Tajikistan, hoping to increase its own national security as cheaply as possible, has made clear its long term dependence upon Russia as well as other CIS member states. The smooth transfer of military property that has denoted the creation of Russia’s military base in Dushanbe for its 201st Motorized Rifle Division (MRD) partly reflects this acknowledgement of Russian centrality in Tajikistan’s security arrangements.
As Dushanbe has sought to position itself to receive greater levels of Western military assistance for its weak and under-funded armed forces, principally looking towards the U.S. and NATO, a further bilateral agreement has been signed that will involve more security aid and training from Ukraine. These measures and the clarification of the status and potential supportive utility of the 201st MRD, combined with political statements from President Imomali Rakhmonov, suggest open, long-term dependence on Russia, despite Tajikistan’s recent progress toward achieving complete control and responsibility for the protection of its borders.
The 201st MRD, long since deployed on Tajik territory, will acquire official recognition as a base in the fall of 2005, in accordance with bilateral agreements. However, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, addressing a routine meeting of CIS Council of Ministers of Defense in Dushanbe on June 24, commented on the rapid progress in establishing the base and situating the Nurek optical-electronic complex on Tajik territory. Ivanov explained that agreement has been found on strength levels and tasks, confirming that Moscow is investing in the construction and rearmament of the base. Moreover, he intimated that plans exist for joint action in the event of a crisis, namely for the 201st MRD to actively support units from the Tajik Ministry of Defense and Border Troops. In other words, the backbone of Tajikistan’s military and security reaction to any trans-border incursion or large-scale terrorist incident remains under Russian influence (Channel One TV, June 24). Ivanov regards these advances in implementing the earlier political agreements as enabling Russia and Tajikistan, “To make plans for military construction on a long-term basis both, above all, as far as the development of the Russian military base is concerned and Nurek itself.”
Ivanov had few surprises, therefore, during his talks with President Rakhmonov in Dushanbe on June 24, as both sides were more than willing to seriously examine practical ways of deepening their already significant military cooperation. In addition to discussions on the Russian military base, further cooperation was agreed in the framework of the CIS unified air-defense system. They also agreed to step up the current military training and education of members of the Tajikistani armed forces at Russian military educational establishments (Avesta, June 24).
In fact Rakhmonov has become so adept at praising the role of Russia in furthering Tajikistan’s security that he did so while entertaining Jordan’s Queen Noor Al-Hussein at his country residence, Pugus. Perhaps buoyed by his earlier meetings with Ivanov, on June 25 Rakhmonov was telling his Jordanian guest that both Russia and Iran had played a positive and crucial role in establishing peace and stability in Tajikistan during the 1990s. “It was not by chance that Moscow was where the General Agreement on the Establishment of Peace and National Accord in the country was signed on June 27, 1997,” asserted Rakhmonov (Avesta, June 26). He explained that the agreement to double the existing numbers of Tajik servicemen being trained in Russia specifically targets border guards. Thus the very security forces that Western countries want improved and reformed will witness yet more Russian influence on education, training, and methodology.
Equally, Dushanbe is busily attempting to gain alternative sources of security assistance within the CIS. At the CIS Council of Ministers of Defense in Dushanbe, Ukraine offered enlarged support for bilateral military cooperation. Ukrainian Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko agreed with his Tajik counterpart, Sherali Khayrulloyev, to focus on cooperating on international security and defense policy, reform of the armed forces, and access to military educational establishments for Tajik personnel (Interfax, June 24).
Tajikistan’s leadership now appears more comfortable and open about the long-term durability of its relationship with and dependence on Russia. Although it is evidently taking sensible steps in the direction of independent control over its own borders, in reality Dushanbe recognizes the need for Russian military support in a crisis. In this sense alone, the possible role of the 201st MRD is clear, offering critical firepower and logistical counterweight to weak and poorly trained Tajik security forces.
Rakhmonov benefits from the expansion of Tajikistan’s sources of security assistance from within the CIS, in part because this strategy avoids the friction caused by looking to Western countries. Similarly, Moscow perceives its own security interests in maintaining a permanent military presence in Tajikistan, due to concerns over the narcotics flow and continued risk to the region posed by Afghanistan. Rapid, practical progress in such areas has not always been reached. In the aftermath of the Andijan crisis in Uzbekistan, Russia appears to be returning as a source of political and military assistance in Central Asia.