Russia in the Central Asia: Looking beyond Russian-Tadjik Security Relations

Bayram ALİYEV
06 June 2017
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After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the role of Russia on regional issues has reinforced as an influential actor in international politics. Russia has major stakes from Syrian Civil War to separatist confrontations within Ukraine. In this analysis, Russia’s relations with a Central Asian country, Tajikistan is examined on security context and Russia’s military presence and military relations are throughly detailed.

 

Sharp increase of energy prices during 2000s facilitated Russia to apply its strategy which aimed at enhancing its influence in the so-called “Near Abroad” region. Furthermore, there are specific factors behind the revision of Russian foreign policy towards the region. Among these, expansion of NATO over Russian borders, the “global hegemony” goal of the US which has been adapted after 9/11 terror act and EU’s efforts to strengthen relations with region countries can be mentioned. In this period, Russian President Vladimir Putin strengthened his power in domestic politics and increased centralization within federal units to increase role of Russia at regional and global political issues. The integration policies within Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) has been seemed insufficient therefore new regional organizations have been established. To that aim, Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) has been commenced as a military alliance in 2002. Kremlin prevented region countries from to be a member of any Western-oriented organization, more specifically precluded them from the membership of NATO with the establishment of CSTO. The privilege of Central Asian countries have been also emphasized in 2008 “Medvedev Doctrine”.

 

“Power politics” has been a crucial tool in contemporary Russian strategic thought as it has been throughout 19th Century Russian politics. Russia differs from the Western countries in this context, and has been applying “power politics” from Crimea to Syria. Central Asia is no exception. Russia sees China as an important rival in power competition in Central Asia aside from the US and other Western countries. On one hand, Moscow tries to keep the region under its control with CSTO in terms of security; on the other hand, it establishes Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) project to provide its economic hegemony in the region and to keep China away from seizing hegemony over the regional states. Russia aims at keeping the US, NATO and EU out of the region. Thus, it seems that the activities of OSCE are only linking  Western states with the region countries in the security area yet has been very limited in Central Asia. The US and EU tries toincrease their influence in the region with the activities of Western-oriented Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).   

 

Central Asian region has been a central part in Russian security policies. Kremlin aims to continue its monopoly over providing military and political security to Central Asian countries. One of the main dimensions of Russian security policies toward region has been tackling  extermist elements in the region. In this regard, it might be said that Russia had concerns after Taliban’s seizing of power in Afghanistan in 1996. It is no coincidence that one of the most important motivations behind establishment of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has been coping with religion-based radical elements.[1] Russia, especially after 9/11 terrorist attacks, tries to use the “threat of radicalism” discourse at its struggle with independence movements within federation. In this respect, independence movements have been associated with terrorist organizations within federation and war against these movements has been legalized. On the other hand, violation of human rights has been cloaked with “struggle against radicalism threat” discourse. 

Moscow puts forward radicalism and terrorism threat discources into its security policies towards Central Asian region in order to keep Russia’s control over regional security. Moscow stipulated ethnic and religion-based acts of violence, separatist movements, colorful revolutions and NATO’s expansion towards Russian borders as main security threats in its National Security Strategy document published in December 2015.[2] Therefore, it is obvious that Russia would see any changes such as revolutions, rising of nationalist movements and etc. within Central Asian countries as the threat for its national security.

 

Military-security relations of Russia with region’s countries are one of the main dimensions of Russia’s regional policies. Russia’s regional security policies include arm exports to region’s countries, modernization of military vehicles and facilities and education of security bureaucrats within Russian higher education institutions by Russian experts. Roughly there are about 2500 military personnel and since the independency of CSTO countries, Kirghizstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan (during its membership period) and Tajikistan students have been educated in the military schools of Russian Defense Ministry.

