In early October, Tajikistan and Russia agreed to extend the lease on a Russian military base with three locations in Dushanbe, Kulyab and Kurgan-Tyube for 30 years. The October 5 agreement ended months of negotiations, beginning in September 2011 with a joint announcement that the two countries would continue their military relationships. Talks deteriorated for months while terms were debated. The new agreement will extend the lease on the base for a “symbolic sum” (which some press outlets are saying means essentially free) from Russia until 2042. The base houses approximately 7,000 Russian soldiers and the Russians consider their presence in Tajikistan a bulwark against drug trafficking and Islamist militancy. Tajikistan’s geography and location also lend the base strategic geopolitical advantages for Russia.
Key points about the base and agreement are as follows:
- The agreement from the base coincided with an agreement easing visa restrictions on Tajik migrant workers to Russia. The remittances from these workers make up nearly 50% of Tajik GDP.
- The other key agreement signed was a removal of Russian duties on oil imports, lowering the price of fuel in Tajikistan, and making it cheaper for food to be transported. This is particularly important as Tajikistan is an extremely poor country.
- Some analysts are seeing the two agreements as part of a larger play for Rahmon to ensure popularity going into an election season, giving him both Kremlin support and public support for working to ease the visa restrictions and lower food/fuel prices.
- One of the more contentious points, as mentioned in the CACI analysis, is that the Russian military will have legal immunity in Tajikistan, which one political analyst calls a ‘national humiliation.”
These agreements were sealed with a Russian sniper rifle, presented by Putin to President Rahmon for his 60th birthday. Putin joked that the summit intentionally coincided with the Tajik President’s birthday so that the Russians would have to sign anything the Tajik government presented to them.
The very short, high level summation regarding this base is that it ensures Russia’s presence in the very strategic Tajikistan for at least the next 30 years, and demonstrates the continued Russian push to maintain control in the region.
Eurasianet raises an interesting question on their post on the agreement, pointing out that if eases on visa restrictions could be a good bargaining chip in the region, why not offer them to other countries in Central Asia in exchange for more of a US military presence? The US, especially during the coming withdrawl from Afghanistan (as we have said so many times) will be anxious about their lack of visibility in the region, and hence lack of strategic leverage. More of a presence there would also enable the US to keep closer track of militant movements, drug transport, resource races and of course, the Russians. (However, as the article points out, the Russians were able to make this deal work because the money from remittances is so badly needed by Tajikistan. The US doesn’t have a similar point of integration into society that meets such an immediate and deeply rooted need.)