Tajikistan Now Jamming a Russian Radio Station

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 10 Issue: 86

Russian military base in Tajikistan (Source: Voice of Russia)

In yet another sign of growing tensions between the Russian Federation and Tajikistan, Dushanbe has begun jamming a Russian radio station located on the grounds of the Russian military base in that Central Asian republic. Tajikistani officials say the Russians began broadcasting on an unassigned frequency without receiving official permission and that Dushanbe could not give such permission because its laws preclude the operation of a broadcasting station controlled by foreigners. Russian officials respond that they have been broadcasting at the base since 1996, consider it their right under the bilateral basing agreement, and have in fact repeatedly asked Tajikistan’s authorities to bless the arrangement (ria.ru/society/20130503/935728768.html; lenta.ru/news/2013/05/03/radio/).

Samad Khikmatov, the deputy head of Tajikistan’s Committee for Television and Radio Broadcasting, said on Friday that Dushanbe had been forced to begin jamming because the Russians had ignored the rules. But even if they had applied for a license—and he directly asserted that they had not—Tajikistani law would not allow them to be given one. That comment elicited a sharp rejoinder from Dmitry Matushkin, the press secretary of the 201st Russian military base. According to him, the radio station, which is broadcast from the grounds of the military base, “has accreditation through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Tajikistan and, up to now, no such problems have arisen.” Moreover, despite not having to do so because of the basing agreement, he said, Russian commanders had “frequently” sent “official letters” to the Committee for Television and Radio Broadcasting of Tajikistan requesting the granting of a license.

Another Russian officer said that the radio signal was intended for Russian personnel on the territory of the base, but because of the nature of radio broadcasting, “we cannot completely control the area to which it goes.” Consequently, he suggested, it is entirely possible that some residents of Tajikistan have been able to listen to the broadcasts although they were never the intended audience. The station, in fact, is part of the Star TV and Radio Company of the Russian Armed Forces and positions itself as “a contemporary music and talk radio station, which devotes particular attention to patriotic and military themes.”

Clearly, Tajikistan’s decision to jam the station reflects Dushanbe’s anger about Russian official statements concerning Tajikistani guest workers, increasing discrimination against Tajiks living in the Russian Federation, and the growing likelihood that Moscow will introduce a visa regime for migrants from Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries. Over the last few weeks, these have come to a head: On the one hand, Tajikistan’s officials are nervous that Russian broadcasting to Tajikistan underscores just how xenophobic Russian society has become, infuriating the Central Asian republic’s residents and creating a danger that Tajiks might attack Russians in Tajikistan (publicpost.ru/theme/id/3531/russkie_v_tadzhikistane_-_ischezayushchaya_naciya/)

And on the other hand, official discrimination against Tajiks in Moscow has become so blatant and even violent that last week the Tajikistani ambassador in the Russian capital took the highly unusual—and for Tajikistan unprecedented—step of lashing out at the Russian authorities. He also created special Tajikistani government squads to help Tajiks entering Russia via air or train who are now subjected to special examinations by Russian border guards or to assist those already living in Russian cities in their dealings with officials, employers and landlords (http://www.tajembassy.ru/novosti/v-posolstve-tadzhikistana-v-rossii-sozdan-shtab-po-okazaniiu-pomoschi-nashim-sootechestvennikam.html).

It is likely that cooler heads will prevail and that the two sides will back down. To be effective, jamming requires enormous amounts of electrical energy, something that Tajikistan does not have in abundance and that it is seeking via a hydro-electric dam that Moscow has said it will help pay for. Russian officials are certain to point out that if Tajikistan has enough power for jamming, it does not need such a facility—and that if it does need such a facility, then it had best end this Cold War-style approach to blocking broadcasts.

But even if the jamming does end, bad feelings are likely to continue for some time. Many Russians and especially Russian military commanders are certain to remember this action as a violation of what they see as their natural rights and to behave accordingly, something that will guarantee that this inter-ethnic situation will be exacerbated further in the future.

And many Tajikistanis are going to remember that Russian commanders are prepared to run roughshod over their national sovereignty and that many ordinary Russians have reacted to the jamming with unflattering comments about Tajikistan. In online comments appended to the RIA Novosti report, one Russian dismissed Tajikistan’s jamming as reflecting conditions in “a country that lives in feudalism” but “wants to show the entire world that it means something.” A second suggested that the only reason that the Dushanbe could even think of doing this was because of jamming gear left over from Soviet times. And a third remarked that what Tajikistan was doing prompted the question: “If you are so smart, then why are you so poor?” (ria.ru/society/20130503/935728768.html).