RUSSIA'S POLICY TOWARD CENTRAL ASIA
Sergei Gretsky is a Professor of Political Science at the Catholic University of America and Deputy Editor of the Central Asia the Caucasus Journal published in Sweden. He received his Ph.D. in political philosophy from the Institute of Philosophy and Law, Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan. Dr. Gretsky published a number of book chapters and articles in English, Russian, and Tajik on Islam and various aspects of domestic and foreign policy issues of Central Asian states.
The English tremble over India but need we tremble over Tashkent?
Russia would remain Russia even without Central Asia...
M.N. Katkov, Moskovskiye vedomosti, 1879
For the past seventy years Central Asia never generated so much interest and heated discussions in Russia as after the breakup of the Soviet Union. To a great degree, this discussion was caused by pragmatic reasons -- Russia had to formulate her policy toward the newly independent states (NIS), the majority of which form together with her a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). This policy became known as the "near abroad policy" and has become lately a subject of close scrutiny as it acquired a less benign character. Analysts who follow the developments in Russia quite correctly regard twists and turns of the near abroad policy as the reflection of a struggle for power between various Russian political groups with conflicting agendas. Fluctuations in this policy can be attributed to many factors of the current Russian politics, above all to nostalgia for the superpower status and search for a national idea.
This study will examine the Russian policy in Central Asia in its making and take Tajikistan as its case study. Analysis of the Tajik developments will be used to argue that the formulation and execution of the near abroad policy has been largely influenced by the Russian military; over the years its initially proclaimed goals and principles have been modified toward re-assertion of Russian control in the post-Soviet space; and Tajikistan may prove to be a testing ground and a springboard for Moscow's drive toward "(re)integration" of the former Soviet republics into a new confederation. The study will also examine the dynamics of Russo-Uzbek relations as consequential for the success or failure of Russian policy in Central Asia and settlement of the Tajik civil conflict.
RUSSIA'S FOREIGN POLICY SOUL SEARCHING
Circumstances surrounding the demise of the Soviet Union in December 1991 and the establishment by three Slav states -- Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus -- of their union highlighted the prevalent mood among the nations of the Soviet Union: all wanted to pursue an independent mode of existence, or, at best, to be in a union with those who were close historically and ethnically. It was the time when leaders of the NIS were looking toward other countries with great expectation that they would help them join the "civilized world." Russia was going through a ‘honeymoon' with the United States, the Baltic states were re-establishing their North European identity, and Central Asians were experiencing the second wave of Islamization balanced, to a degree, by re-invention of their Turkic or Iranian roots. It seemed, the centrifugal forces that were the immediate cause for the Soviet Union's breakup would endure and nothing would ever bring fifteen nations together.
Russia's new sovereignty led to soul searching reminiscent of the one in the first half of the 19th century, generating a discussion of Russia's place in the world history and politics. The debate was re-opened in March-April 1992 in connection with Russia's new foreign policy concept by Sergei Stankevich, then political counselor to President Boris Yeltsin, and Andrei Kozyrev, then Russian foreign minister. The two presented what became known in the West as "Eurasian" and "Atlanticist" approaches to Russian foreign policy. The discussion had three peculiarities. First, it was not just about Russia's foreign policy at the end of the 20th century. It continued the debate started by the Slavophiles and the Westernizers in the early 19th century about the choices Russia had in its internal development. Today, these choices are seen between Russia emerging as a Eurasian "enlightened" neo-imperialist autocracy versus Russia evolving into a Eurasian democracy based on market economy.
Second, both camps never questioned Russia's Eurasian nature. The Atlanticists never defined Russia as exclusively a European country. Like the Eurasians, they spoke of Russia as a great Eurasian power "that in its domestic life and foreign policy refutes the pessimistic prophecy of Rudyard Kipling that East and West will never meet." Third, the Eurasians and the Atlanticists did not exactly differ in their views vis-a-vis Russian role in the post-Soviet space. For all their advocacy of Russia's special role in the NIS, the Eurasians admitted that it had yet to be earned and that Russia had to prove its new, non-empirical character to its former satellites. As for the Atlanticists, the talk about Russia's special responsibility in the Eurasian geopolitical space was part of their lexicon too. Alexander Rahr was one of the first to note back in 1992 that the debate between the Atlanticists and the Eurasians was not an either/or argument but rather a matter of emphasis. Later developments only proved the correctness of Rahr's judgement.
In short, the Atlanticists/Eurasians debate was about Russia's future. Both wanted their country to become, an economically advanced and a law-based democracy. Both realized that victory or failure in achieving this goal would be measured, first, by success in domestic reforms and, second, by Russia's ability to build her relations with the newly independent countries on the principles of international law and respect for their independence. The Atlanticists were especially emphatic in their rejection of an idea that Russia could develop democracy at home while using strong-arm tactics with its neighbors.
The results of the debate were reflected in the "Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation," which was adopted at the end of 1992. Among its goals in the near abroad the Concept specified the following:
- deepening political, economic, and military cooperation with the NIS within the framework of the CIS as well as on a bilateral basis;
- broadening and strengthening the CIS infrastructure;
- conclusion of agreements on protection of rights of Russian citizens with each of the NIS;
- collective protection of the CIS borders;
- formation of the CIS peace-keeping forces, and other.
A decision had to be made as to who would be in charge of implementing the near abroad policy. Kozyrev persuaded Yeltsin and others in the Russian government not to establish a separate ministry to deal with the newly independent states as some suggested. Kozyrev maintained that Russia "entered the CIS on the principle of full equality with the other independent states," and creation of a separate ministry "might suggest to these countries that they were being treated as less sovereign than other foreign countries." As a result, management of relations with the NIS was initially assigned to different directorates of the Foreign Ministry, but later a ministry on CIS affairs was established to deal with matters of economic cooperation between Russia and the commonwealth.
The Concept did not differentiate Russian policy in the CIS by country nor mentioned any specific goals or special interests Russia had in Central Asia. Those were outlined by policy-makers and analysts in the media and included, above all, stopping an increasing flow of refugees from the region, and combating drugs and illegal arms trafficking. In addition to that, the Concept did reflect Kremlin's particular alarm with the increasingly important role of Islam in political life of Central Asia. Moscow feared that "Islamization" was inspired from abroad by countries that sought to replace Russian influence in the region with that of their own. Foiling such plans and preserving Russia's leading position in the region, thus, became another goal of Russian policy in Central Asia. These concerns influenced the formulation of the near abroad policy and its evolution.
CHANGE IN CENTRAL ASIA
The breakup of the Soviet Union caught Central Asians unawares, but it did not cause an identity crisis. Despite more than a century of incorporation into the Russian empire and then the Soviet Union, the Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Tajiks, Turkmen, and Uzbeks lost neither their Asian nor Islamic identities. Perestroika followed by independence gave a remarkable boost to revival and cultivation of these identities. Their further development was linked to the restoration of close ties with the Islamic world, where they belonged civilizationally. Especially important was the role of Turkey and Iran, which were connected to the region ethnically and culturally. Expansion of these ties and an increasingly visible presence of the two countries in the region was a natural process, and Russia saw "no unequivocally negative orientation" in it. In fact, Moscow initially viewed Turkey, a member of NATO "susceptible to Western values," and its state-controlled Muslim infrastructure as her natural ally in preventing the spread of Islamic fundamentalism and promoting secularism in Central Asia.
Yet the CFPRF warned any third country from building up its political and military presence in the NIS, pledging to resist such attempts with the help of leading democratic countries and international law.
Moscow feared that Turkey (not withstanding all the benefits its visible presence in Central Asia would mean for Russia) and Iran might engage Russia in a contest over domination in the region similar to the "Great Game" of the 19th century. Turkey attracted Central Asian elites as an example of a secular and a more or less democratic state and as a link to the West. Iran, on the other hand, served as a model to Central Asian Islamists and had been a magnet for the Tajiks, especially Tajik intellectuals, who shared common spiritual heritage with the Iranians. Both countries represented patterns of development and opportunities different from what was offered by the Russians over the centuries and that alone posed a threat to Russia's leading positions in the region. The warning made in the Concept was an early indication that Moscow intended to preserve its influence, if not control, in the post-Soviet space and to set the limits of Soviet successor-states' independence.
