Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 52

General Anatoly Kornukov, commander-in-chief of Russia’s Air Defense Forces, held talks on March 10-12 in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan with the political leaderships of those countries and signed agreements with his military counterparts. The meetings focused on developing the CIS Joint Air Defense System, a Russian military priority. Kornukov chairs the coordinating committee of that system, which includes Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

In Tashkent, President Islam Karimov underscored the distinction he draws between multilateral cooperation in the framework of the CIS and bilateral Russian-Uzbek cooperation. He continues to reject the former while selectively accepting the latter as part of his recent rapprochement with the Kremlin. Karimov and Kornukov agreed to task working groups to negotiate bilateral agreements on cooperation in air defense, possibly including joint patrolling of Uzbek airspace–a point stressed by the Russian side.

The newly appointed Uzbek defense minister, Lieutenant-General Yuri Agzamov, signed with Kornukov an agreement on bilateral exchange of airspace monitoring data and on coordinated–as distinct from joint–training of air defense units. According to the Russian side, Uzbekistan agreed to participate this year for the first time in the annual Combat Commonwealth air defense exercise in Russia, together with all member countries of the CIS Joint Air Defense System. The Uzbek announcement, however, seemed to imply that Tashkent considers participating in a bilateral exercise in Russia.

In Dushanbe, President Imomali Rahmonov expressed appreciation for the Russian training of Tajik air defense personnel and technical assistance for the restoration of some of the Soviet-era air defense installations on Tajik territory. Tajikistan’s defense minister, Colonel-General Sherali Hairulloev, and the air defense commander, Colonel Akbar Kaiumov, discussed with Kornukov a set of measures to strengthen control over Tajik airspace, in the context of the situation in Afghanistan, which Moscow and Dushanbe portray as threatening the security of neighboring countries (Hovar, March 2).

Kornukov raised the specter of possible “air strikes from unfriendly countries,” according to official accounts, which may have alluded to Uzbekistan. The Uzbek aviation did in fact last year unilaterally strike areas supposedly held by rebels in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, doing more damage to interstate relations than to the rebels. The Russian side gladly caters to Tajik and Kyrgyz apprehensions regarding their stronger Uzbek neighbor.

According to official sources, Russian funding of the assistance program for Tajik air defense units is a meager 5.1 million rubles this year, the same amount as in 1999 (Itar-Tass, March 11). Financial constraints hold up the overhauling of the Soviet-era Nurek radar, which Rahmonov seems impatient to see activated both for prestige reasons and in the hope of cashing in on the rent. The subject was among those raised by the newly appointed Prime Minister, Akil Akilov, last month in Moscow with Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, who supervises Russia’s military industry (Itar-Tass, February 16).

In Bishkek, President Askar Akaev and Kornukov discussed a comprehensive two-year plan to train Kyrgyz air defense personnel in Russian Defense Ministry schools, overhaul Kyrgyz air defense batteries in Russian military plants, and upgrade existing radars in Kyrgyzstan. Details were discussed and some documents signed by the Kyrgyz Defense Minister, Lieutenant-General Esen Topoev, with Kornukov. In all three countries, Kornukov discussed the possible adoption of uniform rules that would facilitate the common use of their airspace. That formula almost certainly implies authorizing the use of that airspace by Russian military aviation, in the event of military emergencies or during joint exercises. Russian generals recently complained that the Central Asian countries’ national rules on airspace use unduly complicate the holding of joint exercises and may slow down troop deployments in a crisis (Itar-Tass, Asia Plus-Blitz, Hovar, KyrgyzKabar, March 11-13).