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Tajikistan: Putin Fails to Deliver

High-level talks with Moscow leader fail to meet Tajik expectations of Russian investment.
By Rashid Abdullo

President Vladimir Putin returned from Dushanbe this week without signing a set of major agreements designed to help secure Tajikistan's future.


The April 26-28 visit had been heralded as a way of reviving the strategic relationship between Russia and Tajikistan. It got off to a bad start even before Putin arrived. Tajik officials discovered that the Russians had downgraded his visit from an official one to a mere working visit.


According to journalists in Tajikistan, the government was informed two hours before Putin's plane landed in Dushanbe, and had to rearrange everything - which including sending the honour guard and brass band home from the airport.


The result of the change was that none of the agreements lined up for signature could be approved.


On the security side, the most important document was one which details the arrangements for Russia's continuing military presence in Tajikistan. Signing of the agreement will now take place in May.


Russia has maintained an army division in the republic for the last decade, in addition to some 8,000-9,000 frontier troops ranged along the border with Afghanistan. During Putin's visit, it became apparent that the division's current strength of around 11,000 men would be halved once it is reconstituted with the status of a semi-permanent military base. This contradicts Putin's remarks, reported from a meeting he had with the local Russian garrison, that "we plan to boost our presence here".


On the economic front, the visit was expected to take forward talks on how Russia can invest in Tajikistan's ailing economy. One option has been to convert some 250 million US dollars of Tajik debt into company shares which would be duly handed over to Russia. The aluminium plant at Tursunzade is seen as a prime target for such a deal, and the Russian Aluminium concern has been talking about taking a controlling share. The head of the latter, Oleg Derepaska, visited the plant when he arrived with Putin's delegation, but there was no immediate outcome.


The Tajik government will be reluctant to give up control of the Tursunzade plant. Although it is in poor shape and operating at much less than capacity, it still accounts for around half of the country's export revenues.


Talks on other investment possibilities, including plans to attract Russian capital to complete the construction of a hydroelectric dam at Sangtuda, do not seem to have made much headway. Interviewed by IWPR when he was in Tajikistan earlier in April, Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov had promised that economic plans would "go from theory to practice during Putin's visit to Dushanbe". This did not happen.


Tajik officials will also have been disappointed by the failure to achieve a breakthrough on the treatment of the tens of thousands of migrant workers who go to Russia every year. Tajikistan has been concerned at what it sees as the Russian government's inadequate response to the widespread pattern of racist attacks and police mistreatment of seasonal workers.


Even though Putin told a press conference that "they must not and will not be humiliated", no practical steps were taken to secure the migrants' future. The money they send home is vital for sustaining impoverished households and the capital inflow is significant enough to support the economy as a whole.


The most significant event during Putin's visit concerned the wider region rather than just Tajikistan. Putin signed an agreement with the Tajik president Imomali Rahmonov and his counterparts from Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Belarus establishing a joint Collective Security Treaty Organisation.


Some details of the way the body will be structured were finalised, but the signing only formalised an arrangement agreed on last year.


Rashid Abdullo is a political analyst in Dushanbe


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