For their part, Central Asian leaders, perhaps with the exception of President Askar Akaev of Kyrgyzstan, were not initially very enthusiastic about their independence. They feared that it was premature and left them face to face with forces seriously contesting their rule. To insure a smooth transition to the post-Soviet existence Kazakhstan and other Central Asian states initiated the expansion of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) that had been formed outside Minsk on 8 December 1991. Seeking continued Russian engagement regional elites hoped that Russia would be a guarantor of the status quo in the region. Russia, who was engaged both by her ‘thrust to the West' and by complexities of the transitional period to democracy, agreed to but initially displayed little interest in instituting the CIS in a way other than a loose union. The Russians even suggested to locate the CIS headquarters anywhere but Moscow.
The forces that challenged Central Asian communist party apparatchiks were local Islamists and nascent national democrats. Both movements championed real independence, political and economic reforms. In addition, Islamists advocated a greater role of religion in public affairs. These forces were most successful in Tajikistan, where Islamists in alliance with secular proto-democratic and nationalist groups got almost forty percent of votes in the November 1991 presidential elections, obtained legalization of the Islamic Renaissance Party (October 1991), and formed the Government of National Reconciliation (May 1992). These achievements and growing regional cooperation of opposition forces prompted Central Asian leaders to unite their efforts to stymie their further success. Central Asian political elites realized that without Russian assistance their chances for success were uncertain. Playing on the concerns Russia had, they drew Moscow's attention to the alleged threat of "Islamic fundamentalism" to the regional stability and Russia's security. They also channeled Central Asian Russians' genuine anxiety about their future to seek Kremlin's backing. Once in the CIS, Central Asian leaders signed a host of agreements to guarantee a measure of their regimes' stability. These agreements covered among others, such areas as collective security system, joint border protection, peace-keeping, joint--with Russia--military bases, and cooperation of secret services and internal affairs ministries, including extradition of those wanted in connection with criminal or political activities.
By signing all these agreements and soliciting Moscow's intervention Tajikistan in December 1992, Central Asian leaders, in fact, invited Russians to come back to Central Asia and exercise control over their countries' independence. As for Tajikistan, it came to highlight a dramatic change in the goals and principles of Russia's near abroad policy and its strategy in the region. In turn, that made Central Asian leaders re-evaluate their approach to the Tajik civil war and the Russian maneuvers in the region.
NEAR ABROAD POLICY IN ACTION: THE CASE STUDY OF TAJIKISTAN
Russians in Tajikistan
Civic strife in Tajikistan, which reached its pinnacle in late summer of 1992, influenced greatly the debate over the near abroad policy and its implementation. In fact, the policy was inaugurated by the Russian military stationed in the CIS and local Russians, like in Moldova and Tajikistan, who opposed the dissolution of the Soviet Union and felt betrayed and abandoned by Moscow, long before it was presented in its final form on paper. Russian compatriots in the NIS added a much needed human ingredient to the discussion that preceded a shift in favor of the Eurasians who advocated a tougher line in matters concerning the protection of Russians and Russian-speakers in the near abroad (25 million Russians at the time), and regarded the NIS as a new and hostile encirclement.
Two particular regional crises have contributed to the awakening of imperial mentality of Russian political elites, the Atlanticists and the Eurasians alike: A movement for real independence and a complete rupture with the Soviet legacy in Tajikistan which led ultimately to the civil war and a conflict in Moldova between the titular nationality and local Russians and the Russian-speaking population which had antecedents similar to that in Tajikistan. All pledges to build relations with the former Soviet Republics on the basis of international law and respect for their independence were discarded. Under pressure of the Russian military the Atlanticists in the Russian government abandoned their initial position of indifference toward developments in the Soviet successor-states, especially Moldova and Tajikistan.
The military not only joined the Eurasian camp, they became its right wing and proved to be extremely forthright in pushing their own agenda. When in September 1991 President Yeltsin sent Yegor Gaidar, his acting Prime Minister, to Dushanbe to restrain 201st division from meddling in civic unrest there, the commanding officers listened to Yeltsin's envoy attentively, but after he left never fulfilled his orders. This was no coincidence. As in all other independent states, the majority of local Russians (including the Russian military) put all the blame for the breakup of the Soviet Union and their own economic and social hardship in the post-Soviet Tajikistan on Moscow's democrats. With a rare exception, commanding officers of Russia's 201st Motorized Rifle Division stationed in Tajikistan were born, educated, and served through their military careers in Tajikistan or other Central Asian republics. With slim chances to be transferred to Russia, where cuts of forces stationed on its territory and in Eastern Europe were underway, they felt abandoned by. This made it possible for the division officers to act on their own and eventually to turn the division into an independent political force, like it happened with the 14th Army in Moldova.
The officers, as the majority of Tajikistani Russians, welcomed the August 1991 coup and supported calls of the pro-Communist Popular Front of Tajikistan (PFT) to restore the Soviet Union and for Yeltsin to resign. These were vocalized at the PFT rally in Dushanbe in April-May 1992. They also sympathized with the pledge made by Sangak Safarov, PFT chairman and a carrier criminal with 23 years of prison behind him, at the November 1992 session of the Supreme Soviet of Tajikistan. Safarov promised to liberate not only Tajikistan but the whole of Russia from the "democratic scum." Together with the Uzbek military and their kinsman Afghan General Abdurashid Dostam, the Russian brass armed and trained the PFT fighters. By the time of Gaidar's visit to Tajikistan, a number of senior officers of the 201st division, Russian border guards, and National Security Committee (former KGB) left the country and were promoted to key positions in the Joint Command of CIS strategic forces, Russian Ministry of Defense and Federal Counterintelligence Service. That both reinforced the Eurasian camp in Moscow with people who had "field experience" and provided the Russian military in Tajikistan a leeway sufficient to ignore orders of the Gaidar-led government.
Tajikistani Russians, for whom adjustment to the breakup of the Soviet Union and independence of CENTRAL ASIA republics proved particularly difficult, became the enthusiastic supporters of the near abroad policy. The majority of them were communist party nomenklatura, government and local administrations' apparatchiks, professionals and academics. Even before the collapse of the USSR they felt that their status and social security were jeopardized by the adoption of the law that proclaimed Tajik the state language. This law meant that unless they learned Tajik, the Russians would lose their jobs in few years time. Having little chance of interest in learning the language and guided by other reasons, many emigrated to Russia, the Western NIS, Germany, and Israel. The breakup of the Soviet Union expedited their exodus from Tajikistan. Similar situation arose throughout the region. The departure of the Russian community has had a negative impact on national economy of Central Asian countries, especially the industrial sector which was heavily dependent on the Russian personnel. Mounting economic problems have compelled Central Asian governments to take or declare their intention to take certain measures to accommodate Central Asian Russians and to halt the emigration. However, even if they have some effect, in the long run, that will hardly stop the emigration, primarily of the young and educated Central Asians, despite the hardships all immigrants encounter in Russia.
Scores of refugees and immigrants generated strong anti-NIS sentiments in Russian public opinion. The need to address these sentiments motivated the resurgence of Moscow's active involvement in Central Asia. Among other factors was an economic one. The Russians realized that they could ill afford to lose the region to the outside competition because it would have led to loss of markets for Russian goods and services, closure of numerous Russian companies dependent on region's raw materials, disruption of production cycles in many high-tech industries with many of their enterprises located in the region, and loss of many communication lines and installations, especially of the military character. That, as well as the escalation of civic strife in Tajikistan in late summer of 1992 and the pressure from the military, finally reanimated Moscow's active interest in Central Asia.
As Gaidar's visit demonstrated, Yeltsin's government tried to keep Russia out of the Tajik internal conflict and even to mediate it. In fact, the first mediator on the Tajik scene was the commander of the 201st division Colonel Vyacheslav Zabolotnyi. After bloody clashes in Dushanbe in May 1992 between the PFT and the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), he invited President Nabiev with his administration and the Opposition leaders to his headquarters and urged them to form the Government of National Reconciliation (GNR) to avoid further escalation of conflict. Zabolotnyi forced the parties to continue negotiations until they reached an agreement and formed the GNR. Unfortunately, he was recalled from Tajikistan a month later and nobody in the Russian military followed through on his initial success in peace settlement when armed struggle between the PFT and the UTO erupted at the end of June.
Dr. Khudoiderdy Holiqnazarov, then Tajik Foreign Minister, confirmed that in September and early October the Russian leaders were still supportive of the GNR and the secular wing of the UTO forces. But then, the military who had wielded enough power to influence the policy-making process apparently managed to convince the Kremlin that a military intervention in support of the Soviet-era elite was the only option for Russia to maintain its control over Tajikistan and the region. By that time, the Atlantisists, apparently not too happy with the progress in building a new, post-cold war Europe and facing an imminent end of a "honeymoon" with the United States, shifted their positions to a more Eurasionist ground by beginning to talk about Russia as a superpower.
