Russian President Vladimir Putin and Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov dedicated the first permanent Russian military base in Tajikistan today. Russian troops have been in Tajikistan for years, but the presidents have legally agreed on a new way to look at their presence.
17 Ocober 2004 -- The two presidents watched as the Russian flag was raised today at the military base in Dushanbe to mark the new status for some Russian troops in Tajikistan.
Yesterday, Presidents Vladimir Putin and Imomali Rakhmonov signed an agreement establishing permanent posts in Tajikistan for the troops of Russia's 201st Motorized Rifle Division. The division had been stationed in the country since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but the agreement formalized the legal status of the unit's presence.
At today's ceremony, Putin said the Russian forces in Tajikistan would "create conditions for neutralizing terrorist and extremist attacks."
"This [base opening] is a very important and necessary decision for two friendly states. This decision is in the basic interest of the two nations and will boost peace and stability in Central Asia and the Commonwealth of Independent States," Putin said.
Rakhmonov called the change the beginning of a "qualitatively new cooperation" with Russia.
Speaking to journalists, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov observed that the permanent basing of the military division will be his country's largest deployment outside the borders of Russia.
"Here now, we legally have a military unit that is big enough. If we speak about size, there are more than 5,000 Russian military personnel who will be located in Dushanbe, Kurgan-Tube, and Kulob. All the buildings have been given to the Russian state free of charge," Ivanov said.
Russia's Interfax news agency reported that Washington's ambassador to Tajikistan, Richard Hoagland, welcomed today the agreement to make the Russian bases permanent. He reportedly said it would help in the fight against international terrorism.
The United States also has troops in the region for the fight against terrorism. The U.S. military currently has nearly 20,000 troops in Afghanistan and more than 1,000 military personnel at base in Khanabad, Uzbekistan. Analysts say Moscow is interested in expanding its presence in Central Asia to maintain a strategic balance there.
Russia's only other permanent base in the region is in Kyrgyzstan. During today's ceremony, President Putin highlighted the importance of the permanent Russian outposts.
"This base, along with the air base in Kant, Kyrgyzstan, will be an important part of the united system of collective security system for the region," he said.
While in Central Asia, Putin also plans meetings with the presidents of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan.
(AFP/AP/Interfax/ RFE/RL's Tajik Service)