Tajikistan and Russia have reportedly agreed on the terms of the continued presence of Russia's 201st Division in Tajikistan. The term of the agreement is 30 years, and Russia will continue to not pay Tajikistan for the base's presence, CA-News has reported, citing "sources close to the negotiations" (so proceed with the appropriate amount of skepticism).
According to the report, the 30-year term was a compromise between the 10 years Tajikistan wanted and the 49 years that Russia wanted. And though Russia will still not pay cash for the base (its second largest outside its borders, behind the Black Sea Fleet headquarters in Ukraine), Tajikistan will get additional in-kind aid, like additional spots in Russian military academies and "modern technology and weapons." So if the report is true, Tajikistan failed to force Russia to pay rent for the base, as Kyrgyzstan managed earlier this year.
The deal will reportedly be officially signed during Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's trip to Tajikistan in October.
Last week, The Bug Pit raised the question, to what extent is the U.S. implicated in the excesses of the Tajikistan security forces' operation in Khorog over the summer, given that the U.S. has done a lot of training and equipping of the special forces that conducted that operation. Russia's role in supporting Tajikistan's security forces -- like these new "technology and weapons" -- is even more opaque. And as Mark Galeotti notes in an excellent recent essay, U.S./European training of security forces in dictatorships at least includes some training on human rights, or as he put it, "you did not need to beat confessions out of suspects and plant evidence." (He talks specifically about police, rather than military, training but the principles are the same.)
How much good does this sort of human rights training do? Galeotti writes that he was skeptical:
I left distinctly unconvinced that I had made any difference to investigators used to, and comfortable with, a Soviet way of working. They pretended to take what I said to heart; I pretended to believe them; and we went our separate ways.
But then, he recounts, one of his graduates, a police officer from Azerbaijan, got in touch some years later with a question that suggested he had taken some of the ethics training to heart. In researching the upcoming report on U.S. military aid to Central Asia, I was told that U.S. security assistance officers expect that about 20 percent of their students will be receptive to Western-style training, which includes an emphasis on respecting human rights:
Western officials who work with Central Asian militaries say there is a “20-60-20” rule, meaning that roughly 20 percent of soldiers are enthusiastic and receptive to training, 60 percent are indifferent, and 20 percent are actively hostile. For some young, ambitious Central Asian soldiers U.S. training can be welcomed exposure to a military that is not dominated by corruption and hazing. “Aside from learning at excellent institutions, foreign officers have a chance to interact with professional NCOs and female soldiers, which aren’t always found in foreign militaries, and to see what ‘right’ looks like, when it comes to working professionally,” the U.S. officer said.
By contrast, the values that Russian training imparts, Galeotti writes, include:
How to bend and bypass the law in the name of the state; how to justify extralegal repression in the name of a higher duty; and how to balance the fiction of legality and the practice of authoritarianism.
In this way, Russia offers not just the tools and training for authoritarians, but also the values and rationalizations to use them.
Does the impact of human rights training in U.S. security assistance outweigh the danger that the U.S. will be implicated in violence by security forces in a dictatorship? That question is probably genuinely unanswerable with any precision. But it's a key one for people making decisions about this aid.