Russia Making New Play For Ayni?
As if the wrangling between Moscow and Dushanbe over the Russian military base in Tajikistan weren't complicated enough, Russia is now planning to take control of the disputed Ayni airfield, as well, according to a report in Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta.Recall that last year, the presidents of Russia and Tajikistan signed an agreement extending the lease of Russia's military base in Tajikistan. Russia recently ratified its agreement, but Dushanbe has been dragging its feet and appearing to demand new conditions. Now, though, it may be Russia throwing a wrench into the works. According to NG, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defense's Department for International Military Cooperation have worked out a plan to "include" Ayni in its 201st military base. The newspaper doesn't provide any rationale for doing that, nor does it report on or even speculate on Tajikistan's thoughts on this. Ayni, recall, was renovated at some expense by India. While India was planning to set up an air base there, Russia appeared to pressure Tajikistan's government into forbidding the Indians from using it. But Russia has seemed more interested in keeping anyone else out than in using the base itself. It's not clear why Russia would now want to use Ayni, but NG does note that Russia is undertaking a general strengthening of its military position in Central Asia in anticipation of the U.S./NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan, scheduled to start in 2014. That includes the establishment of joint air forces of the Collective Security Treaty Organization at the Kant air base in Kyrgyzstan, which Russia is renovating. Might the Russians decide they need more room in Tajikistan, as well? The NG piece also includes a mysterious, and seemingly unrelated, bit of news:
It is supposed that beginning in 2014 the base will be stationed fully by contract soldiers, including ethnic Russians living in the republics of Central Asia.
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
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