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Tajikistan: Mixed Reactions Over Russian Base Deal

“Rahmon and Putin had a good birthday party. Both got really nice gifts…” tweeted Jasur Ashurov after the first results of Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Tajikistan were reported. Putin arrived in the Central Asian nation on October 5, the day when Tajikistan's leader, Emomali Rahmon, celebrated his 60th birthday. Despite the skepticism voiced by both officials and independent experts before the visit, Putin and Rahmon agreed on key issues that had long divided the two countries.

Russian and Tajik presidents talk in Dushanbe. Image by ASIA-Plus, uploaded on Flickr on October 5, 2012, used with permission.

The major agreement signed by the two presidents extended Russia's lease on a 7,000-troops-strong base in Tajikistan for another three decades. In exchange for this arrangement, Moscow agreed to remove duties on its oil products imported to Tajikistan and to provide better terms for about one million Tajik migrant workers in Russia.

Putin's visit has sparked significant interest among netizens in Tajikistan. The outcomes and the details of the visit have become important topics for discussion in blogs as well as in social media and on news websites.

“Oriental diplomacy”

Joking in front of media before any deals had been announced, Putin addressed [ru] Tajikistan's president (as quoted in Radio Ozodi):

Я всегда знал, что Вы человек мудрый. Вы пригласили нас именно в свой День рождения, заманили нас, можно сказать, потому что в День рождения нельзя ни в чём отказать! Нам придётся всё подписать, что Вы от нас потребуете.

I always knew that you were a wise person. You invited us on your birthday, enticed us, one could say, because you can't refuse anything on someone's birthday. Now we will have to sign anything you ask us to.

Reacting to Putin's joke, blogger Shukufa described this statement as an example of “oriental diplomacy”. She wrote [ru]:

Вот чему Рахмону стоит поучиться у Путина так это дипломатии. Это же просто заглядение, как Путин сегодня заставил Рахмона подписать соглашение по базе на условиях России, но при этом позволил ему и лицо сохранить, и даже утверждать, что условия эти диктовались Таджикистаном.

What Rahmon should learn from Putin is diplomacy. It is spectacular how Putin today enticed Rahmon to sign the base deal on Russia's terms, while enabling [the Tajik leader] to save face and even claim that the terms had been dictated by Tajikistan.

A “win-win” situation

Temur Mengliev attempted a brief analysis [ru] of the agreements signed by the two leaders, focusing on the gains made by both Tajikistan and Russia. The blogger lamented shortage of details in the agreements but concluded that the deals appeared to be beneficial for the both countries:

Итак, по итогам визита Путина Таджикистан получил не так много, как предлагали спрашивать с Москвы некоторые националистически настроенные эксперты, но и не так мало, как предлагали дать националистически настроенные круги в самой России. Хороший баланс. Такая win-win ситуация.

To conclude, following Putin's visit, Tajikistan gained less than some local nationalist experts recommended to demand from Moscow, but more than the nationalists in Russia proposed to give [Tajikistan]. A good balance. A win-win situation.

“National humiliation”

Yet some netizens in Tajikistan believe that the deals signed with Russia are disastrous for the Central Asian republic. Over the last year, some journalists and independent experts have proposed that Tajikistan should ask Russia to pay as much as 300 million US dollars annually for its military base in the country. Under the newly inked deals, however, Russia will not pay [ru] anything for stationing its troops in Tajikistan but will aid the country in “modernizing” its military.

Disappointed by this outcome, political analyst Saymiddin Dustov (who had been one of the advocates of a ‘monetary’ approach to Russia's base) wrote [ru] on Facebook:

Только что прочитал текст совместного заявления Путина и Рахмона, чтоб убедиться в факте национального позора и унижения.

I have just read the joint statement by Putin and Rahmon which [serves as a proof of] national disgrace and humiliation.

Immunity and “interventionism”

Other netizens have been upset by president Rahmon's agreement to grant [ru] Russian soldiers and their families in Tajikistan diplomatic immunity. Moderator of Platforma, the largest Tajikistan public group on Facebook, suggested [ru] that diplomatic immunity might lead some Russian servicemen to engage in criminal activity:

Статус РОССИЙСКОГО военнослужащего в Таджикистане приравнен к статусу дипломата… Еще один канал для наркотрафика.

Russian servicemen in Tajikistan now have a status similar to that of diplomats… This opens up another channel for drugs trafficking.

Journalist Zafar Abdullayev wrote [ru], also on Facebook:

Все можно понять, только зачем военным 201-й РВБ дипломатическая неприкосновенность? зачем вообще человеку с оружием или в броне, тем более на чужой территории иммунитет, когад на своей она такого не имеет. с этим я лично никак согласиться не могу и такое по мне пахнет “интервенщиной”. Чем это отличается от положения НАТО в Афганистане и Ираке?

I can understand everything, but why do the servicemen of [Russia's] 201st military base need diplomatic immunity? Generally, why does a person with weapons or in armor need immunity in a foreign land when he does not have a similar immunity in his own [land]? I personally cannot agree to this. To me, this smacks of “interventionism”. How is it different from the status of NATO [troops] in Afghanistan or Iraq?

Whatever the reactions, the newly signed deals indicate a significant improvement in the relations between Tajikistan and Russia. Blogger Temur Mengliev was apparently speaking for many Tajikistanis when he wrote [ru]:

Надеюсь, что очередной “медовый месяц” в отношениях между нашей страной и Россией продлится долго.

I hope that this new “honeymoon” in the relationships between our country and Russia will be long-lasting.

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