Near abroad policy: Toward a Monroe doctrine, Russian-style On November 16, 1992, a joint meeting of the Russian Foreign Ministry Collegium and the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, which included several leading Eurasians, was held. It was generally regarded as a conciliation meeting between the Atlanticists and the Eurasians. Kozyrev opened it with the statement that Russia was playing a special role and bore special responsibility in the CIS, which led to the final version of the CFPRF being emended with a number of paragraphs reflecting the Eurasians' line, including a paragraph on the need to protect the rights of ethnic Russians in the NIS. It was probably this shift in the near abroad policy that accounted for a volte-face speech Kozyrev made at the conference of CSCE foreign ministers in Stockholm on 14 December 1992. There he said that the territory of the former Soviet Union could not be considered a zone in which CSCE norms were wholly applicable, and that "Russia would firmly insist that the former republics of the USSR immediately join a new federation or confederation." An hour later, the Russian foreign minister returned to assure the audience that neither he nor Yeltsin were in agreement with what he had said earlier. Yet, in fact, Kozyrev threw a touchstone to see Western reaction.
It produced a shock, but as Tajikistan, Moldova, and Abkhazia came to demonstrate, the West nonetheless acquiesced in Moscow's flexing its muscles in former Soviet republics, and not until Russian brutality in Chechnya did it voice its concern over the means employed by Moscow to manage its relations with the CIS. Russian policy-makers never really unwrapped themselves from the tenets of the old political culture, which, in the words of Vladimir Lukin, "traditionally knew only two extreme ways of relating to its neighbors: either complete control and subjugation, the past formula for stability, or neglect, which today is a formula for destabilization." In Tajikistan, initial "neglect" characteristic of 1992 gave way to attempts to restore Kremlin's grip over the post-Soviet space by the end of 1992. Russian political elites thus demonstrated their inability to find the "golden mean" of good neighborliness, mutual obligations and constructive engagement."
Stephen Sestanovich made a good observation that the closer one looks, the more varied and complicated the connections between Russian foreign and domestic politics look--too complicated, perhaps, to provide a precise justification for any individual policy decision." As Kozyrev's rhetoric became more tough and belligerent toward the NIS many in the West considered it to be designated exclusively for domestic consumption to steal political clout from the ultra-nationalists and the communists. They pointed at statements Kozyrev made on his trips to the West that seemed to disavow his other pronouncements on the subject made at home. While it may have been partially true of the period starting with December 1993 parliamentary elections and after, there was no such pressure in 1992. There was, of course, pressure from the military, but [if the Atlanticists were really immune to the imperial mentality of so many among the Russian elites,] the military would have never obtained a political sanction approving military intervention nor would have it been provided with a doctrinal backup for their activities in Tajikistan and elsewhere in the NIS. The Atlanticist government granted both. Besides, years later, in 1995, Kozyrev himself dispelled such interpretations in his speech at the Foreign Policy Council. He denied categorically the idea that there ever were "two Kozyrevs": "I said that in 1991, and I am saying it in 1995: There can be instances in which it is necessary to use armed force to protect our citizens and compatriots abroad."
As Arthur Bentley argued in his "Process of Government," political groups are defined by their behavior, not by their rhetoric, otherwise words are simply "idea ghosts." Discourse of Kozyrev and others in his camp on Russian policy toward Tajikistan and the near abroad by no means was "idea ghosts." Russian-led intervention in Tajikistan in December 1992, sanctioned by the government in which the democrats/Atlanticists enjoyed the majority at the time, has triggered the ongoing civil war, which has claimed lives of more than 50,000 Tajiks, has generated exodus of nearly 1,000,000 political and economic refugees of different ethnic backgrounds, and has led to the devastation of the Tajik economy.
Political justification for intervention in Tajikistan was the need to preserve stability, law and order, and to prevent chaos and "Islamic fundamentalism" from spreading throughout Central Asia and into Russia herself. Russian policy-makers often proclaim that Moscow's withdrawal from the region and lack of Russian "constructive engagement" is tantamount to destabilization of Central
Asian states and is a threat to Russia. The argument is not new -- it was used in 1979 in defense of Soviet intervention in Afghanistan -- and its bottom line is Moscow's claim to control over the region. When in September of 1996 Kabul fell to the Taliban, Pushtu-based Islamist movement, Moscow again cited its concern over the growing instability in Afghanistan as an excuse to station more troops in Tajikistan and to attempt persuading unsuccessfully, President Karimov to allow stationing of Russian border guards on the Uzbek-Afghan border.
There are few in Moscow who disagree with the argument that Russia should be visibly present in Central Asia to preserve stability there and who refer to the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan as an example of a failed attempt to install stability by "active engagement" and use of force. Those who speak of imminent instability in Central Asia and the CIS should Moscow disengage tend to disregard the fact that the primary source of instability throughout the entire CIS was the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of fifteen newly independent states. Instability was only augmented after Russia and other Soviet successor-states have begun to dismantle the old communist system and build a new one based on a completely different set of laws. In Russia herself, this brought the country twice -- in August 1991 and October 1993 -- to the brink of the civil war. Even today it is still premature to talk about stability in the country. Thus, to refer to instability in Central Asia as a threat to Russia and to call for intervention to eliminate it seems to be off the mark. For a considerable period of time, the main threat to Russia's stability will come from inside the political structure itself -- power struggle within and around the Kremlin, ill-conceived actions of the government (e.g., war in Chechnya) and the State Duma (e.g., annulment of the agreement on dissolution of the Soviet Union), etc. In turn, this generates instability in the CIS rather than the other way round. Nevertheless, some developments in CIS countries are of a legitimate concern to the Russians. In Central Asia, these are primarily drugs and illegal arms trafficking and a flow of refugees to Russia. Yet, as will be discussed later, these concerns arise, to a great degree, because of the Russian involvement rather than due to the lack of it.
Nation-Building and State-Building in Central Asia
In Central Asia, independence has crystallized two tasks that exacerbate the transition period. These are nation-building and state-building. Five Central Asian republics appeared on the map in the 1920-30s as a result of the arbitrary decision-making by the Russian Bolsheviks and were never allowed to develop beyond the limits of quasi-states that lacked competent native bureaucrats. Yet things were more critical with nation-building. National identity was virtually inexistent at the time of the Russian conquest of Central Asia in the 18-19th centuries and Bolshevik Russia's annexation of the Emirates of Bukhara and Khiva in 1920. It left the Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Tajiks, Turkmen, and Uzbeks separated along regional, tribal and/or clan lines. Though unification of these tribes and clans into national republics generated a degree of national awareness, the division lines, which made the Russian conquest possible in the first place, lingered on. That allowed Moscow and Moscow-backed local political elites to keep control over the entire region and each republic individually. This factor was successfully played in Tajikistan, where the UTO strove to overcome localism and advocated a fair sharing of power by all the regions of the republic.
The process of nation-building has gained momentum with independence. This entails a long and painful process of unification, search for a national idea, emergence of new political elites, and surge of nationalism as a tool of nation-building. Thus, Central Asia will be highly unstable for years to come, as this is a process fraught with social cataclysms and maybe even civil wars, such as happened in Tajikistan. It may also generate conflicts between Central Asian states since their borders were artificially carved out by the Bolsheviks, and did not reflect ethnic division lines, at times leaving significant numbers of one ethnical group within the borders of a state formed by the other. According to the 1989 census, for example, the Uzbeks made twenty-three percent of Tajikistan's population and thirteen percent of Kyrgyzstan's. The Tajiks are estimated to make up a quarter of the population in Uzbekistan. Now, with the departure of many Russians and Russian-speakers, the percentage of the population went up. Affected by the developments in their respective countries ethnic minorities may become subject to irredentist policies and turn into an additional source for conflicts. For Russia, that may mean additional waves of refugees, both of Central Asian Russians and local populations, while she lacks resources even to accommodate the refugees who have already arrived.
All this makes Central Asia a highly unstable region. But does it pose the kind of threat to Russian national security as one can often hear described in Moscow? Hardly. What happens with Central Asians today is a natural and internal process of historical evolution, which would have at least begun, if not completed, long time ago, were it not for the Russian conquest. On the contrary, it is Russian and Uzbek intervention in Tajikistan in December 1992 that has generated instability in the country and the region, increased the flow of refugees, drugs, and arms. Similarly, in Afghanistan, it was the Soviet intervention that brought on instability on the Soviet-Afghan border, which was one of the safest the Soviet Union had.
