Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrived in Tajikistan on July 30, beginning a two-day trip with important ramifications for Central Asian security.
Tajik President Imomali Rahmon, along with his Pakistani and Afghan counterparts, Asif Ali Zardari and Hamid Karzai, signed a joint declaration in Dushanbe on July 30 pledging their resolve to combat terrorism and extremism. Medvedev's arrival was timed to allow the Russian leader to hold economic and political discussions with Zardari and Karzai. The Russian president was later scheduled to attend opening ceremonies for the much-delayed Sangtuda-1 hydropower plant, a project in which Russia holds a 75 percent stake.
Russian officials have been circumspect when it comes to the future of Moscow's ties to Dushanbe. The Kremlin has its eye on the bigger regional picture and its base in Tajikistan, while useful, is not absolutely essential, some experts say. At the same time, Russia is not interested in seeing a chill come over bilateral relations.
"I heard from top-level sources that the 201st Russian base can be transferred to Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan if any serious need arises. If Tajikistan demands money, Russia won't stick with Tajikistan because it has options. Tajikistan will not remove the base, just like Russia will not introduce a visa regime for Tajik citizens. There will not be a clash. It's too serious to happen," Andrei Grozin, the director of the Central Asia Department at the CIS Institute in Moscow, said in an interview on July 30.
"I know that during the preparations for this visit to Dushanbe, Russia didn't take the [Tajik] perspective seriously," Grozin continued. "I think the dialogue will be complicated."
"Russia has the money and the inclination [to invest in Tajik energy projects], but there are some limitations in that respect," Grozin explained.
"It's not just about money, but rather the outcome of Russia's financial presence in Tajikistan's projects. Building Rogun could sharpen Russia's relations with some countries. It's no secret that Ashgabat, Astana and Tashkent perceive their water problems very painfully and Russia doesn't want to spoil relations with these countries. Most likely Russia will give Tajikistan some money, but it will not build hydropower plants," Grozin added.
Mars Sariev, a Kyrgyz political analyst, said Rahmon's gambit was not likely to succeed. The Kremlin, according to Sariev, is still angry about the re-emergence of the Manas Air Base as a transit center, and therefore Russian leaders are in no mood for bargaining about their base in Tajikistan, especially when the rent demand is coming from a political leader in a relatively weak domestic political situation due to Dushanbe's well-chronicled economic crisis. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Even so, Rahmon will not come away empty-handed, Sariev predicted.
"I don't think Russia will pay for the base, because then it would automatically mean that it has to pay for the Kant base [near Bishkek] as well," Sariev said. "But I think Russia and Tajikistan will come to a compromise and will find some specific sphere of investment instead of paying for the base."