Russian President Vladimir Putin, visiting Dushanbe, has finalized an agreement with his Tajikistan counterpart Emomali Rahmon to extend the lease of Russia's military base there for another 30 years. That's a bit of a compromise on Russia's part: they had been seeking 49 years. But Tajikistan compromised too: instead of getting rent for the base, which Rahmon had sought, Russia will offer an aid package and allow more labor migrants from Tajikistan into Russia, Reuters reports.
A high-ranking source in Tajikistan's government, who requested anonymity, said a package of deals had been prepared for signing by Putin and Rakhmon. These would include better terms for Tajik migrant workers in Russia, he said....
The Tajik government source said deals prepared for signing on Friday also included construction of a hydroelectric power station and the removal of import duties on Russian light oil products used in Tajikistan.
There will be some payment, though: a "symbolic sum."
"This base is needed by us, and is needed by Tajikistan," Putin's foreign policy aide, Yuri Ushakov, said.
Ushakov said Russia would pay a symbolic sum to extend its lease, which had been due to expire after a decade on Jan. 1, 2014.
Regnum.ru reports that the deal also includes some Russian aid to modernize Tajikistan's armed forces.
The news of the agreement contradicts the statement of a top-ranking Russian general, who said less than a week ago that the two sides would continue negotiating for another six months.
The future foreign policy of Georgia's government under its new prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, is the subject of much speculation, especially in Washington, Moscow and Brussels. While Ivanishvili repeatedly vowed to continue Georgia's road to Euro-Atlantic integration and continue the Georgian military's deployment in Afghanistan, President Mikheil Saakashvili tried to paint Ivanishvili as a puppet of Moscow.
Ivanishvili's first post-victory press conference -- the one where he demanded Saakashvili's resignation -- didn't seem to go so well. But partners in Washington and Brussels had to be happy with what they heard. Ivanishvili promised that his first trip abroad would be to the U.S., and reiterated his strong support for NATO membership. His full comments on foreign policy don't seem to have been reported anywhere (in English) except for on the twitter feed of Georgian journalist Avto Koridze. They're worth reading (cleaned up a bit from twitterese).
"I think Russia's position of irritation about Georgia's integration in NATO was deepened by Saakashvili. I know that Georgia's integration in NATO is not very pleasant for Russia, but I don't think it is a strategic issue for Russia. I think it is possible with correct diplomacy to convince Russia that Georgia's integration in NATO is not a threat.... The Baltic countries are an example of NATO integration and good relations with Russia. We will not change our strategy of NATO integration for anything."
Russia and Tajikistan will continue negotiating over the extension of the Russian 201st Division's presence in Tajikistan next year, a top Russian military official has said. That contradicts recent reports that the two countries had come to an agreement on the presence of the division's base on the outskirts of Dushanbe, and that the agreement would be formally signed during Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Dushanbe on October 5. From the AP:
Russia’s ground forces commander Vladimir Chirkin said in an interview on Ekho Mosky radio station that outstanding issues on the terms of the deal will continue to be discussed with Tajikistan until the end of March...
Chirkin said the Russian troops would work in a coalition with local forces, something that Tajikistan is believed to have pushed for during negotiations.
Tajikistan has said it would like $300 million annually in cash or equivalent in military assistance for the bases.
“We will undoubtedly provide military and technical assistance so that this coalition is fully supplied,” Chirkin said. “How large (that assistance) is to be will be calculated by the specialists.”
Russia and Azerbaijan have come to a short-term agreement on the Gabala radar station that Russia operates in Azerbaijan, a "source close to the negotiations" told RIA Novosti.
The new agreement will extend the current lease, currently scheduled to run out in December, for another two to three years under the current terms. Azerbaijan has been playing hardball with Russia, reportedly asking for the rent to be raised from the current $7 million a year to $300 million. Russia, meanwhile, wanted to extend the lease to 2025.
Azerbaijan really holds all the cards in this scenario: it has no use for the radar and mistrusts Russia, which backs Armenia in the conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh. But Russia, of course, is the more powerful country and still has various means of throwing its weight around in Baku should it want to. This new arrangement seems to suggest that Russia is planning to leave Gabala after this brief extension expires. But Russia needs the Gabala radar a bit longer, while tension around Iran is high (Gabala covers the airspace over Iran) and newer radars are still under construction. Russian analyst Alexander Karavaev tells RIA Novosti:
"Judging from this announcement, Russia can still refuse to prolong the rent after this period, in two-three years. Most likely, [the radar] will remain while there is a high degree of tension around Iran, and while a new generation of radar stations are being deployed to the south," said Karavaev, referring to new, more capable radars that Russia is in the process of setting up in the North Caucasus.
For most Tajiks, Russia plays a huge role in their families’ well being: Tajikistan’s economy is deeply dependent on remittances sent from its labor migrants in Russia; Tajikistan imports 90 percent of its oil products from Russia; and twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia remains one of Tajikistan’s largest trade partners.
On September 26, politicians from both countries met in Dushanbe to discuss economic integration. Their roundtable came the week before a scheduled visit from the architect of post-Soviet reintegration himself, President Vladimir Putin. At a widely publicized roundtable, the two sides cheerfully discussed the idea of Tajikistan’s accession to the Moscow-led Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia. It turns out the topic will be on Putin’s agenda – a touch of brotherly bonhomie among a set of thornier subjects – and apparently has Dushanbe’s full support.
"The admission of Tajikistan to the Customs Union will be a significant step towards economic integration with Russia and other Customs Union members," said a statement by Tajikistan’s Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, carried by Interfax. The ministry noted that membership would guarantee supplies of petrol and basic foodstuffs. (President Emomali Rakhmon had just urged his citizens to stockpile grain for the winter ahead.)