Neither at the time of perestroika nor after the breakup of the Soviet Union Central Asian Russians were physically threatened by the processes unfolding in the region, subjected to pogroms or pressured to leave by Islamists, nationalists or other pro-independence forces. The only possible exception was a brief period of interethnic tension preceding and immediately following the adoption of laws elevating the status of national languages to that of the official state languages. The fact that in Tajikistan local Russians allowed the old Khujandi political elite and the PFT to drag them into the Tajik civil conflict could be explained by what numerous interviews with them revealed: Tajikistani Russians sincerely believed that the Soviet-era status quo could have been by use of force. Yet from its onset, the Tajik civil war has been and remains a power struggle between Tajik actors with different pictures of Tajikistan's future. As later developments explicitly demonstrated, Tajikistani Russians were equally wrong to assume that Moscow moved its troops in Tajikistan for their protection, which brings us closer to the examination of the real motives behind the Russian intervention in Tajikistan.
Russia in Tajikistan
Addressing the November 1992 joint meeting of the Foreign Ministry Collegium and the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, Andrei Kozyrev shifted the emphasis of the Russian policy goals in the NIS to the following tasks:
- preservation of Russian military presence;
- joint defense of CIS borders;
- formation of common economic space;
- protection of the rights of Russians and Russian-speakers in the newly independent states.
Protection of the rights of the Russians and Russian-speakers. After the Khujandis and the PFT came to power, their promise to the Russians to revoke the law on the Tajik language was left unfulfilled and the promise to grant them dual citizenship was realized only in 1995 when Rahmonov signed a corresponding agreement with Yeltsin. For its part, the Russian government, on which the current Tajik regime is completely dependent, never really pressed Rahmonov to comply with these promises. Emigration accelerated in 1993-94 when 7,000 Russians and Russian-speakers were leaving monthly, reducing their number in Tajikistan from 600,000 in 1990 to 100,000-120,000 in May 1994. It slowed down later for objective reasons; the number of those who have not left is estimated to be at around 80,000. Interviews with those who stayed published in the Russian press disclose instances of abuse and harassment on ethnic grounds, including cases of members of special brigades of the Ministry of Interior attacking on and insulting Russian officers. Remarkably, a number of murders of Russian officers was not attributed to the Tajik opposition. On the eve of November 1994 presidential elections, instances of intimidation of Russians and Russian-speakers by the special brigades of the Ministry of Interior were reported. Frustrated with the Rahmonov regime the Russians and Russian-speakers were expected to vote for Abdumalik Abdullojonov, Rahmonov's rival and former prime-minister. To prevent that from happening the special brigades pressured them to stay at home on the election day or confiscated their passports until after the elections.
Grave economic situation in Tajikistan badly affects Tajikistani Russians who are mostly retired or employed in the state sector. For months these people do not receive salaries or pensions. As a result, there were reported cases of suicide by gas poisoning, committed by elderly people because of hunger. The Russian government hardly tries to provide assistance and relief to the compatriots, and displays only marginal interest in their plight. Valeriy Yushin, head of the Russian community in Tajikistan, lamented that neither Andrei Kozyrev nor General Andrei Nikolaev, Commander of the Russian Federation Border Troops, found time during their frequent visits to Dushanbe to meet with the community leaders or local Russians. Only once, in 1995, the State Duma earmarked 3 billion rubles of assistance funds to the Russian community in Tajikistan, but the money never reached the addressee. In sum, concern over the rights of Russians and Russian-speakers was used just as a helpful pretext for the intervention.
Formation of a common economic space. The civil war has led to the economic collapse of Tajikistan. [ In different sectors of industry the decline in production makes 50 to 80 percent compared to the early nineties.] Production of cotton has decreased by 40 percent. Revenues from cotton and aluminum exports are not sufficient to cover imports of grain and gas.
Unable to bear military expenses and simultaneously reconstruct the economy, the Tajik government has to rely completely on Russian economic assistance. Russia provided loans and allowed Tajikistan to remain in the ruble zone, from which other Central Asians states were pushed out (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan) or which they left voluntarily (Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan). Simultaneously, Russia promised to admit Tajikistan to a new ruble zone. To pay for this economic favoritism, Tajikistan had to transfer its gold and foreign currency reserves to Russia as a deposit. As these reserves were insufficient to meet Moscow's terms, the Tajik government had to surrender control over some plants and factories to the Russians. Despite the promised admission to the new rouble zone, Russia finally pushed Tajikistan out of the old one, and in May 1995 Tajikistan had to introduce its own currency--rubl--and immediately ask for new Russian loans. Dependency on Russian loans notwithstanding, there is a serious question of how much of the loan money is actually invested into the Tajik economy. Corruption among high-ranking officials in Dushanbe is so rampant that 80 billion rubles loaned by Russia in 1995 vanished without a trace.
By all accounts, Tajikistan's fall into Russia's promissory trap can hardly be described as a formation of a common economic space based on the principles of parity and mutual advantage. Common economic space with a country like the present-day Tajikistan means economic neo-colonialism and serves as a tool of ensuring political dependence in line with Sergei Karaganov's thesis that for Russia, unlike for the West, territorial expansion and competition for control over natural resources is appealing. In Tajikistan and other Central Asian states, Russia is attracted by the Soviet-built infrastructure, enormous natural resources practically unexploited in Soviet times, and cheap and abundant labor force.
Joint defense of the CIS borders. All Russian attempts to create CIS Joint Border Troops have so far failed despite a number of agreements signed with some CIS-member states. The latest attempt made during the May 1995 CIS summit in Minsk can hardly be described as a success either. Moscow's rationale is based on the contention that Russia does not have any protected borders with the ‘far abroad'other than those of the newly independent states, the three Baltic states excluded. As the majority of the newly independent states do not have border guards of their own, Moscow wants them to agree to have Russian border guards to protect their external borders under the CIS mandate. The other argument used is that each kilometer of the new border will cost Russia 2 billion rubles ($40 mil) (sic!), and each outpost -- 6 billion rubles ($150 mil). This kind of money Russians claim they simply do not have. Whether these figures are accurate or not, it sounds quite plausible that Russia cannot afford today or in the near future to establish, for a example, a 7,599 km long border with Kazakhstan.
Yet, the first argument needs closer attention. Article 5 of the Minsk Agreement on the Formation of the CIS signed on December 8, 1991, proclaimed the sanctity of the existing borders within the CIS. In April 1993, the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation adopted the law on the "State Border of the Russian Federation" that defined its limits following the disintegration of the USSR. Despite that, the process of transformation of Russia's administrative borders with contiguous countries into state ones by their formalization in international law has not yet begun.
Such formalization is usually completed in three stages. First, there is a delimitation -- a treaty definition of the general position of the line of border on a geographical map. Finally, the parties sign documents listing the provisions agreed upon during delimitation and demarcation and settle the entire set of questions on interaction of the parties' border services. These are the formal stages that precede the actual establishment of the border and border installations, and do not demand considerable spending. So far, nothing has been done in this respect, and, as a result, Russia does not have legal borders with the newly independent states. Referring to this situation, Nikolai Zhdanov, head of the Russian Federal Service of Geodesy and Cartography, asserted that the borders must be "closed on terrain", the documents should be passed over to the United Nations, and the borders might be open again as it was done in Europe should the integration policy continue.
The lack of any moves toward legalization of Russian borders with the CIS is not explained by the lack of financial resources but rather reflects current policy of the Russian government aimed at (re)integrating former Soviet republics. Should re-integration succeed, Russia will expand again into the borders of the Russian empire, thus closing the issue of new borders.
Currently, Central Asian countries either guard their borders themselves (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan) or have signed bilateral agreements with Russia on the joint protection of their borders (Kyrgyzstan). Only the Tajik borders are completely controlled by the Russian border guards, though Tajikistan hosts two battalions from Uzbekistan, one from Kazakhstan, and one from Kyrgyzstan assigned to the protection of the Tajik-Afghan border under the CIS agreement on joint border protection. In 1995, Tajikistan compensated Russia for only 15 percent of expenditure related to the border protection, which increases its overall debt, economic and moral.
