Tajikistan seems to be angling for a quid-pro-quo deal with Russia in which Dushanbe grants Moscow access to the Ayni air base in return for the Kremlin’s help in resolving a water-related dispute with Uzbekistan. Analysts are skeptical that the Kremlin will bite.
Speaking at a news conference October 18, Tajik Foreign Minister Khamrokhon Zarifi indicated that talks with Russia on an Ayni base deal were at an advanced stage. The facility officially opened in September, some three years after renovations, funded by India, were completed at a cost of about $70 million. Since then, there has been speculation about whether India, Russia, the United States or even France would base aircraft there. Zarifi made it clear that Russia, at this stage, is the only player still in the game.
“We are holding talks on the Ayni airfield only with Russia. Such talks are not being held with anyone else,” Zarifi said.
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Deirdre Tynan is a Bishkek-based reporter specializing in Central Asian affairs.