On February 17 Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmonov received Colonel Alexei Zavizyon as the new commander of the Russian 201st Motorized Rifle Division (MRD) based in Tajikistan. The otherwise normal passing of the former commander of the base was noted for its emphasis on the renewed sense of importance attached by both sides to security cooperation between Russia and Tajikistan. During the past year, these arrangements have been strained by the Tajik move towards greater independent control over its border security at the expense of Russian border guard personnel. The arrival of the new commander of the 201st MRD signaled a concerted move towards healing any previous damage done to bilateral relations. The Russian ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to Tajikistan, Ramazan Abdulatipov, attended the meeting and both sides discussed holding more joint military exercises involving the Russian military base and the Tajik power-wielding structures. These discussions also involved promoting efforts to further the exchange of experience and information in the fight against international terrorism as well as strengthening the Tajik-Afghan border and developing more opportunities for the training of Tajik security personnel in Russian establishments (Asia-Plus, February 17)
“The Russian military base is and will always stay in Tajikistan as a guarantor of peace and stability and as a reliable security outpost in the Central Asian region,” explained Rahmonov during the talks. Zavizyon’s meeting touched on issues of Tajik-Russian cooperation, positively assessing its current level, including in the military and military-technical sphere, despite Tajikistan’s greater independence in security matters from Moscow. Rahmonov was reportedly interested in improving the accommodations provided for Russian servicemen and ordered his administration to implement key changes to benefit Russian personnel in Tajikistan “quickly, without bureaucratic red tape.” This will effectively eliminate outstanding issues relating to transferring the military base’s remaining infrastructure facilities in Dushanbe to their permanent place of deployment (Itar-Tass, February 17).
In recent months Rahmonov has intensively supported Russian security measures and Moscow’s continued efforts to offer assistance, confirmed during meetings on February 14 with Vadim Gustov, head of the Russian Federation Council’s Committee on the Commonwealth of Independent States. The agenda included the expected areas of mutual security concern, ranging from transnational drug trafficking to terrorism. Yet there appeared to be a zest for Russian ideas and assistance that had not been forthcoming from the Tajik authorities for some time; Rahmonov may well be posturing for greater levels of Russian equipment and practical security than was previously on offer (Tajik TV First Channel, February 14). Indeed, Rahmonov was also expressing greater public emphasis on CIS structures and multilateral cooperation with Russia, in addition to bilateral relations.
In fact, the real thorn in the flesh of bilateral security relations, namely border security changes in favor of the host state, has also witnessed Tajik diplomatic initiatives aimed at promoting closer relations with Moscow. On February 15 the lower house of the Tajik parliament ratified an agreement on the interaction of CIS border services during a crisis situation on its external borders. This document was submitted by Colonel-General Saidamir Zuhurov, chairman of the State Committee for Protection of the State Border of Tajikistan, to the lower house for consideration. The agreement itself had been reached in May 1996 and later ratified by all other CIS states. However, “due to a number of objective reasons,” Tajikistan has chosen to ratify the document only now. Zuhurov explained this anomaly by referring to “Russian troops being deployed along Tajikistan’s external borders [with Afghanistan] up until August 2005.” Transferring the 1100-km-long Panj section of the border meant that the ratification of the CIS agreement came as “well-timed” for protecting the security of the external borders of the CIS states. In reality, the Tajik authorities seem particularly keen to re-establish the country’s credentials as a reliable Russian partner and proponent of CIS security structures.
Zuhurov did admit concerns regarding the capability of his country’s border guards to offer adequate protection against the well-organized and continued flow of illegal narcotics across the border from Afghanistan. “As many as 104 Tajik cadets are currently studying at the higher military-educational establishments of Russia, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. We sent a letter to the presidents of those countries with a request to increase the quota for Tajikistan at their military institutes and academies,” Zuhurov said (Itar-Tass, February 15). While this state of affairs persists within the ranks of the Tajik border guard service, Russian methods and training influences will remain a hallmark of the national border security forces. Training opportunities in Ukraine and beyond, including NATO countries, will be needed if new approaches and professional standards are to improve within such structures.
In this area the West faces stiff opposition. Russian President Vladimir Putin, utilizing Russia’s presidency of the G-8, will try to have several CIS countries included on the list of the poorest countries and have their debts written off. Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin explained that Putin has placed Tajikistan on this list: “In regard to writing off the poorest countries’ debts to international financial organizations, we have managed to reach agreement to the effect that living conditions in Tajikistan correspond to living conditions in the countries to which this initiative applies, and Tajikistan has been included on the list of countries to which the writing-off of debts applies” (RTR TV, February 13). In the economic sphere, Moscow holds the trump card, and based on its recent posturing, intends to exact its dividends as far as possible throughout the CIS.