lately on the issue of the prolongation of the Russian military base’s presence in Tajikistan. On 17 July 2012, Tajikistan's Foreign Ministry denied a statement by the Russian Army’s Ground Forces commander, General Vladimir Chirkin that Dushanbe has allegedly accepted the Kremlin’s demands for “for no-fee operations,” allowing the base to be used by Russia for further 49 years, as baseless. The Russian side hoped that an agreement between Russia and Tajikistan on the prolongation of the Russian military base’s presence in Tajikistan would be signed during a visit of Russian president Vladimir Putin to Tajikistan scheduled for early October 2012. Russia offered Tajikistan to extend term of the agreement on the Russian military base for ten years.

Russia won a 30-year deal on a military base in Tajikistan, but the price includes risk of placing Russian servicemen under fire if violence flares up in volatile Central Asia. Moscow and Dushanbe clinched an agreement on 05 October 2012 on the Russian military base in Tajikistan, which will remain in the country until at least 2042, a Russian presidential aide said. The agreement, which followed months of haggling, is a success for Russian diplomacy, Russian and Western analysts said.

On October 8, 2012 Tajik President Emomali Rahmon noted that documents on military cooperation between Tajikistan and Russia signed in Dushanbe laid a solid legal foundation for creation of modern armed forces in Tajikistan. Under the agreement on status and the conditions of Russian military base’s presence in Tajikistan Russia jointly with Tajikistan will ensure the establishment of modern armed forces in Tajikistan, President Rahmon said while addressing soldiers and officers of the Russian-leased base in Tajikistan. “I created the [Tajik] national army at training grounds and in tents by myself. We had no army, no defense ministry. We asked another state for more than 200 officers and from among them I chose Colonel Shishlyannikov and appointed him defense minister. We started from scratch. Tajik armed forces are being developed,” Rahmon said.

The Tajik-Russian agreement on the staying period and the status of the Russian military base in Tajikistan will be ratified by the parliaments of Tajikistan and Russia after the Agreements signing on the duty-free supplies of petroleum products and the labor migration, - reported the Foreign Minister of Tajikistan, Hamrokhon Zarifi, to the journalists after the negotiations of the President and the Foreign Minister of Tajikistan with the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation 17 January 2013 in Dushanbe. According to the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov, the Tajik-Russian agreement on duty-free delivery of oil products from Russia to Tajikistan and the agreement on migration are supported to be signed during the first quarter of 2013.

President Vladimir Putin has instructed the Russian military to assess the risks of the withdrawal of US and international coalition troops from Afghanistan and help Tajikistan face potential threats after the pullout, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said 01 August 2013. “President Vladimir Putin’s orders are straightforward: to assess all risks and to help the Tajik armed forces face these risks,” Shoigu said after talks between Putin and his Tajik counterpart, Emomali Rakhmon. Shoigu said a program to modernize the Tajik army might cost up to $200 million and involve repairs of existing equipment as well as purchases of new weaponry.

The program would be implemented in three stages – in 2013-2015 – and in two five-year periods later on, he said. According to the Military Balance Report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Tajik armed forces personnel totaled 16,300 as of 2011, and include land-based and mobile units, an air force and an anti-aircraft force that mostly use outdated Soviet-era military equipment.

At the same time, Tajikistan largely relies on the presence of a Russian base on its territory. A total of 7,000 Russian troops are stationed at three military facilities, collectively known as the 201st military base: in Dushanbe; the southwestern city of Qurgonteppa, some 100 kilometers from Dushanbe; and Kulob, about 200 kilometers to the southwest of the capital. The base was opened in 2004 and hosts Russia’s largest military contingent deployed abroad. Moscow and Dushanbe agreed in October 2012 that the base would remain in Tajikistan until at least 2042.

In April 2015, the commander of Russia's military base in Tajikistan said its size would swell to 9,000 troops by 2020. But Russia reversed course in early 2016, saying it will opt for fewer boots on the ground in a country the Kremlin sees as its bulwark against Islamic militants across Tajikistan's long and vulnerable border with Afghanistan. The troop presence at the 201st Military Base, Russia's biggest non-naval military facility beyond its borders, will be downsized from a division to a brigade, a senior Russian general said on 30 January 2016. A brigade normally consists of 3,000 to 5,000 military personnel.

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Page last modified: 11-02-2016 19:49:39 ZULU