Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 80

Tajik President Imomali Rahmonov delivered his annual address to parliament within four days of Vladimir Putin’s State-of-the-Nation address to the Russian parliament. In contrast to the Russian president, Rahmonov acknowledged America’s leadership in the antiterrorist effort: “We are thankful to the United States, [and] to other countries in the international antiterrorist coalition, which played [the] decisive role in suppressing and destroying the Taliban’s system and the international terrorist centers in Afghanistan.” Rahmonov paid no tribute to Russia (Tajik Television, April 22).

Prior to September 11, Dushanbe had been the sole willing ally of Moscow in Central Asia, and the sole host of Russian troops. Shortly afterward, however, it made its own arrangements with the United States in opening its airspace and airfields to the American-led coalition forces. It views that coalition as more capable in all respects than Russia of stabilizing the region, and expects substantial economic returns from these security arrangements. Tajikistan thus has every interest in continuing and expanding its relationship with the United States. On April 19, U.S. President George W. Bush signed a presidential determination memorandum approving deliveries of defense articles and services to Tajikistan, in the interest of U.S. and international security, under the Foreign Assistance Act and Arms Control Export Act (State Department Press Release, April 19). Meanwhile, Dushanbe neither can nor would terminate the Russian military presence in the country, but has recently begun nibbling at the margins of that presence–for example, by demanding rental payments and charging exorbitant fees for services to Russian military installations.

Kazakhstan also lost no time in distancing itself from Putin’s position. Addressing the parliament on April 22, Foreign Affairs Minister Kasymzhomart Tokaev noted that “one should be fair” in assessing U.S. activities in the region. The United States was the target of terrorism and, therefore, “has taken on the role of leader of the international coalition fighting terrorism,” especially because America has ample economic resources for this–Tokaev observed in an implicit comparison with Russia. Citing President Nursultan Nazarbaev’s long-standing offers to make Kazakh airports available for American use in the antiterrorist operation, Tokaev reaffirmed Kazakhstan’s readiness to support the U.S. presence in the region.

Nazarbaev had indeed vied with the Uzbek and Kyrgyz presidents in offering to host U.S. and allied forces. When Washington declined to avail itself of Kazakh airports for its ongoing operations, Kazakhstan asked that the United States at least use a “reserve base” or “reserve airport” in the country. Because that option fell through for geographical reasons, Kazakhstan hopes–as Tokaev reaffirmed in his address–that the United States, at the very least, would use airstrips in the country for refueling stops (Khabar, April 22).

Last week in Kazakhstan, a newly established U.S.-Kazakh working group on defense and security held its first session. The sides agreed on joint measures to develop a Kazakh motorized infantry unit corresponding to modern requirements and to upgrade Kazakhstan’s military infrastructure on the Caspian seaboard. The United States is initially allocating US$5 million toward these measures this year, Kazakh Defense Minister Mukhtar Altynbaev announced after this meeting (AP, April 20).

Also last week, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan stayed away from the annual military exercise Russia staged under nominal CIS aegis in Tajikistan. Kazakhstan did host one of the three phases of a parallel, nominally CIS antiterrorism exercise, but presented its role–and indeed the mission of its antiterrorism forces–as a purely national mission, one geared in part to protecting Western missions and corporations in Kazakhstan (see the Monitor, April 23). Meanwhile, Kazakhstan held the largest national military exercise in the country’s history.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov had spoken up on America’s and Russia’s respective roles only days before Putin did so in Moscow. Speaking to Uzbek and foreign journalists in Tashkent, and alluding to the Kremlin’s agenda in the region, Karimov said:

“We in Uzbekistan supported the United States and its allies right from the beginning, because they had an interest in destroying terrorist bases. We are grateful to the United States because it has done something that others could not. [We] had been threatened by terrorist formations that had made incursions from Afghanistan and Tajikistan into Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in 1999, 2000 and 2001. All discussions in the CIS ended with empty statements and even sarcasm. I would not name my counterparts who in 1999 and 2000 were pleased to know that we were facing a serious threat from those incursions. ‘Now we shall see whether Karimov joins the Collective Security Treaty’ … You know who said and spread statements like that. We have been talking too much in the CIS framework, setting up various rapid reaction units, drawing up treaties, thousands of documents and so on. This is continuing even now. But, in practice, it was the United States and its allies that delivered the severest blow to terrorist bases. I declare that the decisive role was played by the United States” (Uzbek Television, April 14).