By Oleg Salimov (06/18/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rakhmon visited Belarus on May 23-25, 2014. The stated purposes of the visit were to improve socio-economic cooperation and to develop an agrarian-industrial complex in Tajikistan. The secondary agenda of the Tajik president’s visit appeared to be the enlistment of military support from Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko after the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan. Rakhmon’s arrival in Belarus coincided with an unofficial visit by Vladimir Putin to Minsk and a meeting between the three leaders on the sidelines.
Although not widely publicized, the issue of military cooperation appears to have been an important topic in the conversation between the two leaders. Lukashenko and Rakhmon discussed regional security, Afghanistan, coordination between the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and Belarusian military assistance to Tajikistan. Lukashenko publicly assured Rakhmon of material-technical military support after the U.S. and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. Rakhmon is actively seeking military assistance from its partners in the CIS, CSTO, and SCO. The timing of the visit and the unofficial meeting with Putin coincided with several major military events taking place in Belarus and Tajikistan.
First, Russia recently decided to expand its military presence in Belarus through additional provisions of the anti-aircraft and S-300 anti-missile system (NATO-indexed SA-10/20), based on an agreement from September of 2005. In addition to existing systems in Belarus, Russia will deliver additional S-300 units as Lukashenko announced in an official press conference on April 25 this year. Lukashenko pointed out that these systems will protect not only Belarus but also Russian territory in the northwest.
Second, Russia will launch its “Window” space defense monitoring system in Tajikistan into full operational readiness in summer/fall 2014. The system protects Russia’s southern and southeastern boundaries from intercontinental ballistic missiles. The launch takes place alongside the recent 30-year extension of Russian basing permits in Tajikistan. Russia’s military base in Tajikistan is its largest military force abroad with significant authorities and capabilities. The armed and technical capabilities of the military base were reinforced with machinery and drones, among other, soon after the extension. According to Russia’s Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu, Russia’s military base in Tajikistan will be also enlarged in manpower and rearmed with the latest weaponry by the end of 2014.
At the same time, Rakhmon intended to expand socio-economic and political cooperation with Belarus during his visit. The official statement by Rakhmon and Lukashenko presented highly successful negotiations that resulted in about 20 signed agreements and contracts. Among others, agreements were concluded between the countries’ National Olympic Committees, Belarus’ and Tajikistan’s agrarian universities, Belarus’ Ministry of Architecture and Tajikistan’s Committee on Architecture, Belarus’ State TV and Radio Broadcasting Company and Tajikistan’s Committee on TV and Radio, Belarus’ light industry complex and Tajikistan’s Ministry of Industry and New Technologies. A series of agreements on cooperation in trade and economy, culture, and science and technology were signed between various cities and regions in the two countries. The two sides discussed the possibility of transferring some of Belarus’ industrial capacities to Tajikistan. In particular, they referred to the assembly of Belarus-made agricultural equipment and the organization of centers servicing equipment imported from Belarus.
In their public statements, both presidents stressed the benefits of mutual ties between their countries, which are based on their personal friendship and solidarity in opinions on issues in international politics. They also expressed their long-term commitment to maintaining and expand their existing relationships.
A comparison of the two regimes’ political structure, their systems of governance, and their political associations reveals other aspects of where Tajikistan and Belarus converge. Among the post-Soviet republics, Tajikistan and Belarus are among Russia’s closest and most consistent partners. The two are highly influenced by and dependent on Russia politically, economically, and militarily. Tajikistan and Belarus have entered into various political agreements with Russia; they were among the first post-Soviet republics to sign dual citizenship agreements with Russia and to allow a Russian military presence on their territories. Tajikistan and Belarus also partner with Russia in regional political, economic, and security organizations.
In a number of ways, relations between Belarus and Tajikistan are sustained by Russian involvement and influence, most prominently in their political and military components. While the latest agreements between Belarus and Tajikistan could have been reached on the ministerial level, without presidential involvement, Rakhmon’s official meeting with Lukashenko and the unofficial one with Putin were necessary in order to coordinate military cooperation between the three countries. In this connection, the initiated talks on military cooperation between CSTO and SCO members are likely to move forward in the nearest future.