Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 226

Russia has long expressed concern about the rising security risks associated with burgeoning drug trafficking through Central Asia, though its assistance to these countries has often been questioned in terms of its practical results. Moscow has stepped up its emphasis on this aspect of its ongoing drive to reclaim its traditionally ascendant role in providing security options to its Central Asian neighbors. Increased access to Russian security agencies and diversifying existing anti-drug security structures on a CIS scale form the main elements of this strategy; presenting itself as the cheap and reliable alternative to further involvement with Western countries or Western multilateral security organizations. Such moves have been signaled by the creation of a new regional operational group under Russian control and the umbrella of the CIS for combating drug trafficking in Central Asia.

On November 30 Lieutenant-General Alexander Bokov, Director of the CIS bureau for combating organized crime, informed Kyrgyz Prime Minister Felix Kulov about the initiative to create a regional operational group tasked with detecting drug smuggling routes throughout the CIS and combating the narcotic syndicates. Bokov called attention to the nature of the soft security threat facing all CIS states and said the group would begin functioning in the near future, with its regional headquarters in Dushanbe. Its location in neighboring Tajikistan met with the approval of the Kyrgyz authorities (Regnum, Moscow, November 30).

Within the complex Kyrgyz power circles, mixed messages are being sent to the country’s security assistance donors. Apparently keen not to alienate Western organizations and those countries willing to offer support, eschewing the path chosen by Uzbekistan, Bishkek wants to keep the door open to the West. Nonetheless, its decision to militarize its Ministry of Emergency Situations, placing it under the guidance of military specialists, will distance those seeking to promote security sector reform.

Bishkek’s overhaul of the Emergencies Ministry makes the prime minister head of the ministry, with the emergencies minister as his deputy. It also including abolishing the regional departments and replacing them with three territorial directorates: north, south, and east (Kyrgyz Public Educational Radio, Bishkek, December 2). Despite such changes within the Kyrgyz security structures, a Kyrgyz Ministry of Defense delegation visited India on December 2, exploring the prospects for joint military exercises with India. Bishkek currently has a bilateral military assistance program with India with a focus on military training; India offers training to Kyrgyz servicemen, covering their training and living costs while in country. Ismail Isakov, Kyrgyz defense minister met senior Indian counterparts and paid close attention to the [possibility of boosting training for Kyrgyz Special Forces, in mountain warfare. The delegation itself understandably familiarized themselves with military training at the 50th paratroops brigade of the Indian Defense Ministry in Agra, as well as visiting the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and Bharat Electronics Limited defense plants in Bangalore (Kabar, December 2).

Russia’s preference for Dushanbe as the location for the new CIS anti-drug regional grouping reflects Moscow’s awareness of the problems involved in leaving drug control duties to Tajikistan after the withdrawal of Russian border guards from the Tajik-Afghan border. It also confirms Moscow’s willingness to place another Russian security layer within Tajikistan, working with the Tajik Drug Control Agency (DCA) and other domestic agencies. Yet, a recent visit by Russian members of the Duma to Tajikistan to see for themselves how the new arrangements for combating drug smuggling are progressing and to take part in destroying small quantities of seized drugs was positive in the extreme with their findings. After visits to the border areas and the DCA headquarters Pavel Pozhigaylo, deputy chairman of the Russian Duma Committee on Information Policy, upheld the system of countering drug trafficking in Tajikistan as the best in the region. For the Tajik authorities, such publicity is most welcome given the fears raised in many circles concerning the impending disaster on the Tajik-Afghan border that would allegedly follow the Russian departure. However, even here Russia is keen to act as guide and friendly assistant; Tajik experts in combating drug trafficking will also work in Russia. Offices of the DCA will also open in St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, and Yekaterinburg (Russian Zvezda TV, Moscow, December 1).

Sergei Markov, director of the Institute for Political Research and a member of the Public Chamber under the Russian President, has mooted the idea of sending Russian border guards back to Tajikistan. According to Markov, the growing level of drug smuggling across the Tajik-Afghan border, which he bases on intelligence reports, should herald a climb down by Dushanbe and the return to the status quo ante. “The border with Afghanistan should be strengthened, otherwise the drugs from the country will flood not only Central Asia and Russia, but also Europe,” Markov said (Interfax, Moscow, December 1).

The underlying message from Moscow is clear: without Russian assistance the Central Asian Republics and especially the weak Kyrgyz and Tajik states cannot cope. This message, it appears, may be worth pushing even if it does mean duplicating the work of other agencies; more Russian and regional multilateral help will, in the long term, convince Central Asian governments to prioritize relations with Moscow.