One of the concerns Russia repeatedly cites to justify its right to patrol the southern borders of the CIS is drug trafficking. Yet, it is known that the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan followed by the civil war there has dramatically increased the drug business in that country, a development which has adversely affected the whole world. It is estimated that 20 percent of drugs used in the United States are of Afghan origin. Now the civil war in Tajikistan is apparently repeating the Afghan pattern. The absence of a strong central government, the criminal past of many in the current Tajik leadership and of warlords on both sides in the conflict, the breakdown of the economy, uncontrolled borders, and the expansion of commercial ties and transportation links to other parts of the world -- all make drug business flourish and expand. A State Department report indicates that drug abuse in Tajikistan itself is on the rise. Drug dealers, who have been in the business for years, are emerging currently as the most powerful figures in the region. There are reports that the Russian military, which lacks control over its activities and has excellent transportation capabilities, is engaged in drug business. Yuri Baturin, national security advisor to President Yeltsin, admitted that Russian troops in Tajikistan were involved in drug trafficking and that this involvement at times accounted for loss of life among the military personnel. This situation leads some observers to connect drug business with the true motives behind Russian military's interest in protection of southern borders of the former Soviet Union. At one point, the UTO revealed that it provided drugs for the Russian border troops in exchange for the right of passage inside Tajikistan.
Russian border guards are in Tajikistan as part of the Russian military operation there. They are an important element of the effort geared at preservation of the Russian military presence in Tajikistan as outlined by Kozyrev in November 1992 and validated in March 1994 by General Andrei Nikolaev who asserted at a press conference in Dushanbe that the Russian troops would stay in Tajikistan forever. Indeed, the number of Russian border guards in Tajikistan has been constantly increasing. Only within a year, from 1995 to 1996, it grew from 18,000 to 25,000 border guards, according to official data.
Preservation of Russian military presence. As many observers note, the role of the Russian top brass in their country's domestic politics has been growing ever since the failed August 1991 coup. In 1992, it expanded to include Russia's policy toward the newly independent states. Kozyrev acknowledged the fact when he said that the military had a foreign policy of its own. Moldova and Tajikistan, Georgia and Abkhazia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and, finally, Chechnya demonstrate the ability of the Russian military to have its say in formulation and execution of domestic and the near abroad policy. In April 1993, Yeltsin issued a decree which endorsed the military's ambition to establish its bases in the CIS. In November of that year, a new military doctrine of the Russian Federation was adopted, which classified the near abroad as a zone of Russian military predominance and listed suppression of the rights and interests of Russian citizens residing abroad among the main sources of the external threat.
Totaling more than 50,000 troops, Russian military presence in Tajikistan includes 25,000 Russian peace-keepers, including the 201st Motorized and Rifle Division, and 25,000 Russian border guards. From the beginning of the civil conflict in the republic the Russian military has assumed a political role that soon has surpassed that of Mechislav Senkevich,[ (then Russia's ambassador to Tajikistan) and his embassy, in its scope and importance.] In an unprecedented move, Senkevich was made a member of the military council of the 201st division. It signaled both the military's leadership position and the convergence of policy goals of the two government agencies. Now, sphere of the military's interests and activities involves the wide spectrum of the issues pertaining to the near abroad policy: border protection, mediation and termination of conflicts, peace-keeping, cooperation with the West and international community at large and efforts to fight crime and drug trafficking.
The first public intervention of the Russian military in Tajik politics -- to mediate the emerging civil conflict in Tajikistan -- despite its constructive rationale, demonstrated that the military was not going to stay neutral regardless of its official status of neutrality. Soon after Zabolotnyi left in June 1992, new commander and senior officers took the side of the Popular Front of Tajikistan that ultimately led to their participation in the civil war on the PFT's side . When attempts to crush the UTO militarily failed and the Kremlin had established contacts with the leaders of the Opposition, General Pyankov, commander of the CIS peace-keeping troops in the republic, made a surprise offer to Akbar Turajonzoda, one of the UTO's leaders, at the beginning of 1994. The general advanced a peace plan and suggested that he and Turajonzoda hold talks on its basis in Berlin or Prague. The offer was all the more surprising because preparations were underway for the first round of the UN-mediated intra-Tajik peace talks that began in Moscow two weeks later.
For a long time Moscow has been campaigning to have Russian peace-keepers in Tajikistan granted the status of a UN-peace-keeping force. As the first step of bringing Russian peace-keeping mission to conformity with the UN requirements Ramiro Piriz-Ballon, UN Secretary General's Special Envoy to Tajikistan, promised to secure a UN Security Council resolution to send 300 UN military observers to Tajikistan. Though President Rahmonov approved the idea, General Pyankov rejected it, saying that he would not permit Western spies to sit in his headquarters. Worse still, the military tried to impede the peace process in the republic after the UN mission of military observers in Tajikistan (UNMOT) was established in December 1994 on the basis of the Teheran cease-fire agreement between the Tajik government and the UTO signed in September. In January 1995, General Chechulin, Commander of the Russian Border Guards in Tajikistan, sent a letter to UNMOT's chief military observer. The letter declared that the cease-fire agreement had no legal force for the border guards since they were operating in Tajikistan on the basis of an agreement signed with the Tajik government earlier. That was an undisguised affront to the UN and its attempts to provide a political resolution to the civil war in Tajikistan. The Russians sent a clear message: since they did not see how the agreement could be legally enforced without their compliance with it, there was no reason for the UNMOT to be stationed in Tajikistan. Only after pressure from the UN and several protests of the UTO the Russian Foreign Ministry, being unable to solicit a joint with the military statement, issued a statement of its own committing Russia and its troops in Tajikistan to the observance of the agreement in April 1995. However, that did not prevent the Russian military from violating it. The fact that Russian "peace-keepers" fight on the side of the Tajik government is an open secret not denied by the military itself.
For all the pledges to cooperate with international bodies and the West in the post-Soviet space, reality check shows that Russia would prefer to reserve such role for herself, regarding all conflicts in the former Soviet Union as a "family business," of sorts. At the same time, a role for the international community is not denied, but altogether reduced to endorsement of the Russian peace-keeping by paying for it and granting it a UN aegis.
The incident with the border guards also highlighted a fact of Russian political life: there was no single government agency that coordinated and controlled the execution of the near abroad policy. Each of the relevant ministries -- Foreign Affairs, Defense, and the Federal Border Service -- acts on its own, with the Defense Ministry being in the lead. In Tajikistan, under these circumstances, a rivalry between the ministries is not uncommon, at times verging on open clashes between the border guards and the peace-keepers. Another source of tension is the repeated and so far unsuccessful demands of the Defense Ministry to transfer the border troops under its command.
In 1995, Russia and Tajikistan ratified an agreement on Russian military advisors in Tajikistan. This agreement effectively puts Moscow in control over day-to-day operations of the Tajik army with the Rahmonov government paying for this service in U.S. dollars. It is noteworthy that at the same time the Tajik government was unable to find money to pay for its cadets who studied at Russian military academies, which prompted their expulsion and departure from Russia. Whether Rahmonov has lost any hopes to defeat the UTO on his own or not, the arrangement serves well Moscow's goal to preserve its military presence in Tajikistan. With no national cadre being trained, Dushanbe will have to depend on the Russian military for years to come.
Neither the goals of the near abroad policy nor the policy itself have dramatically changed with the departure of Kozyrev in January 1996 and appointment in his place of Yevgeni Primakov, a leading Soviet expert on Islam and the Middle East and a Kremlin veteran. Before coming to the Foreign Ministry Primakov headed Russian Foreign Intelligence Service. In that capacity, he became actively involved in CIS affairs. In 1994 his service published a book on Russia's relations with the CIS which dismissed Western alarm about what was perceived as emerging Russian neo-imperialism vis-a-vis the CIS. After Primakov's nomination as Foreign Minister a more visible course toward solidification of the CIS has been pursued.
His first visit as foreign minister Primakov paid to Tajikistan. There he reiterated that Russian troops would not leave the country to prevent instability and chaos from spilling into Russia, but at the same time enunciated, the first among top Russian officials, that the UTO was also a part of the Tajik people and that its interests should be taken into consideration. This latter pronouncement upheld the pressure exerted on Rahmonov at the January 1996 CIS summit in Moscow by Yeltsin and other leaders to convene a forum of the Tajik people and to form a council of national reconciliation jointly with the UTO. Yeltsin expressed some dissatisfaction with Rahmonov's dependency on Moscow and made all further assistance to the Tajik government conditional on its compliance with the summit's call for concrete steps toward ending the war and achieving national reconciliation.
