- The Tajik parliament on 1 October ratified a deal to extend Russia's lease on military bases in the Central Asian state until 2042.
- The deal will ensure the continuing deployment of around 7,000 Russian troops in Tajikistan, providing both an important security guarantee to the Tajik state, as well as greater training and equipment transfers to the Tajik security forces.
- Tajikistan is facing a heightened militant threat over the five-year outlook, particularly considering the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan in 2014, and although Russian forces are unlikely to partake in small-scale counter-insurgency operations, they will provide an important safety net against any militant threat to the state should it emerge.
The lower house of the Tajik parliament on 1 October ratified a long-delayed agreement with Russia to extend the latter's military presence in the country.
The lower house of the Tajik parliament on 1 October ratified a long-delayed agreement with Russia to extend the latter's military presence in the country. According to the deal, the presence of Russia's 201st military base will be extended until 2042, with the current lease of what is Russia's largest foreign military garrison due to expire next year. The deal will need to be approved by Tajikistan's upper house and president, although the high level of political control held by President Imomali Rahmon over the country's political establishment means that ratification in the lower house is a clear indication of government will. As such, the deal is highly likely to be approved in the immediate term.
The deal was initially signed between Russia and Tajikistan in October 2012, with the delay in ratification primarily driven by Dushanbe's desire to extract the best possible terms. It now appears that a mutually acceptable deal has been worked out. An integral part of this is a new agreement with Russia to ease restrictions on Tajik nationals travelling to Russia, which was also ratified by the Tajik parliament on 1 October. The ability of Tajik citizens to travel and work in Russia is vital to Tajikistan, with the approximately 800,000 to 900,000 Tajik migrant workers in Russia providing remittances of USD3.6 billion in 2012, or approximately 50% of Tajikistan's entire GDP.
In addition, Russian forces will provide additional training and assistance to the Tajik security forces, and particularly its border guard forces. Equipment transfers will also be increased, according to reports in the regional media, with Russia having already provided USD411 million in such transfers since 2005.
Securing Central Asia
Russia's 201st military base consists of approximately 7,000 troops, as well as significant quantities of main battle tanks, armoured personnel carriers, and helicopters, deployed at three sites: Dushanbe, Kulayb, and Kurgan-Tyube. The force is based along traditional Russian military structures, and does not have any particular experience or additional specialisation in counter-insurgency operations. Nevertheless, it still represents by far the most capable military force in Tajikistan, and is trained and equipped to a far higher standard than its Tajik counterparts.
The base is an important element in Russia's efforts to secure its southern flank in Central Asia from the threat of militants and drug trafficking. In particular, it will be at the forefront of Moscow's efforts to develop a multilateral response to any outbreaks of instability in the region. To bolster this approach, Russia has undertaken efforts over the past three years to strengthen the rapid response capabilities of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), which includes Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan as members alongside Russia.
The primary militant threat facing Tajikistan over the short term comes from the potential inflow of militants from Afghanistan and Pakistan into areas of the country with limited government control, namely the eastern Rasht Valley and Gorno-Badakhshan regions. This threat is particularly related to groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), and its splinter group the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), which maintain primarily Central Asian membership and have an avowed intention to overthrow the current Central Asian governments, despite the fact that they are primarily based in the Afghan-Pakistan border region. With the risk of greater instability in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of international forces in 2014, the ability of such groups to travel into Tajikistan across its porous borders would increase. This would raise the risk of insurgent activity in the eastern regions of the country, and of terrorist attacks in urban centres such as Dushanbe and Khujand. The Russian military presence is not likely to mitigate this threat, as its forces are not likely to take part in smaller-scale counter-insurgency operations, aside from providing advice and non-direct assistance. Of more significance in this circumstance will be the greater training provided to the poorly equipped and trained Tajik security forces, which will increase their capacity to respond to the militant threat over the coming years. The Russian military presence does, however, provide a crucial security guarantee in the event that the militant threat develops beyond the Tajik forces' ability to counter it. This will prevent any insurgent threat developing in the country that could pose a direct threat to the Tajik government or wider state stability. It will also provide a capability to respond, primarily through special forces units, to any major escalation in militant activity in the eastern regions of the country.