Meeting in Sochi on June 4, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Tajik President Imomali Rahmonov announced a set of decisions that would, if implemented, consolidate Russia’s military presence in Tajikistan. No final agreements were signed, but details eventually will be formalized based on these decisions. Putin’s top aide Sergei Prikhodko provided some clarification to the Tajiks. The Russian leveraged two economic issues against Tajikistan, including state debt owed to Russia, and the need for an agreement with Russia on the legal status of Tajik migrant labor.
According to the Sochi decisions, Tajikistan is to relinquish land needed for establishing a Russian army base, and will cede to Russia the military ranges that the Russian military currently uses in Tajikistan. The bare land and ranges are to be handed over “free of charge and without a time limit.” Presumably, the value of the rent is to be deducted from Tajikistan’s debts to Russia. This move brings Russia closer to the goal of obtaining basing rights for its 201st motor-rifle division in Tajikistan.
The division’s presence lacks legal status, and even host-country-consent seemed questionable until now. The mission of that division as a “CIS peacekeeping force” officially ended in 1999. Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Rahmonov signed an agreement that year, granting basing rights to that military unit. However, the agreement never came into force because parliamentary ratification procedures were not completed. Subsequently, Tajikistan became increasingly vocal in demanding compensation for land and other resources employed by the Russian military. Also at issue were choice buildings in Dushanbe used by the Russian command.
Further, under the Sochi decisions, the presence of Russian border troops on the Tajik-Afghan border is being prolonged. Tajik border troops are to assume protection of that border by December 2006, instead of the previously agreed May 2005 deadline. Prikhodko claimed “Rahmonov turned to Putin with this request.” From 2007 on, Russia will maintain in Tajikistan an “operational group” of Russian border troops. The mission of that group is to be defined through bilateral negotiations. According to Colonel-General Vladimir Pronichev, commander in chief of Russia’s border troops and participant in the Sochi meeting, the mission of the operational group might include any and all of the following: protecting selected border sectors; manning of certain checkpoints; training and technical assistance to Tajik border troops; advising the Tajik command and staff. In post-Soviet countries, the designation “operational group” of Russian army or border troops implies a residual Russian presence, ranging in size from mere liaison missions and command staffs to scaled-down field forces.
Tajikistan is to give Russia full ownership of the Okno space-tracking center in Nurek. Construction of the Nurek facility began in 1980 but came to a decade-long standstill before the station was completed and became operational in 2003. It is significant that Russia will neither pay rent nor electricity costs associated with the facility. Further, this arrangement will not lessen Tajikistan’s US$299 million sovereign debt to Russia. While Dushanbe is meeting its interest payments on schedule, the principal is a staggering sum for Tajikistan. In Sochi, the Russian side proposed to identify Tajik enterprises that would qualify as debt-for-assets swaps. Under the proposed scheme, a portion of the debt would be invested to complete construction of the flagship Sangtuda hydropower station. This project would be completed by Russia’s state monopoly United Energy Systems (UES), after which UES would assume a majority stake in Sangtuda. In Sochi, Rahmonov invited Putin on an official state visit to Tajikistan. However, the Russian side wants the agreements on basing rights, border troops and debt-offsets to be finalized as preconditions to any visit. According to a background press briefing by a one Kremlin official, “We intend during this visit to raise the flag on the Russian military base.”
The meeting did not bring Tajikistan any closer to its goal of signing an agreement on the status and quotas of Tajik migrant labor in Russia. Remittances by Tajik migrant labor working in Russia to families in Tajikistan are vital to the country’s economy. Much of that labor force is illegal, and workers have become victims of harassment and extortion by Russian authorities in the absence of an interstate treaty. However, Moscow continues to procrastinate on the matter, thus maintaining political leverage over Tajikistan. (Interfax, RIA, June 4).