Russian President Putin’s Central Asia Tour: Tajikistan

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Russian President Putin with Tajikistan President Rahmon in Dushanbe yesterday

Russian President Vladimir Putin has started a mini tour of two Central Asian nations, arriving in the Tajikistan capital Dushanbe yesterday (Tuesday, June 29, 2022) to hold talks with his Tajik counterpart, Emomali Rahmon. It is the second time Putin and Rahmon have met in two months – Rahmon was in Moscow in May to discuss trade. Putin will travel afterwards to Ashgabat, in Turkmenistan.

Rahmon’s spokesman Abdufattoh Sharifzoda, stated that no documents will be signed during Putin’s visit, adding that Putin is on a working trip and all talks will be held face-to-face. Sharifzoda also said that the two presidents will discuss “bilateral ties, the development of cultural and economic relations, and regional and global issues, especially the situation in Afghanistan.” Putin aide Yury Ushakov was quoted by Russian media as saying that Putin and Rahmon will also discuss “issues related to military cooperation and Tajik migrant workers in Russia” in addition to Tajikistan joining the Eurasian Economic Union.

Afghanistan Security

Ushakov said they also would discuss measures to improve security along Tajikistan’s porous 1,357-kilometer border with Afghanistan. Moscow has stationed about 7,000 troops from Russia’s 201st Motor Rifle Division at three facilities that are considered part of a Russian base in Tajikistan. China has also positioned military on the Tajik border with Afghanistan.

Russia, Belarus, and Tajikistan, along with Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

The Economy – Tajik Migrant Workers

Tajikistan has a heavy reliance on monies sent back to Tajikistan by migrant workers, many of them engaged in Russia. Covid and other restrictions have meant this has dropped over the past two years; meaning than Rahmon may be wanting financial assistance from Moscow.

Tajikistan Succession

69 year old Rahmon may also be wanting to introduce his 34-year-old son, Rustam Emomali, as his successor. That process neared completion in April 2020, when Emomali was elected speaker of the upper house of parliament, in effect placing him in pole position to take over from his father, who has run the country since the early 1990s. In taking over role, he displaced Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev, a veteran associate of Rahmon known to have been a favorite of the Russian government. Putin will want assurance that Emomali will also be close to Moscow, especially as the United States has also recently been active in Tajikistan and providing military aid and other equipment.

Russia-Tajikistan Bilateral Trade

Tajikistan’s key trading and economic partner is Russia. Trade between both nations rapidly expanded in 2021, and it has grown by over 70% in the first quarter of 2022.

Putin said in May that “This is a good trend that must be maintained. There are reasons associated with the current situation, but our relations are needed and are developing very actively.”

Bilateral trade between Russia and Tajikistan in 2021 reached US$1.13 billion, an increase of 25% over the previous year’s figures. With increases of 70% plus in Q1 2022, if maintained over the year this could result in bilateral trade reaching close to US$2 billion. A boost will certainly come from both Russia’s desire to concentrate on new import-export markets in the wake of its EU sanctions problems, in addition to the powerful Russian E-Commerce platform, Wildberries also looking at setting up operations in Dushanbe. The company recently established a presence in nearby Kyrgyzstan as Russian retailers look towards Central Asia.

The main products that Russia exports to Tajikistan are Refined Petroleum, Seed Oils, and Raw Iron Bars.  The main products that Tajikistan exports to Russia are Non-Retail Pure Cotton Yarn, Raw Cotton, and Dried Fruits.

Both Russia and Tajikistan are members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, (CIS) which also includes Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. The CIS is not a Free Trade bloc but does allow a mechanism for individual members to agree bilateral trade agreements with other member states.

Putin has now left Tajikistan for the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, where he is attending a summit of countries bordering the Caspian Sea, which include Azerbaijan, Iran, and Kazakhstan. We will follow the agenda of those discussions tomorrow.

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