Military bases in Tajikistan

Tajikistan is one of the most important countries for Russia regarding its geopolitical position. Civil war in the post-Soviet era, terrorism threat within the country and the possibility of expansion of terrorism to other Central Asian countries enabled Kremlin to implement more dynamic foreign policy towards the country. In 1994, an agreement made that allowed  establishing CIS peacekeeping forces with Central Asian countries except Turkmenistan for providing stability in Tajikistan. CIS peacekeeping forces contained 25.000 military personnel from all participant states, while most of them were Russians.[3] After the end of civil war in 1997 Russia decreased its military presence in Tajikistan to about 5000 personnel and declared the end of peacekeeping operation in Tajikistan in 1999. At the time, the two headlines seemed dominating Russia’s relations with Tajikistan:

  • The protection of existent power in Tajikistan
  • Preventing of both Tajikistan and Russia itself from threats of radical elements which possibly spread into country from Afghanistan and harm security of the country.

  

The major forces of Russia’s land forces abroad are located in Tajikistan. The military base is located at three different areas. The central campus of the base is placed at the capital, Dushanbe. 191st motorized forces are located in Kurgan-Tube, near the border of Uzbekistan and 149th Guard motorized forces are situated at Kulyap, near the border with Afghanistan. The aim of the military base is to protect Tajikistan’s security together with Russian and Tadjik military forces.[4] This base has been formulated in place of USSR’s 201st military units which have been serving since the autumn of 1945. These army units had served between 1980 and1989 in Afghanistan with the intervention of USSR to this country.  These forces have played role at Tadjik civil war as well. There was an agreement signed between Russia and Tajikistan regarding the status of this base in April 1999. According to bilateral agreements, this base will be serving in Tajikistan until 2042. Recently, military personnel which served in the base have been increased to 7500 from 5000. The armored vehicles in the base are 54 T-72 tanks, more than 300 BMP and BTR infantry fighting vehicles and 100 artillery units. Furthermore, it is expected there will be 100 more modernized BTR-82A vehicles reinforced in the base. 201st military base has vital importance for the state security of Tajikistan. Especially, the base plays crucial role to control Afghanistan border of the country.

 

The other important Russian presence in Tajikistan is “Okno” electro-optic center located near Nurek, South-eastern of Dushanbe (7680th facility). The station started its activities at 1979. “Okno” station is located at mountain area about 2200 meter height and it can detect objects from 40000 km distance. According to a bilateral agreement between Russia and Tajikistan in 2005, this center will serve 49 years period for Russia.[5] It has vital importance for Russia to control and detect activities of the US in Afghanistan, even activities of China.

 

In addition to its military bases located in Tajikistan, Russia also modernizes military vehicles of the country, educates military personnel, exports arms with low prices and gives consulting services for Tadjik state security bureaucrats. The defense minister of Tajikistan between 1992 and 1995 has been an ethnic Russian, Colonel Alexander Shishlyannikov. Furthermore, another ethnic Russian, Yuri Ponosov has been assigned to deputy prime minister of Tajikistan in 1996. These facts might demonstrate the degree of  Russia’s influence in the country. Russian military personnel in the country still plays efficient role in education and training of local security bureaucrats. Tajikistan is the most dependent country to Russia among the Central Asian states. It might be expected that it will be under the influence of Russia at near future as well. Especially, rising radicalism in the region and threats from ISIS further manifests Russia’s military presence in the country.

 

 

 

 


[1] Jeffrey Mankoff, Russian Foreign Policy: The Return of Great Power Politics, (Lanham: Rowman Littlefield, 2011) , 216- 217

[2]“Ukaz Prezidenta Rossiyskoy Federacii ot 31.12.2015 q. No683” (Rusya Devlet Başkanı 683 no.lu Kararnamesi, 31 Aralık 2015), Kremlin Resmi Sitesi, Erişim Tarihi: 18 Temmuz 2016, http://kremlin.ru/acts/bank/40391

[3] Merve İ. Yapıcı, Rus Dış Politikasını Oluşturan İç Etkenler, (Ankara: USAK yayınları, 2010), 314- 315 

[4] “Lavrov: baza RF v Tadjikistane pomojet podderjat mir v Reqione” (Lavrov: Tacikistandaki Rus Üsleri Bölgesel Barışı Destekliyor), RİA Novosti, Mart 8, 2014. Çevrimiçi Erişim: http://ria.ru/defense_safety/20140308/998713917.html

[5]“Otstupat bolshe nekuda: Voennie Bazi Rossii”,  https://regnum.ru/news/polit/1908336.html

 

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