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For Russia, Tajikistan is one of the most strategically located country as far as its security is concerned. Also, when it borders with china and in close proximity to one of the most war-torn regions of the world, it became significant for Russia to re-shape it’s foreign policy after the end of cold war. In this light, this paper offers an explanation for contemporary Russian policy toward Tajikistan. It analyses the relations between the two states in the former USSR, Russia and Tajikistan during the years from 1991 to present with an emphasis on Russian Foreign policy and interests. The paper also emphasised the need of Tajikistan for Russia in present world order where China is taking assertive shape in the region and the threat from terrorism is at its core. Finally, it discusses the need and prospects of cooperation between Russia and Tajikistan.
Tajikistan is a small country which is located at what might be called as the geophysical centre of the Asian landmass. It is bordered by Afghanistan in the south, by China’s Xinjiang Province in the east, and by “Soviet Central Asia,” to the west and north. Tajikistan lies at the conjecture of several religions, languages, cultures. Tajikistan is culturally far removed from Russia. The predominant native language is Tajik, which is a variant of Farsi, has cultural ties connecting it more directly to the Middle East and West Asia than to Moscow and Europe.
Since the fall of Soviet Union in 1991, Tajikistan has experienced economic dislocations, civil war, and post-war political, economic, and social decay. In a small span of time Tajikistan went from the status of a middle-income country to become one of the poorest countries in the world. During this same period, Russia maintained a substantial, continuous, and expensive military and diplomatic presence in Tajikistan. Tajikistan shares no common border with Russia. There is little in Tajikistan which is commercially valuable to Russia. Then, what accounts for Russia’s continuing presence in Tajikistan? Why Tajikistan has always been one of the closest friends of Russia and a pro-Russian Country throughout the soviet and the post-cold war era? These substantial questions shall be resolved in the further sections.
For the last several hundred years political control of the territories of Central Asia was divided among three competing powers: the Persian Safavis, the various Uzbek Khanates, and the Indian Mughal Dynasty. Later, as the British influence on Central Asia increased from the South, Russian territorial expansion into Central Asia increased from the north. Russia took possession of much of the Uzbek lands and the British occupied the previous position of the Indian Moghuls. The area to the east of Tajikistan, or Eastern Turkestan, came under the control of the Qing Dynasty in 1759. As Russian territorial expansion into Central Asia increased from the north, British expansion increased from the south. China recaptured Eastern Turkestan and renamed the area “New Territories”, or Xinjiang. After the collapse of the Tsarist empire, the Russians re-embarked to Central Asia to spread communist rule. In 1918 the northernmost areas of Central Asia were included within the boundaries of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. After communist political consolidation in Central Asia, a land reform took place in Central Asia in 1924 which established new administrative boundaries. The Tajik Autonomous area was included initially in the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. After five years Tajikistan became a Soviet Socialist Republic.
After the August 1991 coup attempt in Moscow, Central Asian countries reoriented quickly and assumed separate and independent rule. This was a decisive moment for Russia’s foreign policymakers. Should Russia’s influence in the post-Soviet world be identified with the boundaries of the old USSR or should new spheres of influence be drawn? Russian political officials rested with the former. Russia emphasized that the first priority of Russian diplomacy will be the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States, an organization they perceived as to let Russia to continue influencing Eurasia generally, but particularly in Central Asia where the states were seen as being dependent upon Russia economically and militarily.
Russian agreed to maintain Russian peacekeeping forces for Tajikistan in April 1993. With the unfolding of Tajikistan war, the Russian maintained balancing goals of peacekeeping and stability with Russian’s long-term interest in the sensitive mountains passes of Central Asia. Russia publicly represented that it could achieve this by keeping neutrality throughout the war. However, opposition members in Tajikistan did not regard the Russian influence as neutral. In the wake of the political fallout, the Russian government began giving more support to the idea of maintaining military operations in Tajikistan. Russia’s military presence gradually turned the country into “Russian protectorate” (Lena Jonson). Appeals were also made for intervention from the United Nations. The UN Mission of Observers in Tajikistan (UNMOT) was established in Dushanbe with military observers detached to key regions throughout the country. The UN, the Russian military, and many international donor organizations began applying diplomatic pressure to encourage the newly established Tajikistan government to develop a program of national reconciliation. Under the auspices of the UN, negotiations were begun between the government and opposition representatives. The negotiations eventually came to be known as the “Inter-Tajik” talks. In December 1996 the leaders signed a cease-fire agreement. In June 1997 the leaders signed a peace accord that set a time frame for reduction in warfighting capacities, reintegration, and political reconciliation. Confidence building measures were designed to lead in increments toward the surrender of arms by Tajikistan’s hard-to-regiment irregular militias. The 1997 Peace Accord included provisions relating to the parliamentary elections of 2000 and the subsequent dissolution of the National Reconciliation Council (NRC) as a milestone of political reintegration. In June 2000 the UN Mission of Observers in Tajikistan (UNMOT) withdrew from Tajikistan after a six-year stay.
