Report: Russia Spending $1.3 Billion To Arm Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan
Russia is preparing an aid package of over a billion dollars to Kyrgyzstan's military, and of $200 million to that of Tajikistan, Russian newspaper Kommersant has reported, saying that the Kremlin is trying to counteract the U.S.'s growing clout in Uzbekistan.
According to the report, the aid package was agreed on in August, during Russian Deputy Premier Igor Shuvalov's visit to Bishkek in August and President Vladimir Putin's in September. The specific contents of the aid package will be worked out by March of next year, with deliveries beginning next summer, sources in Russia's general staff told Kommersant.
In addition, Tajikistan is reportedly getting $200 million in air defense system upgrades and current hardware repair. Tajikistan also will be getting a $200 million discount on fuel deliveries from Russia, apparently thanks to its recent agreement to extend the lease of Russia's military base. So if the report turns out to be true, it wouldn't exactly be the "symbolic sum" that Kremlin officials initially claimed they would be paying for the base extension. But $400 million, spread out over the 30-year term of the base extension, still isn't quite the windfall Dushanbe was hoping for.
An unnamed Russian government source told Kommersant the aid package was intended both for security and geopolitical gain (translation via Johnson's Russia List):
"Helping Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan modernize their military, Moscow expects to strengthen the potential of the Collective Security Treaty Organization in the light of the forthcoming American withdrawal from Afghanistan," said a source within the government of Russia. "Moreover, Moscow hopes to prevent the Americans from strengthening their positions in Central Asia... It was only recently after all that Bishkek and Dushanbe flirted with Washington in the hope to lay hands on the weapons and military hardware withdrawn from Afghanistan. It would have meant American instructors and technicians. American influence with the region would have grown."
This analysis seems to suggest that Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are no longer in the running to get the leftover American equipment from Afghanistan, leaving it for Uzbekistan, an interpretation that uznews.net also suggests: "Most of the NATO weapons used in Afghanistan, according to well-informed sources, the alliance command is planning to leave in Uzbekistan." This doesn't seem likely: Uzbekistan will be a recipient of these U.S. excess defense articles (as the Pentagon calls them) but Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan no doubt will be, as well.
If this report turns out to be true, it would be a pretty big step by Russia. The $1.1 billion would represent about 18 years of the $60 million the U.S. pays annually in rent for the Manas air base, and U.S. security assistance to all five Central Asian states has been running about $100 million per year. And this would be on top of whatever else Russia has already been giving these countries, which has never been very well counted.
The question is, what does Moscow get in return? The Tajikistan portion may have been part of the deal for the base extension, but $1.1 billion is a lot to spend for a vague hope of geopolitical advantage in Kyrgyzstan. And it's a massive amount compared to Kyrgyzstan's annual defense budget, which is on the order of about $50 million a year. We'll have to wait for more details.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.