The importance of Central Asia in Russian geopolitics has been clear for some time, but perhaps it took the Manas debacle to bring America up to speed. Next in line for Russia’s, ahem, beneficence may be Tajikistan, a resource-rich strategic buffer between the war zone of Afghanistan and the rest of Central Asia that is currently home to 7,500 Russian troops–Russia’s largest military presence outside its own borders–that America has also eyed as a possible replacement for Manas. Tajikistan is the perfect place for Russia to deploy its new rapid reaction force under the Collective Security Treaty Organization, not only to keep an eye on Afghanistan, but on Chinese missile launches, too.
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon is in Moscow today, apparently trying to rekindle goodwill between the countries that was lost when Russia nixed a $2 billion plan to fund the Rogun Dam, a colossal hydropower project 30 years in the making that, if finished, would be the biggest in the world. Problem is, it also has the potential to alienate Tajikistan’s water deprived neighbors. Russia’s handling of this sensitive political nexus could very well demonstrate its priorities in the region.
According to Marat Mamadshoev, a political observer in Tajikistan:
“Tajikistan wants to receive at least the same amount of support that Kyrgyzstan has recently received from Russia. Perhaps Tajikistan is expecting more because officials in Dushanbe believe they have more significance and have more to offer than Kyrgyzstan could.”