Such was the hopeful backdrop for the second leg of the fifth continuous round of the U.N.-mediated intra-Tajik peace talks that opened in Ashgabat on January 26, 1996. Yet Rahmonov evidently decided to capitalize on Yeltsin's immersion in the presidential election campaign and turned a deaf ear to Russian leader's warnings. It was not until after Yeltsin's victory that Primakov resumed his active involvement in the anemic peace process and came with new Russian pointmen on Tajikistan to Ashgabat in July 1996 for the resumed peace talks. It was quite a departure from Kozyrev's handling of the Tajik issue. The former minister never attended the peace talks nor demonstrated personal awareness of the UTO's proposals at resolving the conflict. Primakov's presence at the July round did not result in any progress at the talks, and it hardly had this purpose. It was more of a fact-finding mission designed to inform him and his new team on Tajikistan about where the sides, especially the UTO, stood. It was Primakov's first contact with the Opposition, in three years and it gave him first-hand acquaintance with its proposals. He believed that his continued presence at the talks may push them to move forward. His intention to make the peace process a priority got further confirmation after it was reported that he obtained Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin's commitment to participate in a "summit" of Rahmonov and Abdullohi Nuri, the UTO's leader, originally slated for November 1996. [It took place in late December in Moscow and Chernomyrdin was, in fact, present at the signing ceremony.
The two documents signed by Rahmonov and Nuri constituted a major breakthrough in the peace process. One of them declared a permanent cease-fire for the entire duration of the peace talks. The other established a Commission on National Reconciliation (CNR) as a temporary organ which, headed by a UTO representative, would have extensive executive and legislative powers. The CNR should work together with President Rahmonov in reforming three branches of government to incorporate members of the UTO, (Opposition's military units included), in returning and re-integrating refugees, as well as in bringing the country to free and multi-party parliamentary elections in one to one and a half years. Creation of the CNR, originally proposed by the UTO in 1995, means that the Rahmonov government has finally agreed to share power with the Opposition, something which the latter demanded for a long time. The breakthrough in the talks became largely possible due to Primakov's active intervention in the peace process which might have been influenced by the developments in Afghanistan unfavorable to the Russians (ouster of President Barhanuddin Rabbani from power by the Taliban and prospects of them reaching the border with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan). In Primakov's absence --he was paying a visit to Tehran-- his right hand, Boris Pastuhov, First deputy Foreign Minister, exerted on the government of Tajikistan to make them more receptive to the proposals of the UTO.
The round held in Tehran (January 1997) in the wake of the December summit failed to finalize the particulars of the Moscow agreement, especially the quotas for representation in the CNR upon which the quotas in the new (coalition) government are contingent. Though the issue was resolved at the subsequent Rahmonov-Nuri meeting in Mashhad (February 1997), where the sides agreed to a 50-50 representation, it in fact reflected the failure to agree on the participation of the Khujandis in the peace process. The UTO suggested that the Movement for the National Revival of Tajikistan led by Abdullojonov, which expresses political interests of the Khujandis, should be given seats on the CNR and ministerial portfolios on the grounds that exclusion of a major group from the peace deal would undermine its comprehensiveness and viability. The government disagreed, not in the least because of the Abdullojonov's linkage to Tashkent, which Moscow, the government's patron, would under no circumstances like to see revitalizing its political prowess in Tajikistan. Though the Opposition gave up twenty percent from the fifty it got in the new government to enable other political groups, Abdullojonov's primarily, to enter the government, it remains to be seen whether Abdullojonov will actually be able to use the opportunity. In 1996, after he inaugurated his party and laid down the claim for his share of the pie to be divided between the two sides at the peace talks the Tajik government re-opened criminal investigation against him.
Following the Mashhad meeting, a round of peace talks was held in Moscow (February-March 1997). It discussed the military cluster of issues and produced an agreement on integration of Opposition's military units into power structures (ministries of defense, interior, and security, and the border guards) on a stage by stage basis. The agreement incorporated a number of important points advanced by the UTO: The sides agreed that at the first stage the Opposition fighters would be integrated by the formations they make now and that those on both sides who had criminal record prior to May 1992 would be dismissed from the service.
At the same time no unanimity was achieved on the issue of which countries would act as guarantors of this and other agreements signed in the course of the peace talks. The government argues that there is no need in additional, moreover international, force beyond the Russian military stationed in Tajikistan as the CIS peace-keepers, the Russian border guards, and Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Uzbek battalions deployed in the country within the framework of the CIS agreement on the joint protection of borders -- already on the ground -- to guarantee and oversee implementation of the agreements under the UN supervision. For its part, the UTO points to the fact that the Russian troops, especially those which make the CIS peace-keeping force, were stationed in the country without the Opposition's consent and have not kept neutrality. It insists on international participation in the observer force and suggests to add Iranian and Pakistani contingents, i.e., of two other observer countries at the peace talks, to those of the four CIS countries, though it may settle for participation of other countries-members of the OIC.
As with blocking Abdullojonov, discord on the issue of countries-guarantors reflects Russian standpoint which by and large ascribes the role of the arbiter in the internal and foreign affairs of the newly independent states to Moscow alone. Deployment of foreign troops in Tajikistan, albeit as a guarantor and oversight force under the UN aegis, sets a dangerous precedent and may further unnerve the Russians already distressed by the forthcoming movement of NATO to their borders. In this context, three incidents of UN observers and ICRC employees hostage taking by Tajik government troops (twice) and by a pro-government group in December 1996 and January 1997 were clearly aimed at making their functioning in Tajikistan impossible and eventually at driving them and other international presence out of the country. In the government's view, UNMOT, ICRC, OSCE, "Medecins sans Frontieres," "Save the Children," and other international organizations working in Tajikistan are nothing but spying nests and their help is laughable. One can assume that the closer the sides will move toward ending the civil war and signing the final peace agreement the greater pressure will there be on the UN, which has already refused to be the guarantor of peace in Tajikistan in the wake of the three incidents, and others to withdraw from the country.
Another possible explanation of Moscow's desire to be the sole guarantor of peace agreements is that the Kremlin is still weary of the ramifications UTO's political comeback will have. Despite the apparent readiness of Moscow to let Rahmonov share power with the UTO the Russians demonstrate a remarkable lack of interest in learning first-hand what the Opposition is all about, especially its views on the role of Russia in the post-war Tajikistan and the future of Russian-Tajik relations. At the December 1996 summit, Chernomyrdin and other high-ranking officials declined Opposition's request for a meeting. At the Moscow round of peace talks in March 1997, Primakov echoed this weariness in a jest when a hitch with serving champagne after signing the military agreement happened. Addressing Akbar Turajonzoda, he said, "You have not entered the government yet but already impose Islamic customs upon us." The Russians would be in a better position to influence the developments in Tajikistan, including parliamentary elections to be held in approximately one year's time after the war ends, if they are the only guarantors of peace agreements, token presence of three Central Asian countries notwithstanding, should pro-Moscow groups be completely losing control over the country.
Against the background of Karimov's attempts to circumvent Russia's comeback to the region and upset her integration policy, Moscow's ultimate scenario for Tajikistan may be within the broader context of the Russian foreign policy where the Muslim connection plays an increasingly important role. Primakov, a close friend of Saddam Hussein and a frequent visitor to Tehran, began his tenure as Foreign Minister by writing off half of Libya's debt to Russia, in part, to enable Colonel Ghaddafi resume purchases of Russian arms. Against the backdrop of tougher line toward the West, such overtures toward Libya as well as attempts by Moscow at the U.N. to procure a lift of the economic embargo against Iraq and "strategic partnership" with Iran may signal that the Kremlin under Primakov's influence may be considering a revival of the old Soviet policy, i.e., aligning with a number of third world countries in its confrontation with the West. In Russia herself, practically all Muslim official and independent organizations throw their support behind Yeltsin's government, regardless of the war in Chechnya, in an open bid for closer ties with the Muslim world to counteract post-cold war Western dominance. This leaves room for the accommodation of the UTO, especially its Islamic wing, with a proviso the latter would recognize Russian interests in the region. In any event, the Kremlin needs the civil war to stop and stability to return to Tajikistan to succeed in its Central Asian policy.
