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Central Asia news

Tajikistan-Russia: Demarche as Rakhmon's answer to Medvedev

02.02.2009 10:48 msk


Analytics Tajikistan

President of Tajikistan did not come to Moscow yesterday. He is not going to meet with Dmitry Medvedev today. Neither will he attend summits of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Eurasian Economic Community scheduled for February 4. Emomali Rakhmon apparently cancelled the trip to the capital of Russia to show his displeasure with what Medvedev had said in his talks with President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov on January 22-23.

Davlat Nazri of the Department of Information of the Tajik Foreign Ministry attributed cancellation of the visit to "the situation with the energy crisis". It is because of the energy crisis that "Rakhmon intends to remain in Tajikistan." "All visits scheduled for the first decade of February are cancelled," Nazri said. The implication is that the energy crisis will be successfully negotiated by February 10, just in time for Rakhmon's two-day visit to Brussels where he is slated to meet with EU leaders. Rakhmon will visit Croatia and the Baltic states after that. It will enable the Tajik leader to demonstrate readiness for a new phase of cooperation with the West without looking over his shoulder at Russia.

This is the first time in 16 plus years of his presidency that Rakhmon went so far as to refuse to attend summits of Moscow's closest allies in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Eurasian Economic Community. It is another indication of the crisis of the Commonwealth, one following what essentially constitutes Georgia's withdrawal from the organization after the Five Day War in the Caucasus and Uzbekistan's decision to suspend membership in the Eurasian Economic Community two months later. Also importantly, it happened after all (!) Russian allies' flat refusal to recognize sovereignty of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

In point of fact, Tajik leaders have every reason in the world to feel slighted by the new president of Russia. Eight years of Putin's presidency created the illusion of some sort of a particularly close relationship between Rakhmon and the second president of Russia. The former Soviet submariner is the former resident agent's two days senior. Wise in Oriental diplomacy, Putin constantly emphasized this closeness. He even scheduled his visit to Dushanbe in October 2007 in the manner that enabled him to personally congratulate Rakhmon on his 55th birthday... The impression is that the third president of Russia is less ceremonial than his predecessor, that he failed to calculate the effect his words in Tashkent would have on Dushanbe. Looking like an image-promotion trip, Medvedev's visit to Uzbekistan was actually very important from the standpoint of the political atmosphere it took place in. Moscow and Tashkent accomplished their objectives. The Uzbek leadership persuaded Moscow that Tashkent had always been and would always remain reliable and probably even exclusive gas supplier. The Russian president in his turn sympathized with Tashkent's stand on the matter of the plans to build hydroelectric power plants upstream the transfrontier rivers in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Unfortunately, Moscow followed the line of the least resistance. It chose to secure allegiance of Tashkent in the gas sphere without bothering to remind it that there could be neither right nor wrong parties in the matter of water and energy problems of the region. Ranting at Dushanbe and Bishkek for the attempts to put Tashkent under pressure in the matter of water available for Uzbek lands, the Uzbek authorities never admit colossal losses of water in the national irrigation system. The necessity to do something about it is automatically denied as well. EU Special Envoy for Central Asia Pierre Morrel recently told Vremya Novostei that official Brussels was constantly drawing the attention of Tashkent and its neighbors to importance of unwastefulness.

Rakhmon's heated reaction to rhetorics of the Russian president in Tashkent meanwhile has clearly political undertones. Considering the ardor with which official Tashkent is forming the image of the enemy represented by the "conspiracy between Moscow and Tashkent", the enemy will be needed soon, right when a scapegoat guilty for the energy crisis has to be thrown to general public.

Also importantly, this "external enemy" will come in handy for consolidation of the population around the president who has been ruling Tajikistan since 1992. Judging by the image of Rakhmon formed by Tajik TV networks nowadays, the impression is that a holy war is imminent (remember "... let the noble and justified rage surge up, it is the people's war" of the Great Patriotic War days?). TV channels run reels showing refugees of the civil war era and Rakhmon himself as savior of the nation under whose feet weeping women throw flowers.

Resignation of Interior Minister Makhmadnazar Salikhov in late January went practically unnoticed. Sources in Dushanbe say that the president suspected the popular general of the ability to challenge Rakhmon himself in the power struggle in the course of the possible social disturbances in Tajikistan.

Source: Arkady Dubnov, Vremya Novostei, No 16, February 2, 2009, p. 5