In an effort to reassure Moscow about its relations with Tajikistan, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Tajikistan Talbak Nazarov recently gave an interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta where he stated that Dushanbe remains interested in maintaining a Russian military presence in the country. During the interview, Nazarov stated that the agreement on the establishment of the base signed in 1999 was accompanied by three appendices that needed further elaboration and revision. The process of revision, according to Nazarov, “disrupted the earlier agreed upon deadlines.” The minister stressed that, “In principle nobody rejects the establishment of a Russian base on the territory of Tajikistan.” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, May 18, 2004)
Another round of negotiations on the transformation of the Russian 201st Motorized Rifle Division into a military base, located in Tajikistan, took place in March 2004. At the time, Moscow and Dushanbe could not reach an agreement. As a separate condition, Dushanbe demanded that Moscow annul the inter-state debt of US$300 million, which has been accumulated in the spheres of commercial-economic relations and military-technical cooperation, as well as pay the Tajik government $50 million for the operation of the optical-electronic complex of the Russian Space Forces in Nurek. Moscow considered this demand unacceptable.
In reality, the Russian military base in Tajikistan, in the form of the 201st Motorized Rifle Division, already exists. The 201st Division is located in the center of Dushanbe and Russian military personnel are more often seen there than Tajik soldiers. During the civil war in Tajikistan, Russian military from the 201st Division openly assisted the present leaders of Tajikistan in defeating their enemies. In exchange for this assistance, the Kremlin had hoped that the new Tajik authorities would pursue pro-Russian policies, and it must be noted that until recently these hopes were justified. First and foremost, the Kremlin was interested in maintaining a military presence in Tajikistan. The control of the Tajik-Afghan border by the Russian border guards and the presence of the 201st Motorized Rifle Division (all told there are approximately 25,000 Russian soldiers in Tajikistan) turned Tajikistan into a Russian military bridgehead in Central Asia which enabled Moscow to exert its influence over the region.
However, in September of 2003, Deputy Chairman of the National Committee on State Border Defense Nuralisho Nazarov made the first statement about the need to transfer border defense duties to the Tajik border guards. At the time Moscow apparently decided to pretend that the words of the Tajik border guard official amounted to nothing more than the private opinion of a rank and file bureaucrat.
In late April Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov made a statement regarding the necessity of the withdrawal of Russian border guards. (See EDM, May 4, 2004) Dushanbe’s decision regarding the withdrawal of Russian border guards implies a partial, if not complete, failure of Russian policy in Tajikistan over the past decade. If Dushanbe were to also demand the withdrawal of the Russian 201st Motorized Rifle Division, this likely would have dealt a lethal blow to the Kremlin’s policy in that country. Nevertheless, it appears that in the given situation, Tajikistan’s Foreign Minister made the statement regarding Dushanbe’s interest in the establishment of a Russian military base in order not to prevent any further rift with Moscow over the issue. Increasingly, Tajik officials appear to be engaged in a game of diplomatic brinksmanship with Moscow in an effort to reassure Russian officials that Dushanbe might permit some limited Russian military presence in Tajikistan once the 201st MRD withdraws from guarding the Afghan border.