BRUSSELS -- Tajikistan's president is traveling to Brussels for high-level talks aimed at increasing cooperation with the European Union and NATO.
The long-planned visit by President Emomali Rahmon has gained new impetus, with the Afghan war effort in need of regional supply routes and cracks emerging in Dushanbe's traditionally close relationship with Moscow.
Tajikistan issued a letter of protest in late January over comments made by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on the construction of hydroelectric power plants in Central Asia that were seen to harm Dushanbe's interests.
Medvedev's suggestion, made during an official visit to Tashkent, that the concerns of all countries in the region should be taken into account before such projects are undertaken, was seen by Dushanbe as favoring Uzbek -- and harming Tajik -- interests.
Within days, a face-to-face meeting between Rahmon and Dmitry Medvedev was canceled at the last minute, and the Tajik leader's participation in Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and EurAsEc summits in Moscow was questioned. Rahmon eventually did make the trip to the Russian capital, despite earlier reports that he would not attend the meetings.
Marat Mamadshoev, editor in chief of the "Asia Plus" weekly, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that he thinks the spat will affect Rahmon's meetings in Brussels on February 10-11.
"Naturally this conflict situation Tajikistan had with Russia and Uzbekistan is signal to Europeans that Tajikistan is ready to consider different format of relations with Europe for example deeper relations," Mamadshoev told RFE/RL's Tajik Service. "The other question is how important Tajikistan is to Europeans. So I think every thing depends on what Europeans want from Tajikistan."
For its part, Dushanbe has recently made friendly gestures toward the West.
In an apparent response to Kyrgyzstan's decision in Moscow to end the U.S. military's use of its Manas air base, which is used as an air bridge for supplying the Afghan war effort, Tajikistan on February 6 offered the use of its airspace for transport of nonmilitary NATO supplies.
The issue is of key importance to NATO and Washington, which are looking for regional support to facilitate their efforts to upgrade operations in Afghanistan. Tajikistan, with 1,335 kilometers of shared border with Afghanistan and strong cultural and linguistic ties, is in a unique position to help.
Campaign For Closer Relations
Observers expect that during his two-day visit to Brussels, Rahmon will campaign for closer relations with the EU and NATO, and will be prepared to offer support on Afghanistan in exchange for much-needed economic and financial assistance.
Tajikistan has been hard-hit by the global economic downturn, and is looking for investment to complete its Rogun hydroelectric power station, which could both alleviate its domestic energy crisis and help realize its goal of being an energy exporter.
Tajikistan has been hard hit by the global economic downturn, and is looking for investment to complete its Rogun hydroelectric power station, which could both alleviate its domestic energy crisis and help realize its goal of being an energy exporter.
The European Union, meanwhile, has been developing a German-led Central Asian strategy that seeks to establish the EU as one of the major players in the region, alongside Russia, China, and the United States. During the February 9-11 talks, Brussels will want to discuss Tajikistan's security situation, as the maintenance of regional stability is key to long-term access to the region's energy wealth.
Rahmon will meet on February 10 with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and with the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana. On February 11, Rahmon will meet with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
The Tajik president's trip to Brussels is part of a wider six-day European tour that started in Latvia on February 8, and which will end with visits to Latvia on February 11 and Estonia on February 13.
In an interview with RFE/RL's Tajik Service, Tajik Foreign Ministry spokesman Davlat Nazriev said that the "business climate and investment opportunities in Tajikistan" will be a main topic of conversation throughout the visit.
with contributions from RFE/RL's Tajik Service