With the Russian government agreeing to finally pay Kyrgyzstan rent for the military facilities that Russia operates there, pressure is increasing on the Kremlin to pay up for the other military bases it operates in the former Soviet Union.
Just days after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed to pay his Kyrgyzstan counterpart Almazbek Atambayev $15 million in back rent for the Kant air base and other facilities, Tajikistan is signaling that it, too, intends to pay hardball. The two countries agreed in principle back in September to extend the lease of the base for Russia's 201st division for another 49 years. But the issue of payment was left until later, and on Tuesday Dushanbe's ambassador to Moscow suggested they would drive a hard bargain, in an interview with RFE/RL:
"[N]o one in the world today intends to give up even a small plot of their land for nothing." The Tajik ambassador said, "our country should keep this in mind, whether there should be payment of some $300 million or compensation through providing military-technical aid," adding "nobody will say thank you to those who give up their land for free to others."
The $300 million figure has been mentioned in Tajikistan but Dostiev conceded that even 10 percent of that amount of money would be acceptable.
Meanwhile, Russia is also negotiating with Azerbaijan over the rent Moscow pays for the Gabala radar station, and the price for that keeps rising rapidly. In December, an Azerbaijani MP suggested that the rent should be raised from $7 million a year to $100 million, but even that appears to be too small now, according to a report in the Russian newspaper Kommersant, via RIA Novosti:
Azerbaijan has demanded Russia pay $300 million instead of the previously agreed $7 million for the lease of a Soviet-era anti-missile radar in the Azeri town of Gabala...
Russia had expected to finalize talks by June this year, because a new agreement has to be signed at least six month before the existing one expires, the newspaper said. But the talks have been strained since the Azeri authorities asked Moscow to pay almost 43 times more for the lease than it used to, the report said.
“This sum of money is unreasonably large,” the paper quoted a Defense Ministry source as saying. “We will push for it to be significantly lowered. We still hope to reach an agreement.”
Another high-ranking source told the paper that Russia may stop operating the radar “if Baku does not limit its financial appetite.”
According to the report, Foreign Ministry officials have described the Azeri demands as “agenda-driven.”
It's not clear what that "agenda," may be; Azerbaijan, in contrast to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, does not need the money that badly.
Anyway, Russia is not known for its generosity in paying for the military bases it maintains in its former Soviet satellites, in some cases not even paying for utilities like electricity and water. But now, it's going to be a lot harder for the Kremlin to keep up that practice; Emomali Rahmon and Ilham Aliyev will no doubt complain to Medvedev and Vladimir Putin: "You paid Kyrgyzstan, why not us?" (The governments of Armenia and Ukraine, which recently agreed on multi-decade agreements for the Russian bases on their territory, must be kicking themselves that they signed their deals too soon.) This may be the foreign policy analogue to the new social contract that appears to be developing in Russian domestic politics, where the Russian people appear to be saying to Putin: "We're on your side, but you have to give a bit and not just take."