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Tajikistan Under The Russian Security Umbrella

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon (right) and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev exchange signed documents after bilateral talks in Dushanbe.
The deal is done. Russia's military presence in Tajikistan is there to stay -- at least for another 49 years. Now the question is what Dushanbe can get for allowing Moscow to extend leases on its bases on Tajik soil.

In announcing the deal this week, neither Russian President Dmitry Medvedev nor his Tajik counterpart Emomali Rahmon disclosed details.

Medvedev said only that the relevant documents would be prepared and signed early next year.

But the figure being bandied about in the media runs in the hundreds of millions of dollars, enough to cancel most of Tajikistan's outstanding debts to Russia.

Whether Russia would actually be willing to pay such a steep price is another matter.

Tajik Foreign Minister Hamrohkhon Zarifi's suggestion that Russia pay $300 million annually has already been deemed "unrealistic" in the Russian media.

Under the current 10-year lease signed in 2004, Russia gets exclusive use of three military bases and joint use of an air base free of charge.

Between 5,500 and 7,000 Russian troops are deployed in the southern cities of Qurgon-Teppa and Kulob, and the capital Dushanbe combined.

The presence of Russian and Soviet troops on Tajik soil dates back to 1945, and today accounts for Russia's second-largest military contingent outside its own territory -- following only the 13,000-strong Black Sea Fleet in the Ukrainian city of Sevastopol.

Arkadiy Dubnov, a Russian independent commentator and journalist says a reasonable amount that Tajikistan could expect would be no more than $10 million a year.

"Russia pays annual rents of $4.5 million and $7million to Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan, respectively, for hosting its military bases, and Tajikistan should expect something similar," Dubnov tells RFE/RL's Tajik Service.

Observers do, however, see an opportunity for Dushanbe to press Moscow to resolve several underlying issues between the two countries, such as reducing customs duties for Russian oil products.

Earlier this year, Russia increased customs duties by over 5 percent, causing temporary panic and chaos at Tajik gasoline stations.

But even in the leverage game, Russia holds a major card: some one million Tajiks -- nearly, every seventh Tajik national -- are employed in seasonal jobs in Russia.

And if this lifeline were to be pulled -- say, in the case of Russia introducing visa regulations for the migrant laborers -- the impact on impoverished Tajik families would be dire.

-- Farangis Najibullah