Tajikistan's latest move to toughen its position in renewing the lease of the 201st Russian army base is connected with the activities, which the United States and China have been conducting in the former Soviet republic recently. As a result, Moscow may lose its influence in this country, Alexander Karavayev, deputy director of the Center for the Study of the former Soviet Union, Moscow State University, told the Kommersant Daily.
According to the newspaper, the United States and Tajikistan have been negotiating the delivery of a part military hardware and equipment after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Tajik President Emomali Rahmon received a loan of about two billion dollars during his recent visit to China. Afterwards, he called the relations with China "a priority in Tajikistan's foreign policy." Last year, Dushanbe signed an agreement with Beijing about a territorial dispute and border demarcation. Tajikistan passed 1,122 km2 of mountain group to the Chinese - nearly 1% of the territory of Tajikistan.
According to Karavayev, there has been a dramatic revival of cooperation between Tajikistan and India, as well as with the Gulf monarchies, especially Qatar. All this deprives Moscow of its "big brother" monopoly for the ties with Tajikistan.
Tajikistan changes the vector with Moscow to Washington indeed. The Tajik leader announced the intention to develop ties with the U.S. in his telegram to Barack Obama to congratulate his American counterpart with the 236th anniversary of American independence.
Experts believe that Dushanbe prepares a gift for the Americans - Aini Airport. Russia and India are also the candidates. At the same time, Tajik officials have repeatedly said that they would never give the airport to anyone but Moscow.
As for the 201st base, Russia tends to think that Tajikistan is interested in extending the time of its deployment. Moreover, Russian officials believe that Tajikistan is interested in that a lot more than Russia itself, even though the talks have not brought any results. Deputy Director of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, Konstantin Biryulin, said that military presence in Tajikistan was also very important for Russia.
The Russian army base in Tajikistan is the largest ground base outside Russia; about seven thousand servicemen serve there. The base is an important element in the overall security system of the Central Asian region. Founded in 2004 on the basis of the 201st motorized rifle division stationed in Tajikistan, it is deployed in three garrisons in the cities of Dushanbe, Kurgan-Tube and Kulyab. Negotiations about the deployment of the 201st base continue since 2008.
Land Forces Commander Colonel-General Vladimir Chirkin said in late June that the signing of the agreement to extend the stay of the base in Tajikistan for 49 years is on the verge of failure. According to him, Tajikistan put forward more than 20 requirements, which Russia found displeasing. Afterwards, Tajikistan started to change and complicate the requirements.
Chirkin believes that it is a game of "tug of war": the Tajik side offers to cut the stay of Russian bases from 49 to 10 years and establish the procedure for the compensatory stay of the Russian forces.
On July 3rd, it was reported with reference to the chief of the Russian General Staff Nikolai Makarov that the Defense Ministry would not allocate the funds for the development of the 201st Russian army base in Tajikistan until the negotiations on the extension of its deployment after 2014 are completed. The corresponding agreement was to be signed in the first quarter of 2012.
On Thursday, at the meeting of the Council of CIS Defense Ministers, held in Kaliningrad, Tajik Defense Minister Sherali Khairulloyev surprised everyone with his statement. He said that Tajikistan had not studied the Russian version of the agreement about the prolongation of the deployment of the 201st Russian military base on its territory.
Tajikistan was preparing its own version, Khayrulloev said. "Nobody has received our version, and no one has read the Russian version yet," he said. Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov responded: "You should have read it, we sent it a long time ago."
The Americans came to realise that they would have to either leave the region or weaken their presence there. It is Russia that is filling the vacuum now