Like the other Central Asian republics, Tajikistan joined the CIS, which was created in December 1991. After the Soviet Union’s collapse, Russian troops were withdrawn from all the Central Asian states apart from Tajikistan. Presidents Dmitry Medvedev of Russia and Emomali Rakhmonov of Tajikistan agreed on August 29 to further their cooperation in the fields of gas and hydropower leading to the construction of Sangtudinskaya and Rogunsky hydroelectric plant. Russia also agreed to develop and explore natural gas deposits in Tajikistan. Strengthened bilateral cooperation in the military and military-technical spheres was also agreed. Russia maintained a military presence there in the form of the 201st Motorized Rifle Division and the Border Troops. Russians also held important positions in the Dushanbe government itself.
One of the stated foreign policy goals of the Russia was the protection of Russian minority in Tajikistan. It was dealt with the conclusion of a dual-citizenship agreement between the two countries in 1995. Before the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, Tajikistan had no army of its own. Administratively, the republic was part of the Soviet Union’s Turkestan Military District, which was abolished in June 1992. By the end of the Soviet era, the old military system, had begun to break down, and draft evasion became a common occurrence in Tajikistan.
Border security was a key part of Russia’s continued military role in Tajikistan. In June 1992, the formerly Soviet border guards stationed in Tajikistan came under the direct authority of Russia. The presidents of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Russia came to Dushanbe in July 2009 for bilateral and multilateral meetings to discuss future military cooperation between Tajikistan and Russia. Russia was exploring weapons exports to Tajikistan at market prices, and training Tajik military staff on a commercial basis.
Russia’s economic influence in Tajikistan is felt most strongly through labor migration. As many as one million of Tajikistan’s population of 7 million work as migrant laborers in Russia, sending back over $2.5 billion in remittances. Many Tajiks nevertheless remain in Russia in the hope of finding new work. Although Tajiks working in Russia are officially required to obtain work permits, the fact that travel between the two countries is visa-free made it difficult to enforce this requirement.
Russia continues to be the dominant external economic partner of Tajikistan. From 2005 to 2009, Russia invested $971 million in Tajikistan. In 2008 it accounted for 75 percent of total foreign direct investment (FDI), or $325 million 28 percent more than in 2007. According to the Government of Tajikistan, in the first half of 2009 Russia invested $39 million — more than any other country. Russia’s low investment compared to previous years was due to the global financial crisis. Nevertheless, Russia remained Tajikistan’s largest trading partner, with 24.7 percent of Tajikistan’s overall trade. Russia also made major investments in energy, construction, mining, communication, transportation, and other sectors.
Russia considered spillover from events in Afghanistan and Pakistan as the main threat. Russia is concerned about rising instability both from extremists originating in the south and also the ongoing disputes on water, borders and other issues between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Apart from the regional skirmishes in central Asia, Chinese increasing assertive role is sending strong signals to Moscow about increasing influence of China in the region. Central Asia, being a “pivot to Asia” stands at a vulnerable front and has threats from extremist insurgencies as well as China’s “Debt Trap Diplomacy”. As Russia is heavily engaged in the region economically, any disruptions due to Chinese economic role will lay spillover effect on Russian economy and its political interests in the region. Geo-politically as well, Russia cannot let any other power to gain strategic influence in its near abroad, which is apprehended due to Chinese Clandestine moves through it’s Belt and Road Initiative. Russia is particularly insecure about Tajikistan as it shares borders with China.
Despite the realistic orientation of Russia’s foreign policy, Russia’s commitment to Tajikistan should not have narrow interest. Rather in terms of broader calculation that includes Russian political psychology, long-term strategic considerations, and a series of short-term tactical requirements. Tajikistan is a country whose geostrategic significance is out of proportion to its size, the size of its population, or the size of its economy. Tajikistan is a country whose future will define new diplomatic and strategic relationships that will reach well beyond the country’s borders. It is apparent from this description that the Russia is not likely to abandon the leverage it gains from its position in Tajikistan, the “pivot of Asia”. For Russia to now abandon its outpost in Asia would be equivalent to abandoning a claim to a sphere of influence in Asia. This is the reason that Russia is in Tajikistan.
To conclude, it can be said that Russia’s commitment to Tajikistan has psychological, tactical and strategic dimensions. The paper explored these dimensions, showing how they reinforce one another in the context of Russia’s growing concern with “grey area” security threats.
Tajikistan is a regionally and geopolitically important country where principled, clear-sighted and constructive engagement is necessary and appropriate. Relations with Tajikistan have been strongly coloured by the large security deﬁcit of the country and its lack of resources to counter hard and soft security threats arising from the perforated borders with neighbouring countries, especially Afghanistan. Russia is the security provider par excellence which is evidenced by the recent establishment on its territory of a Russian military base.
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