Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 68

In a speech to the personnel of the 201st division and in a briefing for the local press, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev listed five justifications for Russia’s intention to perpetuate its military presence in Tajikistan: (1) U.S. and NATO actions in Yugoslavia and other areas, allegedly demonstrating an intent to “redivide the world” to the detriment of Russia; (2) the “threat of expansion” of Islamic fundamentalism–presumably from Afghanistan’s Taliban; (3) unabated and even growing traffic of drugs from Afghanistan into Tajikistan, destined for European CIS countries–an argument which reflects poorly on the Russian border troops, whose mission it is to cope with that problem; (4) the “complicated situation” between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan–an oblique indication that Russian troops are to shield the Rahmonov regime from Tashkent’s pressures, sealing an informal Russian-Tajik alliance against Uzbekistan; and (5) the need to “stabilize” Central Asia as a whole, allegedly to prevent shock waves of destabilization from reaching Russia’s own Muslim regions. Sergeev argued that Tajikistan and contiguous countries warrant special Russian concern as “Russia’s closest neighbors”–notwithstanding that none of them border on Russia (Itar-Tass, April 7).

How the permanent stationing of Russian Army troops in Tajikistan would address any of those problems is difficult to see. Portraying Afghanistan as a threat to Central Asian countries is a thesis which has lost credibility in those countries. By the same token, Russia cooperates on a wide range of regional issues with Iran, and is a genuine source of support for Islamic radicalism. Sergeev’s attempt to extrapolate from Tajikistan to Central Asia as necessitating Russian-enforced “stabilization” is likely to disturb the Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Turkmen and Uzbek governments, though only the last is likely to feel sufficiently confident to publicly dispute that thesis.

Moscow currently deploys more than 20,000 troops in Tajikistan, almost two-thirds of which are border troops subordinated to Russia’s Federal Border Service. The agreement on basing rights does not, at the moment, seem to apply to those troops. Unlike the border troops, the 201st division is an army unit and a component of the Volga Military District, which specializes in contributing troops to Russian “peacekeeping” contingents in various conflict theaters. The CIS as such had nothing to do with Russia’s operation in Tajikistan, however. Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan had each contributed one small unit–of less than battalion strength–in an auxiliary, rear-echelon role to Russian border troops in Tajikistan. The first two countries withdrew those token units in recent months, making it ever more difficult for Moscow to operate in Tajikistan under CIS pretenses. The 201st is one of Russia’s few divisions at full strength, is highly rated in terms of battle readiness, enjoys priority access to scarce supplies and is supported by tactical aviation and other units, some of them with combat experience in Afghanistan and in the Tajik civil war.

The Monitor is a publication of the Jamestown Foundation. It is researched and written under the direction of senior analysts Jonas Bernstein, Vladimir Socor, Stephen Foye, and analysts Ilya Malyakin, Oleg Varfolomeyev and Ilias Bogatyrev. If you have any questions regarding the content of the Monitor, please contact the foundation. If you would like information on subscribing to the Monitor, or have any comments, suggestions or questions, please contact us by e-mail at pubs@jamestown.org, by fax at 301-562-8021, or by postal mail at The Jamestown Foundation, 4516 43rd Street NW, Washington DC 20016. Unauthorized reproduction or redistribution of the Monitor is strictly prohibited by law. Copyright (c) 1983-2002 The Jamestown Foundation Site Maintenance by Johnny Flash Productions