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Central Asia news

Tajikistan: Emomali Rakhmon expands interaction with the European Union

18.02.2008 13:47 msk

Nezavisimaya Gazeta (Moscow)

Analytics Tajikistan

Badly hurt by the cold winter as it was, Tajikistan also found himself in the grips of energy collapse. The Nurek Hydroelectric Power Plant which is the country's principal source of energy idles because water in its reservoirs is down to the critical level. Energy export from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan is down too because they need energy for their own needs.

The UN and European Bureau of the World Health Organization point out that "affected by a cold front and energy crisis, the situation in Tajikistan is already having a negative effect on the health of the population." The authorities do not even try anymore to keep death-of-exposure reports under the lid. These reports are actually taken in stride (it is reports on newborns dying of cold that stir anger yet). The situation is going to keep deteriorating. International organizations claim that Tajikistan is on the brink of a food crisis. Lacking resources of its own, Dushanbe relied on relief aid from donor countries and international organizations. The Tajik government appealed for help to international financial organizations in early February. The situation being what it is, the authorities even promised their allies participation in energy projects in return for aid - and did so without the usually bargaining.

Tajik neighbors took Dushanbe at its word. Kazakhstan and Iran intend to participate in construction of new power plants on the territory of Tajikistan. Last summer, Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon seconded the integrationist project suggested by his Kazakh counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev and signed the treaty making his country a member of the Central Asian Economic Union. Needless to say, Rakhmon counted on mutually beneficial cooperation. Tajikistan desperately needs investments while Kazakhstan is interested in cheap electric power from Tajikistan. Promoting its own interests, official Astana will eagerly join all and any energy project in Tajikistan. Say, construction of the Rogun Hydroelectric Power Plant which was to be built by Russian Aluminium, the Russian company Dushanbe kicked up a row (over the height of the dam) and terminated contract with.

Iran is another country Tajikistan considers its ally. Rakhmon personally went to President Mahmud Ahmadinejad for help in February. Tehran aspires for participation in construction of the Shurob Hydroelectric Power Plant on the Vakhsh (110 kilometers east of Dushanbe) and offers assistance in completion of construction of the Sangtuda'2 Hydroelectric Power Plant.

All these projects Tajikistan desperately needs encounter problems. The Sangtuda hydroelectric power plant will probably be built, but the Rogun one is different. Uzbekistan is doing what it can to prevent realization of this project. Tashkent believes (and not unreasonably) that the use of the rivers that run through the territories of several countries should first be discussed with all these countries. On February 7, Uzbekistan secured Russia's support in the matter. Presidents Vladimir Putin and Islam Karimov signed a joint political declaration in Moscow where Uzbekistan's stand on the matter was explained at length.

"Subscribing to the declaration as suggested by Tashkent, Moscow showed what side it was on. It was a message to Dushanbe that the Kremlin was on Tashkent's side of the matter," to quote Andrei Grozin of the Department of Central Asia and Kazakhstan of the Institute of CIS Countries. According to Grozin, Dushanbe got the message - no wonder Rakhmon sought help from Kazakhstan and Iran but not from Russia. This dramatic deterioration of the Russian-Tajik relations is apparently a corollary of Dushanbe's foreign policy. "Tajikistan's efforts to emulate multivector foreign policy of Kazakhstan nettle the Kremlin. Astana and Ashkhabad are forgiven their independence because of their hydrocarbons, but Dushanbe is only expected to be a faithful and amenable partner," Grozin said.

Experts say that Dushanbe went too far in its games with Russia, China, United States, and India. World powers grew irritated. India for example intended to install twelve MIG fighter-bombers in Aini ten clicks from Dushanbe where it had been upgrading the airfield. Russia, a country with its own military base in Tajikistan, had no objections at first and even implied possibility of cooperation with New Delhi within the framework of the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization. To quote Professor Stephen Blank of the US Army College, "... luring India into this structure, Moscow was clearly out to impede the growth of China's influence with the region." Everything changed, however, when New Delhi restored military relations with the United States. When it did, would-be Indian jets in Tajikistan stopped being an asset and became a liability. According to Blank, Moscow began putting Dushanbe under pressure to void the Indian contract. Rakhmon has been able to hold the fort so far.

Tajik contacts with the United States exasperate the Kremlin too. A bridge across the Pyandzh connecting Afghanistan and Tajikistan was built with American money last year ($36 million). The United States is even suspected of charting plans to intervene in the matters of the regional power and water resources. For the time being, its activity is restricted to funding of the work on the project of the Dashtidjuma Hydroelectric Power Plant on the Pyandzh. Initial calculations show that its construction will require $3.2 billion but the project is certainly worth it (output of this hydroelectric power plant will equal those of both Sangtuda and Rogun power plants together).

As far as Russian specialists are concerned, Washington uses cooperation with Tajikistan as a smoke-screen for advancement of its military-strategic positions in Central Asian and Afghanistan. Speculations on installation of an American military base in Tajikistan indirectly confirm validity of these suspicions. The first rumors appeared in 2005 when Uzbekistan ordered the Americans out of Khanabad. Deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan revived these rumors again. It is assumed that the United States may modernize a Tajik airfield (in the northern Kulyab or Chkalovsk in the south) for emergency use for the US AF. "All of that are but scuttlebutt," consultant Ivan Safranchuk. He is of the opinion that Tajikistan may accomplish a breakthrough in international affairs in the second half of 2008 at best, when France is the new EU chairman. These two countries enjoy some cordial relations. French jets have been using the airport in Dushanbe since 2001. French Defense Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie visited Tajikistan on two occasions in 2007, promoting broader military and economic cooperation with France on every visit. By and large, promoting broader cooperation between Tajikistan and the West.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta, No 31, February 18, 2008, p. 17. © Translated by Ferghana.Ru