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Tajik Employees Of Russian Base Protest Over Unpaid Wages

  • RFE/RL's Tajik Service

Local workers at the 201st Russian military base in Kulob protest against the nonpaymant of their salaries on April 15.

Local workers at the 201st Russian military base in Kulob protest against the nonpaymant of their salaries on April 15.

KULOB, Tajikistan -- Dozens of local civilian support staff at a Russian military base in Tajikistan are protesting, saying they haven't received their wages in six months.

Bozorali Boltaev, who participated in the protest in front of the facility in the southern town of Kulob on April 15, told RFE/RL that protesters had spoken to the senior commander at the base and said that "he promised we will receive our unpaid wages."

But Boltaev said local employees, including cleaners, builders, and plumbers, "have heard similar promises many times before" and have not received their salaries.

Igor Shcherbakov, a Russian official at the base, said recently that "the military base is not responsible for local employees because it pays to a third party, the Bit Service-Plus company, which is responsible for hiring and paying the local staff."

Bit Service-Plus says the Russian base has not made the relevant payment.

The dispute is a potential irritant in close but sometimes strained relations between Tajikistan and Russia, which relies on the smaller, poorer Central Asian state as a front line in its defense against the feared spread of violence and Islamic militancy from neighboring Afghanistan.

Tajikistan, in turn, is dependent on Russia for security support and for the remittances from Tajik migrant workers in Russia that make up a sizable portion of the former Soviet republic's economy.

Some 7,000 Russian military personnel are stationed in Tajikistan under the jurisdiction of what is called the 201st base, Russia's largest non-naval military facility abroad.

Nearly 200 local civilian support staff work for the Russian base in three separate locations -- Kulob, Qurghon-teppa, and the capital, Dushanbe.

Southern Outpost

Russian officials have repeatedly voiced concern over the security situation in Tajikistan following the withdrawal of most Western combat troops from Afghanistan last year.

Tajikistan is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a six-country regional security alliance dominated by Russia.

Tajikistan shares a porous, roughly 1,300-kilometer-long border with Afghanistan.

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said last month that Moscow was "greatly troubled by the situation on the southern frontiers of the CSTO."

He said the "first units" of the extremist Islamic State group have appeared on the southern borders of Russian allies, including Tajikistan.

Antonov had earlier said Moscow wanted to strengthen the Tajik Army as "an outpost of the CSTO in Central Asia."

He didn't provide any details, but the Russian daily Kommersant quoted an unnamed source in the General Staff of the Russian armed forces as saying Moscow was prepared to grant Tajikistan $1.2 billion in military aid over the next few years.

Russian officials have also said Moscow would increase the number of troops stationed in Tajikistan to 9,000 over the next five years and provide more military equipment through 2020.

Local Tensions

Several violent incidents in recent months have pointed to tensions between local residents and Russians stationed in Tajikistan.

A Russian officer was detained on suspicion of assaulting a taxi driver and stealing his vehicle in Dushanbe in February.

The incident came days after a Russian soldier was charged with beating a waiter at a restaurant in Kulob.

Last summer, two Russian officers were arrested on suspicion of killing a local man in Dushanbe.

Other Russian military facilities in former Soviet neighbors include a large military base in Armenia, an air base in Kyrgyzstan, and a naval base in Crimea, which Moscow illegally annexed from Ukraine last year.