In the final analysis, Russian policy in Tajikistan demonstrates a departure from the initial principles of the near abroad policy: respect for independence of the newly independent states, relations based on international law, not diktat. Reasons that brought about this change were more of a domestic nature and would be discussed later. It is also clear that in the hierarchy of policy priorities, preservation of the Russian military presence tops the list as it has proved to be the most effective instrument in projecting Russian power and ambitions throughout the CIS.
RUSSIA IN CENTRAL ASIA: FROM IMPERIYA TO INTEGRIYA
Russian intervention in Tajikistan and subsequent developments in other parts of the former Soviet Union demonstrate that the Russian military has won the contest with other centers of power over the right to determine and execute the near abroad policy. In Central Asia, the military effectively revived Czarist policy when Turkestan was administratively run by the Ministry of War, not by the Ministry of Interior as other provinces of the Russian Empire. It was the military who largely defined the framework and character of Russia's near abroad policy by its activities in the field, while political elites in Moscow provided its doctrinal underpinning. Evidently in appreciation of that, Kozyrev was conferred the rank of lieutenant colonel -- almost simultaneously with Vladimir Zhirinovsky -- by Pavel Grachev's decree in April 1995. As another sign of the military's ubiquity, Kozyrev was assigned a military adviser -- Colonel-General Boris Gromov, former commander of the Soviet troops in Afghanistan.
By the August 1994 session of the Foreign Policy Council Russian political elites had reached a consensus that the sphere of Russia's most vital interests and "a key question not only in foreign, but even to some extent domestic, policy" was the Commonwealth of Independent States. Domestic political upheavals, high social toll of economic reforms, and setbacks with cutting out a new "window on Europe" and the United States, attributed to the West's reluctance to let it open, precluded a switch of political and public attention to the near abroad where the military was trying to keep pieces of the defunct superpower together .
Russian public at large felt humiliated by seeing Russia being eased out of everywhere -- former republics of the Soviet Union, former "fraternal" countries of the Soviet bloc, and world politics. Public opinion attributed this development to the breakup of the Soviet Union and cultivated suspicion that Western support for the efforts of the Russian democrats to dismantle the Soviet Union was motived by the desire to strip Russia off its superpower status. The Russians did not see any tangible results produced by the new alliance with the West. On the contrary, the rush to expand NATO into Eastern Europe coupled with the talk about "prematureness" of partnership with Russia caused fear among the Russians that they would never be allowed further that the threshold of Europe. Besides, Yeltsin's constant reference to full approval of and support for economic reforms in Russia by the West against the backdrop of economic collapse, enormous social stratification, and pauperization caused irritation and a flare-up of conspiracy theories. [Popular frustration and discontent explained success of Vladimir Zhirinovsky and his Liberal-Democratic party in December 1993 elections to the State Duma. Zhirinovsky with his highly nationalistic agenda and promises to "raise Russia from the knees" resonated remarkably well with the Russian electorate, the military included.] In fact, for all his flamboyancy, Zhirinovsky, by calling to re-establish Russia's dominance in the near abroad, protect Russians living there by using force, and to maintain peace in the southern territories, became a Eurasian par excellence. Thus, one may argue that it was not just the pressure from the military, but the public mood mirrored in Zhirinovsky's success as well, that were among the factors that motivated all other political players in Russia to adopt a tougher stand vis-à-vis the NIS.
Besides, Russia has been in need of a nation-building idea both to avoid civil war and disintegration and to eventually restore its grandeur. Though the search for the national idea is still going on, Russian political elites seem to include restoration of Moscow's domination across the former Soviet Union as one of the ways to revive Russia's superpower status. Unlike other political actors, Yeltsin and his administration have benefited from being in a position to work toward the practical realization of its goal.
In two years, with Yeltsin and Kozyrev in charge, Russia has completed preliminary work by "re-gathering" (sobiraniye) into the CIS the lands the Russians had been assembling into the empire for centuries. Using political, economic or military leverages, or a combination of these, the Kremlin forced Moldova, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, countries which initially refused to join the CIS, into the Commonwealth. In Tajikistan, it has headquartered a military force that may be used to quench any possible opposition to its policy in Central Asia. By August 1994, when Kozyrev spoke before the Council in the presence of numerous guests and the media, Moscow felt the time had come to move further. Addressing the audience, the Russian foreign minister declared: "Yes, the states (NIS) are independent, but they are in the Commonwealth. ... We want a closer commonwealth, we want to follow the path of integration. We have often formulated our approach to integration processes in the CIS. It lies in the fact that we are ready to go as far as and in the integration forms for which our partners are ready."
It was the proclamation of Russia's near abroad policy in its second edition. "Cooperation" spelled out in the CFPRF was substituted by "(re)integration" that was established as the goal to be achieved by a different-speed and multilateral movement through organization of an economic union and peacemaking operations (sic!), with peacemaking dubbed as Russia's historical mission. Kozyrev's strategy of (re)integration may sound different from the calls to restore the Soviet Union or the Russian empire heard from across the Russian political spectrum. After all, integration is a catchword of the European politics. Yet, as is the case with the Russian interpretation of peace-keeping, (re)integration has a specific connotation.
It appears that by (re)integration Russia means a federation, confederation or union of a CIS country or countries with the Russian Federation, though recently a confederation has been cited more often than other options as the desired objective. At this stage, depending upon the degree of dependence on Russia -- political, economic, etc. -- a given CIS country is expected to choose one of the above levels of (re)integration and a time framework to achieve it. Establishment of an economic union has been viewed by the Russian government as a major tool in enforcement of the (re)integration policy. As the example of Tajikistan shows, economic union means tying CIS countries closer to Russia by virtue of increasing their debts: "We know that all republics are indebted to Russia. This is inevitable. ... No matter how much we are accused of imperialism, toughness, and callousness with respect to our Ukrainian neighbors, for example, the reality is that their debt is and will be growing." The more CIS countries, Central Asian included, become indebted to Russia, the better chances the latter has to dictate the scenario of political (re)integration. For those who go too far down the road of independence (Elçibey, Gamsakhurdiya, the Tajik opposition) old Kremlin cronies will be called up (Aliev, Shevarnadze, Mutalibov), new ones will be installed in power (Rahmonov), or, in extreme cases, Russian peace-keepers will be sent to protect the status quo (Chechnya, Tajikistan). A combination of these stratagems can also be applied.
Moscow keeps pressure high on Central Asian as well as other CIS leaders, toughening the messages and modifying its policy guidelines in pursuit of (re)integration. On April 18,1995, the Foreign Policy Council met to discuss problems facing Russians in the near abroad at which Kozyrev made his strongest ever statement on the use of armed force to protect the rights of Russians in the NIS. The statement was made against the backdrop of the Chechen campaign and an escalation of fighting in Tajikistan, and it caused an uproar in the international community. Interviews with political leaders of Central Asia show that they are wary of the fact that Russia may use the pretext of protection of local Russians to intervene no matter how far the countries will go in meeting Russian demands on the issue.
The course toward (re)integration was made into law by presidential decree no. 940 signed on September 14, 1995. This latest definition of the Russian near abroad policy specifies stepping up the efficacy of cooperation and (re)integration to stymie centrifugal tendencies in the CIS as the immediate task. In yet another departure from all previous official documents on the near abroad policy, Yeltsin formulated creation of economically and politically integrated entity of states as the primary goal. One may expect that Central Asia would be the centerpiece in the efforts to enact (re)integration because it is regarded as the most vulnerable region of the former Soviet Union.
A course toward political (re)integration received further impetus with the departure of Kozyrev and the appointment of Yevgeni Primakov, whose views on the near abroad policy were expressed in a book put out by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, which he headed. Primakov advocated not only economic, but also political and military (re)integration of former Soviet republics and a formation of a confederation or even a federal state long before Yeltsin and Kozyrev. With Primakov's appointment, the CIS headquarters were moved to Moscow, a step indicative of a more determined intention to go ahead with (re)integration. Also, Primakov procured Yeltsin's decree giving the Foreign Affairs Ministry a coordinating role in the implementation of Russian foreign policy, the near abroad included. In a ministry's reshuffle, handling relations with the CIS was transferred to a newly organized CIS directorate which replaced a system under which desks for individual CIS countries were scattered through various directorates.
Primakov's concept of the near abroad policy was corroborated by Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin, whose political clout grows amidst concerns over Yeltsin's durability. Opening a policy conference of Russian ambassadors to CIS states on July 29, 1996, Chernomyrdin termed the Commonwealth a "zone of vital Russian interests ... not only economic but also long-term military-political interests." On a more consequential note, the Russian premier candidly stated that Russia's resources and time were both limited.
