DUSHANBE -- Some 1,500 troops have been sent from a vast Russian military base in Tajikistan to Ukraine, multiple sources told RFE/RL, where the Russian Army is said to have suffered enormous casualties in its unprovoked war.
About 600 more soldiers are set to be dispatched to the frontlines from Russian military facilities located in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, and the southern city of Bokhtar, the sources said.
It comes as hundreds of contract soldiers were deployed from Russia's Kant Air Base in neighboring Kyrgyzstan to Ukraine in recent months, according to residents, activists, and soldiers' relatives.
Both Central Asian countries -- allies of Moscow -- host one Russian base each with multiple facilities in several locations.
The number of Russian personnel in Tajikistan is estimated at up to 7,000 troops, while Kyrgyzstan reportedly hosts about 500 Russian servicemen. The exact figures haven’t been made public.
Officials at the Russian military bases have not yet responded to RFE/RL’s requests for comment on the reported redeployments and RFE/RL cannot independently verify the movement of Russian troops from Central Asia to Ukraine.
Contacted by RFE/RL, Vasily Makhovoy, chief media officer at the 201st Russian military base in Tajikistan, refrained from confirming or rejecting the claim.
But multiple sources -- including several soldiers and a local nonmilitary base worker -- confirmed that some of the servicemen have been sent to Ukraine. Residents and employees of local businesses, shops, and restaurants also said they have noticed a significant drop in the number of Russian soldiers who once frequented their venues.
They said that between 1,000 and 1,500 Russian troops have already left for Ukraine with hundreds more undergoing training before being dispatched to the war.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, two Russian soldiers separately told RFE/RL on August 27 that “600 more soldiers will be sent to Ukraine in the coming days.”
Several other servicemen confirmed that “many” soldiers have already been redeployed to the conflict zone but didn’t provide a number.
A Tajik civilian employee of a warehouse that belongs to the Russian military base said the amount of food supplies the Russians have ordered has declined considerably in recent months.
The employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the decline in food orders is linked to a drop in the number of troops stationed at the base.
“About 1,500 servicemen were sent to Ukraine from this military facility,” he told RFE/RL. “But this number might have changed.”
According to the employee, the soldiers have been told that their deployment to Ukraine was going to be temporary.
“As far as I know, the servicemen were going to be there for no more than four months to take part in the special operation in Ukraine, and that they would then return here. But they haven’t returned yet,” the man said. “It’s been said that the soldiers are on vacation now after completing their four months [of service].”
Russia calls its full-scale, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine a "special military operation."
According to U.S. estimates, as many as 80,000 Russian troops had been killed or wounded in Ukraine by early August, less than six months after the war began. Russia does not regularly provide casualty figures.
With a dire need to fill the ranks, Russian officials have reportedly been recruiting mercenaries and even prisoners to fight.
Many Russian soldiers and contractors have said that they were stationed in Ukraine without their consent.
At least 90 contract soldiers from the Russian Republic of Tyva were first transferred to the Kant military base in Kyrgyzstan before being sent to Ukraine “against their wishes” this summer, an investigation by RFE/RL showed.
At least 10 of them were killed and about 20 were wounded in action, according to a group supporting Tyvans who refused to fight in Ukraine.
Russian Clients Gone
Originally created as the 201st Rifle Division during the Soviet Union, the base in Tajikistan is one of Moscow’s largest bases outside of Russia.
With several thousand personnel stationed there -- some with their families – their presence generates additional income for small businesses near the base, local merchants said.
Taxi drivers, shopkeepers, and restaurant workers say their Russian clientele has decreased recently.
Dushanbe resident Abdurahim Solehov provides short-term apartment rents near the Russian base. The majority of his clients were Russian servicemen.
“I haven’t had any customers for the past two months,” Solehov told RFE/RL. “Russian officers and contractors used to come asking for a place to rent. Nobody has come lately.”
There is also a constant line of taxis near the sprawling Russian base in Dushanbe waiting for clients. The taxi drivers, too, spoke about having fewer Russian passengers now.
One driver claimed his Russian regulars often mentioned soldiers from the base being sent to Ukraine. The troops were sent in three separate groups of 500-600 people, the driver told RFE/RL, citing his unnamed Russian customers.
“I had many acquaintances among [the Russians] who were my regular clients, but several of them are gone,” he said. “I asked their colleagues about them and they told me they were sent to Ukraine.”
Similar sentiments were voiced by taxi drivers and other local workers in Bokhtar who mostly relied on Russian soldiers for income.
A Bokhtar taxi driver who gave only his first name, Avazali, said the number of Russian clients has dried up lately.
“The soldiers would hire taxis a lot during the weekends to take them shopping, swimming, or to eat out,” he said. “But now you can only see a handful of [military] wives and children here.”
Restaurant Ehson is a popular spot for Russian soldiers, according to residents in Bokhtar. A waiter who introduced himself as Namozali told RFE/RL that some of the servicemen visiting the restaurant mentioned there were troop redeployments to Ukraine.
“Based on what the soldiers said, 200 troops from Bokhtar have left for Ukraine,” Namozali said.
In another Bokhtar restaurant, a waiter who gave his name as Sasha said two regular Russian clients bid farewell to him on July 26, saying they were being sent to Ukraine.
On Bokhtar’s Aini Street, shopkeeper Rukhsora Gangieva complained that sales have dropped because there are not as many Russian soldiers in the city as there used to be.
Russia reinforced its bases in Central Asia in late 2021, just months before it invaded Ukraine on February 24.
In Kyrgyzstan, residents living at the Kant Air Base claimed the number of contractors from Tyva -- who were “on friendly terms” with locals -- jumped drastically from dozens to several hundreds but that almost all of them were eventually sent to Ukraine.
The military base in Tajikistan received an additional 30 upgraded T-72B3M tanks in early December as Russian soldiers there carried out exercises with missile-defense systems.
At the time, Russian media and military officials linked those events to the situation in Afghanistan.