The Caspian Region’s Reactions to the Current Russo-Ukrainian War, a Series: Tajikistan
Oct 31, 2022
In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Tajikistan has opted for neutrality, and officials have so far not made any official statements about the war. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Tajikistan has been relatively the most vulnerable out of the five Central Asian countries. Like some other countries in the region, Tajikistan abstained from voting in the March 2022 United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) special emergency session on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Tajikistan heavily relies on Russia, especially in the spheres of economy, energy, and security. In fact, Russia is the most significant security and trading partner of Tajikistan.
Tajikistan shares a border with Afghanistan, making it a strategic regional checkpoint. Moreover, Tajikistan hosts approximately 7,000 Russian troops, mostly at Russia’s 201st military base in Dushanbe, Moscow’s largest non-naval military facility outside Russia. The 201st military base was originally deployed in Tajikistan as the 201st Motorized Rifle Division during the Soviet period. Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Russian military base continued operations in Dushanbe even during the Tajik civil war in the early 1990s. Moscow and Dushanbe reached an agreement in 2012 on the 201st Russian military base in Tajikistan to extend its operations until at least 2042. Tajikistan is a member of the Russia-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and relies largely on Russia and its 201st military base to secure its southern borders with Afghanistan. Recent border clashes between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have made the limitations of CSTO more evident, with Russia not intervening in the situation.
Russia has also been pushing for Tajikistan’s accession to the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). On June 28, Russian President Vladimir Putin made his first trip abroad to Tajikistan since the start of the war with Ukraine. In a pre-trip statement, the Kremlin said that his talks in Dushanbe would focus on the strategic partnership between Russia and Tajikistan and the current Afghanistan situation. During the trip, Yury Ushakov, Putin’s advisor on foreign affairs, said that Russia would try once again to make a case for Tajikistan to join the Russian-led EAEU trading bloc. In July 2022, Tajikistan’s Minister of Economic Development and Trade, Zavqi Zavqizoda, said that the inter-agency working group was “comprehensively exploring the issue of possible accession” of Tajikistan to the EAEU.
Economically, Tajikistan is one of the world’s most migrant-labor-dependent countries, with remittances (mostly from workers in Russia) contributing to 26.7 percent of the country’s GDP. According to estimates by the World Bank, Tajikistan’s remittances are expected to decrease by 22 percent as Russia’s economy continues to struggle amid international sanctions because of its war in Ukraine. Additionally, Tajikistan imports nearly all of its oil and petroleum products from Russia. Despite Tajikistan’s economic dependence on Russia, one of its central banks, Dushanbe City Bank, has reportedly suspended operations of Russia's Mir payment cards in the country, citing technical issues. This statement was made on September 27 amid growing pressure from the United States on countries that continue to accept the Russian payment system.
On October 5, Vladimir Putin awarded Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon the Order of Merit for the Fatherland of the 3rd class. According to the decree, the award was "for a great personal contribution to strengthening the strategic partnership and alliance between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Tajikistan, as well as to ensure regional stability and security." This underlines the importance of Tajikistan’s current regime for Russia.
Tajikistan’s dependence on troops and economic aid from Russia for its stability has made it much more vulnerable following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. With the most recent border clashes between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, it can be expected that Tajikistan will continue to rely on Russia to maintain its power. However, the increasingly difficult economic conditions due to sanctions on Russia, paired with the global outrage and condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, will make it more difficult for Tajikistan’s government to continue its neutral policy.