Tajikistan: Moscow Bribing Dushanbe to Allow Border Troops Back?
Moscow is making no secret of its desire to return troops to the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border, perhaps the most porous frontier between the failed state and post-Soviet Central Asia. Visiting Dushanbe on December 9, Foreign Ministry official Maxim Peshkov said the two sides had been actively discussing the topic, Ferghana.ru reports.
"Given the situation in Afghanistan and the growing threat of terrorism, Russia is ready to return to the Tajik-Afghan border," said the representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry.Peshkov said that the question of the return of Russian border guards to Tajikistan is one of the constant themes of talks between Dushanbe and Moscow. He stressed that this issue is still pending. "If the Tajik side offers us the protection of their borders, then we have no reason to deny them this,” explained Peshkov.
Just two weeks ago, Peshkov -- a former ambassador to Dushanbe -- was in town negotiating an end to the tariffs imposed earlier this year on Russian oil products destined for Tajikistan. (Yes, they're talking about dropping the taxes, which pushed the price of petrol up by 30 percent overnight, entirely.)Could the Kremlin be bribing its way back? Moscow is clearly interested in resuming oversight of the border, which Russian troops patrolled until July 2005 when President Emomali Rakhmon asked them to leave. Drug trafficking has boomed since then, making some people in Tajikistan very rich. Russian Drug Tsar Victor Ivanov, for one, has repeatedly pushed to return the troops -- which belong to Russia’s intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB) -- pointing to the Tajik border as a major conduit for Afghan-born narcotics en route to Russian cities. Last year he said that 60 percent of Russian heroin arrives via Tajikistan. There is likely some pushback on extra border oversight in Tajikistan (not just from local analysts eulogizing about sovereignty, but from the drug traffickers themselves). But you can’t have it both ways: Dushanbe complains it is fighting an Islamic insurgency on its own; violence is increasing in northern Afghanistan. It will be interesting to see what other concessions Rakhmon will seek -- help constructing Rogun; more migrant visas?
David Trilling is Eurasianet’s managing editor.