Georgia says a Russian military buildup on the de facto border between South Ossetia and Georgia proper is intended to destabilize the country ahead of October 1 parliamentary elections. Georgia accusing Russia of nefarious deeds is nothing new, of course, including in connection with its elections. But over the last few days those accusations have become more specific and pointed.
For one, there are the Kavkaz-2012 military exercises, which Saakashvili said were timed in order to interfere with Georgia's elections:
“I know well what is happening in respect of Georgia in the condition when there is Russian money, Russian methods, Russian compromising materials and Russian army, deployed near our borders holding very dangerous military exercises, under conditions when the occupant of our territories has vowed to accomplish in next few weeks and months what it failed to do in 2008 and to use elections for this purpose,” Saakashvili said.
(For what it's worth, when Thomas Melia, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, testified before a Congressional committee last week, he was asked if he thought the Kavkaz-2012 exercises were intended by Russia to influence Georgia's elections, and he said he didn't.)
Russia's transit hub at Ulyanovsk is ready to go and is only awaiting NATO, said President Vladimir Putin's special representative for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov. The facility, which would help NATO move equipment in and out of Afghanistan, has been under discussion since the beginning of this year, and was finally approved by the Kremlin in June. Now it's ready for use, Kabulov said, according to Interfax:
"The Ulyanovsk transit-transshipment point is in principle already ready to handle cargo and transfers," Kabulov said... "We gave the NATO people permission, and now it depends on whether they want to use it."
Kabulov added that the transit through Russia would be more expensive for NATO than through Pakistan, but it would be more reliable: "Everything gets there [via Russia], but there [through Pakistan] it doesn't, as experience shows."
It remains unclear what role Ulyanovsk would play in U.S./NATO plans for Afghanistan transit. Its main virtue is that it is multimodal, meaning that goods can easily be transferred from airplane to truck or train (or vice versa). But the U.S. and NATO already have a backup to Pakistan -- the Northern Distribution Network, set up to ship everything by land via Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia. So is Ulyanovsk a backup plan in case things go south on the Central Asian portion of the NDN?
EU monitors observe the de facto Georgia-South Ossetia border
For the past several days, South Ossetia's de facto government has been warning about a Georgian military buildup along its border. On Tuesday, South Ossetia's president said that "Georgia is preparing seriously for a war," building up fortifications and arms stores. The following day, an "analysis" by the de facto government's press service suggested that Georgian President Saakashvili was planning to provoke a war to boost his party's prospects in upcoming parliamentary elections. On Thursday, South Ossetia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned that Georgia was positioning heavy weaponry, including multiple-launch rocket systems and armored vehicles, along the border.
But now the European Union Monitoring Mission, which keeps track of events along the border, said there's no such thing -- and noted that in fact Russia is building up its own forces along the de facto border:
In recent days, there have been claims about a possible change in posture of Georgian security personnel at the South Ossetian Administrative Boundary Line. The EU Monitoring Mission has been intensively engaged in monitoring and assessing these reports with the deployment of extra patrols and has been checking the situation with the relevant authorities. The Mission has not observed any evidence to support these claims. However, EUMM has further increased its patrolling to actively monitor the situation on the ground.
The EUMM has at the same time observed a build-up of Russian Federation armed personnel along the South Ossetian Administrative Boundary Line. The Mission has raised its concerns about this activity with the relevant Russian command structures.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s September 20 visit to Kyrgyzstan ended with half a dozen bilateral agreements and some anachronistic-sounding rhetoric about Moscow’s benevolent role in Central Asia. On the face of it, Russia won an extension of military basing rights for another generation, while Kyrgyzstan got millions of dollars in debt forgiveness and promises of investment in the construction of two major hydropower projects. But all the deals have yet to be finalized and some won’t kick in for years, with multiple strings attached.
The visit was Putin’s first to Kyrgyzstan since an April 2010 uprising toppled the former president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who had angered the Kremlin by effectively misappropriating a $300 million Russian loan and backtracking on some of his promises. Moscow has been slow to warm to the post-Bakiyev leadership, expressing frustration earlier this year, for example, with Bishkek’s constant attempts to get aid while maintaining a so-called multi-vector foreign policy.
Publicly, Putin’s host, President Almazbek Atambayev, did everything he could to assure the Russian president that Kyrgyzstan is a firm friend. At a cheerful midday press conference, Atambayev suggested the two had stayed up together until 5 a.m. – Putin had arrived in Bishkek late September 19 – and expressed wishes for everlasting friendship. "Russia is our main strategic partner. With Russia, we share a common history and a common destiny. […] Our future will be in partnership with the great Russia,” Atambayev said in comments broadcast by local media.
Tajikistan and Russia have reportedly agreed on the terms of the continued presence of Russia's 201st Division in Tajikistan. The term of the agreement is 30 years, and Russia will continue to not pay Tajikistan for the base's presence, CA-News has reported, citing "sources close to the negotiations" (so proceed with the appropriate amount of skepticism).
According to the report, the 30-year term was a compromise between the 10 years Tajikistan wanted and the 49 years that Russia wanted. And though Russia will still not pay cash for the base (its second largest outside its borders, behind the Black Sea Fleet headquarters in Ukraine), Tajikistan will get additional in-kind aid, like additional spots in Russian military academies and "modern technology and weapons." So if the report is true, Tajikistan failed to force Russia to pay rent for the base, as Kyrgyzstan managed earlier this year.
The deal will reportedly be officially signed during Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's trip to Tajikistan in October.