The Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visited the Tajik capital Dushanbe on 25 November as part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit which was taking place there. Apart from Mr. Putin and his Tajik counterpart Akil Akilov, the summit brought together some observers: the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Karim Masimov and a deputy Prime Minister of Uzbekistan Batyr Hodzhayev, as well as the Iranian First Vice President Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, the Prime Minister of Pakistan Yusuf Raza Gilani, the Mongolian Foreign Minister Gombojav Zandanshatar, India`s Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur and Afghanistan`s Vice President Karim Halili.
It`s no secret that Russia and China, the SCO`s biggest member countries, have different goals in the organization. Beijing views the SCO as a platform for economic expansion in Central Asia, while for Moscow this is more the means to ensure stability close to its southern borders. And this difference in approaches became evident at the Dushanbe summit. No serious economic issues were brought up during the meeting except a general discussion of importance to develop transport cooperation through the East-West and the North-South corridors (the first one being beyond Russia's interests for it runs bypassing its territory, while the second has not been built yet). The Rogun project was not mentioned at all, and no decision was made on Russia's participation in construction of small hydro plants. However, Russia remains Tajikistan`s key trade partner.
Addressing the summit, Mr. Putin urged the SCO members to boost anti-drug campaigns and launch anti-narcotic and counter-terrorism projects together with the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). “Now it is high time for SCO permanent and observing members to unite in the face of drug threat”, Mr. Putin said.
Fightingdrug trafficking from Afghanistan has become one of the prior tasks for Russia in recent years as up to 30,000 Russians die from drug use every year. Following the talks with the Tajik leader Emomali Rahmon in June, Russia's anti-narcotics chief Viktor Ivanov said that the presence of Russian border guards could offer a chance to improve the situation. He added, however, that this would be possible if only both countries approved the idea.
The Russian troops stationed in Tajikistan until the summer of 2005, when Dushanbe said it was capable of protecting its borders alone. By that time the Russian frontier guards had seized 30 tons of drugs, including more than 11 tons of heroin. In 2002-2004 alone there were seized some 2 tons of drugs, including 1,7 tons of heroin. Apart from this, the Russian peacekeepers killed more than 3,000 militants and prevented countless attempts to illegally cross the border. And this all happened mainly in the 1990s when Tajikistan was living through a civil war, and the local opposition was backed by Afghan mujahideens.
When Russian troops left Tajikistan in 2005 (only a small group of experts stayed to consult the border services), the situation got worse. Though very soon Tajikistan saw assistance from the U.S. and Europe, the Republic became one of the most active drug trafficking zones. When opium production in Afghanistan increased almost 40-fold, it was no longer possible to control the flow of drugs via Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan to Russia.
Tajikistanis cautious about the return of Russian border guards. A political analyst, Saimuddin Dustov, Tajikistan as an independent state cannot afford the presence of Russian border guards who over to the Federal Security Service. This also appears to be a position of the official Dushanbe where it has been repeatedly announced that with active support from the US and the EU Tajikistan was strong enough to ensure its national security. It seems that Moscow is not going to argue. “This is the decision of a sovereign state”, the director of the CIS department at the Russian Foreign Ministry Maksim Peshkov said after the summit in Dushanbe. The diplomat added that Russia was ready to provide any assistance Tajikistan might need. However, the sides have not proceeded any further than establishing a joint group comprising border service officers.
In the meantime drug threat in the Russian south has been growing. In January-September 2010 more than 1.5 tons of drugs, including 390 kg of heroin and 244 kg of opium, were seized in Tajikistan. Statistics say no more than 20% of trafficked drugs are usually seized, while the rest is smuggled across the border.
If Tajikistan says the Russian presence is not welcome, Moscow will have to address Kazakhstan on stronger border protection regime.