Russian officials recently reiterated their continued interest in a major energy project in Tajikistan, while authorities in Dushanbe remain hesitant. Meanwhile, a sizable Tajik labor migrant community has become a continued irritant in bilateral relations.
Moscow is prepared to complete the Rogun hydroelectric power plant, Russia’s ambassador in Tajikistan, Ramazan Abdulatipov, announced November 17. Russia has prepared a draft agreement on the project, he said, and President Vladimir Putin said that the federal budget would allocate funds for the project. However, Abdulatipov conceded that Russia and Tajikistan were yet to agree how they would share the Rogun plant (Interfax, RIA-Novosti, November 27).
Russia’s Unified Energy Systems (UES) head Anatoly Chubais has argued that Russia should have a controlling interest in Rogun, which has a planned capacity of 3,600 MW. In response, Sharifhon Samiyev, head of the Tajik state-run energy company, reportedly said that Tajikistan would rather have at least a 60% share in Rogun (Interfax, November 27).
Construction of Rogun, located some 60 miles east of Dushanbe, started in 1976, but it ground to a stop in the wake of the Soviet collapse in 1991. During Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tajikistan in 2004, both sides agreed to revive the Rogun project. Three years ago, Putin pledged that Russian companies would invest some $2 billion in Tajik projects.
The plan was for the Rogun dam to supply electricity to a new aluminum plant capable of producing 200,000 tones annually that RusAl would build, as well as powering the existing 410,000 tons per year TadAZ or Talco aluminum plant in the western city of Tursunzade. RusAl was planning to have a controlling 51% stake in Rogun and an interest in TadAZ in exchange for its $1 billion investment in Rogun. But earlier this year the Tajik government announced it would not privatize TadAZ.
When Tajikistan declined to transfer a stake in TadAZ, RusAl lost interest in the project. On August 29, Tajikistan announced its decision to annul a cooperation agreement, signed in October 2004, with Russia’s aluminum giant RusAl to build the $1.3 billion Rogun hydropower station. Subsequently, Russia confirmed interest in the Rogun project, which could become controlled by the Russian UES electricity grid.
Apart from Rogun, Russia has been participating in the construction of the Sangtuda-1 hydropower plant, started in April 2005, but the project appeared to be lagging behind the original schedule. In April 2006 Chubais, after talks with Tajik President Imomali Rahmon in Dushanbe, pledged to launch the first unit of Sangtuda-1 in March 2007, but later the launch was put off until the end of 2007.
UES pledged to cover all expenses for building Sangtuda-1, estimated to be $482 million. UES owns a 75% stake in the 670 MW Sangtuda-1, which is expected not only to meet Tajikistan’s domestic energy demand, but also allow exports to other countries, including Afghanistan.
Energy is only one dimension of bilateral relations. In April 1999 Russia and Tajikistan signed a treaty on alliance and partnership. During Putin’s visit to Dushanbe in October 2004, Russia formally took over the “Okno” (window) space surveillance complex in Nurek, the Tajik mountainous region near the border with China. That June 2004, Russia had agreed to write-off Tajikistan’s outstanding debt in exchange for control over Nurek and $50 million in Tajik investments in the Sangtuda-1 (Interfax, RIA-Novosti, November 17).
On November 17, 2007, the Russian government approved a draft federal law on ratification of the debt write-off agreement with Tajikistan.
Bilateral economic ties have experienced a revival in recent months. In the first ten months of 2007, trade between Russian and Tajikistan amounted to $652 million, up 72% over 2006, including $574 million in Russian exports, according to Tajik statistics. Russia’s Abdulatipov indicated that bilateral trade could reach $700 million this year, and $1 billion in 2008 (Interfax, RIA-Novosti, November 27).
However, the presence of Tajik migrant workers in Russia remains a sensitive issue for both sides. On November 10, Tajik activists held the first congress of Tajiks in Russia. The meeting approved an open letter to President Rahmon arguing that bilateral agreements between Tajikistan and Russia tended to be ignored by Russia’s local authorities. As a result, many Tajik labor migrants ended up in a “tragically defenseless” situation, the letter said (Interfax, November 10).
However, at the Commonwealth of Independent States prime ministers meeting in Ashgabat on November 22, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov declined to approve a draft convention on the legal status of migrants in the CIS. Zubkov reportedly argued that the draft needed further negotiations (Interfax, RIA-Novosti, November 22). In other words, Moscow was reluctant to back a convention designed to secure equal rights for labor migrants in all CIS states. Subsequently, Tajik labor migrants in Russia are likely to remain a major problem in bilateral ties.