Tajikistan's parliament has made it easier for its citizens to join the Russian armed forces in response to Russia's welcoming of foreigners into its ranks.
Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law allowing citizens of other countries to join the Russian military. While in theory the move would seem to pave the way for a Russian version of the French foreign legion, military analysts said that the real purpose was to make it easier to take on locals at Russia's military bases abroad, in particular in Armenia and Tajikistan. From the Moscow Times:
Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a Moscow-based defense think tank, explained to The Moscow Times that the change was finally implemented to provide legal status to locals already serving on Russian bases in Armenia and Tajikistan.
Furthermore, as salaries for Russian civilians continue to outpace those offered by military service contracts, the new law is seen as a way to fill the military with migrant workers, Pukhov said. The reported salary for a contract soldier in the Russian army is 30,000 rubles ($500) a month.
But an official at the Tyumen military recruiting center told local media that foreigners already could serve in the Russian military, the difference now is that they can fight. "We already took foreign citizens. The change in the law has to do with only one aspect: from the beginning of this year foreign citizens are allowed to fight in armed conflicts."
And Tajikistan's government doesn't want to get in its citizens' way. Just a month after Russia's law was enacted, Tajikistan has amended a law (signed last May) which had made it illegal to fight in armed conflicts abroad. But that law was apparently meant to forbid Tajikistanis from fighting in ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
The law "only applies to those citizens of Tajikistan who join illegal armed formations," Makhmadali Vatanov, a member of Tajikistan's parliament, told Tajikistan newspaper Asia Plus (which also flagged the story from Tyumen). "For citizens of Tajikistan, officially entering a contract for service in the Russian armed forces, and taking part in so called 'hot spots,' will not be threatened with legal punishment."
"Russia is a unique country for Tajikistan and unique ties bind us," Vatanov told the BBC's Russian service.
Perhaps not coincidentally, there were press reports at the end of January claiming that 3,000 soldiers from Russia's 102nd Military Base in Tajikistan were being sent to fight in Ukraine. Russia denied the reports.