Chernomyrdin's remark about the lack of time reveals Kremlin's apprehension that if no drastic steps are taken immediately Russia may lose her (re)integration crusade. Reference to limited resources may be an indicator that economic integration, which might have been the most ‘clean' way to keep the CIS member-states in Moscow's sphere of influence, can not be relied on at present to produce needed results. Even under better circumstances, diversification of economic ties of the newly independent countries, especially development of such ties with the West, would have lessened their dependency on Russia. Given Russia's economic troubles and limited nature of what she can offer the CIS states today it is even more likely to happen. That leaves the Kremlin with only one option -- the military one. Should Moscow pursue this option, it would entail re-establishment of a common military structure, stationing of Russian troops throughout the CIS, and disposition of Russian borders guards along the perimeter of the Commonwealth's borders. Currently, only this option appears both to guarantee success of the course toward (re)integration, and to buy Russia time to launch other mechanisms for attaining the goal. That might have been Chernomyrdin's reasoning when he emphasized Russian military interests in the near abroad over the political ones.
For its part, the top brass is aware of the salient role it is to play in the implementation of the integration policy. Citing Tajikistan as an example, General Andrei Nikolaev emphasized that he sees the task of the Russian military in the CIS in inducing conditions that would rule out coming to power of political leaders unloyal to Russia. Leaders of the Tajik opposition (Abulfazl Elcibey and Zviad Gamsakhurdia are other examples) were viewed as unloyal. That precipitated the involvement of the Russian military in Tajikistan on the side of Rahmonov and accounts for its negative attitude toward the peace process in Tajikistan.
In search of a common response: from Central Asian to the Eurasian Union
As for the Central Asian leaders, Moscow still feels comfortable with their regimes, partly because it regards them as coming from the old Soviet-era nomenklatura (Karimov, Nazarbaev, Niyazov) or someone deeply rooted in things Russian (Akaev). The Central Asian Presidents were hesitant to pursue a completely independent existence immediately after December 1991 and initiated the formation of the CIS. Besides, Moscow has a vested interest in the current leaders and their authoritarian or quasi-democratic types of government because it fears that local democrats and nationalists, who are vocal advocates of national independence, might completely separate their countries from Russia should they come to power or be politically influential. This reveals the neo-realist underpinning of the near abroad policy, which, in Robert Barylski's view, predicts that Russia will support authoritarian regimes and coercive measures in the CIS whenever she feels that political change in these countries poses a threat to her interests.
Yet a lot has changed since the civil war in Tajikistan has begun. Central Asian presidents have successfully consolidated their power that allowed them to pursue a course toward greater independence from Moscow. Moscow's agenda has also changed and now does not include unconditional support of the regional leaders. The Tajik case demonstrates precariousness of their position at home and limits of their influence in regional affairs. The Russian military stationed in Tajikistan initially at Tajik leadership's request is now viewed as a leverage Moscow may use to make it more pliant to accepting her regional domination. In this respect, the declarations of intention made by Chernomyrdin and Nikolaev add little relief. One can assume that the further the Central Asian leaders will take their countries down the road of independence, the bigger chances they will take with the Kremlin.
Growing alarm about Russian intentions in Central Asia motivated Akaev and Nazarbaev to accept Karimov's idea to join ranks and establish the Central Asian Union (CAU) in July 1994. At the same time, President Nazarbaev has been promoting his idea of a Eurasian Union (EUROPEAN), which would replace the CIS. If Russia favors (re)integration, Nazarbaev's initiative can be described as coordination, primarily of economies, foreign policy, defense issues, and legislative activities. On top of that, Nazarbaev sees EUROPEAN as a loose union, which any member can leave by sending a letter of notification six month in advance. The Russians, including President Yeltsin, turned a cold shoulder on the proposal for obvious reasons: it would lead the CIS countries off on a tangent from Moscow's Integriya archipelago. Russian suspicions were reinforced by a Kazakhstani newspaper which explained Nazarbaev's Eurasian Union deal as "a preemptive step aimed at neutralizing the neo-imperial aspirations of Russia."
Turkmenistan appears to be avoiding direct confrontation with Russia. President Saparmurad Niyazov of Turkmenistan has been keeping distance equally from Russia and his regional partners with all their problems, the Tajik civil war included. Since independence, the Turkmen president has been advocating restoration of the ancient Silk Road as opposed to Turkestan. Niyazov declared Turkmenistan's desire to be a neutral state and to play a role of Central Asian Geneva or Vienna. As a step in that direction, Ashgabat changed its position toward the Tajik conflict, became an official observer at the peace talks, and hosted three rounds of the talks in December 1995 and in February and July 1996. Still, Niyazov seldom appears at CIS summits and favors to deal with each state on a bilateral basis. Turkmenistan is the only Central Asian country which granted local Russians dual citizenship. Much to everybody's surprise, Niyazov signed 23 agreements including a treaty on the protection of the Russian-speaking minority in Turkmenistan and of the Turkmen-speaking minority in Russia, during his May 1995 summit with Yeltsin, in Moscow. The treaty on the protection of the minorities caused annoyance in neighboring capitals and was regarded as a sign of weakness.
Yet, at least for the time being, with his country's homogeneous population, (about seventy-five percent are ethnic Turkmen,) and enormous gas and oil resources, Niyazov can feel himself less vulnerable than many others in the face of any of Kremlin's scenarios of (re)integration. While making overtures to the Kremlin, Niyazov tries aggressively to develop economic ties with the West, Japan, and China to cash on energy riches, and to quietly expand cooperation with the United States, Turkey, and Ukraine in military and national security fields. Nevertheless, despite the concessions Niyazov made to Moscow, a July 1995 anti-government demonstration in Ashgabat showed that he is walking the fine line. This demonstration took place shortly after Moscow was forced to annul a 1992 military cooperation agreement with Ashgabat, which among other things provided for Russian bases in Turkmenistan. To nobody's surprise, reports surfaced that the demonstration was staged by Moscow to warn Turkmenistan's government not to loosen its ties with Russia further.
Russia in Central Asia: from Czars to democrats
Russian policy toward Central Asia has a lot in common with Czarist policy in Turkestan. The latter embraced a diversified approach to the region that led to incorporation of some parts of Central Asia as provinces or governaships, while other were turned into protectorates. In this respect, the policy of (re)integration, which endorses a "multi-speed and varied (re)integration" is similar to the Czarist policy.
As Sherman Garnett remarked, "For Russia, there are many different peripheries, not a single "near abroad." Though there is still no clarity with terminology or ultimate intentions, the term most frequently used by Moscow today is "confederation." During his election campaign, Yeltsin declared that his own plan was to move "gradually toward a new confederation that would include Russia and three of the other 14 former Soviet republics." A package of agreements concluded between Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan in March 1996 on "deeper" economic, scientific, and cultural integration is regarded by the Kremlin as a step toward such confederation. The policy of "deep integration," in Yeltsin's definition, is based on three principles: the preservation of sovereignty, the openness to integration by other FSU countries, and flexibility in forming joint managing bodies. It is noteworthy that the Russian president talks about preservation of sovereignty, but not independence. A "profound integration,"in the words of the Russian president, is underway with Belarus, which signed a union treaty with Moscow in April 1996, and is cautiously promoted as the model for other CIS countries to emulate. That the Kremlin wants (re)integration of the former Soviet republics to culminate in a confederation and that it is serious about it is exemplified by Tajikistan, which does not have a common border with Russia. Despite that, Moscow has encouraged local political elites, the UTO included, to discuss the idea of a confederation. Addressing the issue in March 1995 after the talks with Chernomyrdin, Jamshed Karimov, Tajik Prime Minister, said that the border issue could be overcome with time.
Judging by official statements and public discourse, Kazakhstan is the primary target for a confederation with Russia. It is constantly being singled out from the rest of the region and put on the one plane with Ukraine and Belarus. Even in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs under Kozyrev relations with Kazakhstan were handled by a different department than relations with other Central Asian countries. In the eyes of the Russian elites, among the factors ‘favoring' Kazakhstan are the common border with Russia; historically longer and culturally deeper ties with Russia as compared to other Central Asians; ethnic composition of the population; abundance of natural resources; and expectation that Kazakhs will play a buffer role with their more Islam-driven brethren. Disposition toward the Kazakhs is a continuation of a historical distinction between them and other Central Asians made by the Russians. Traditionally, present-day Kazakh territories were included into the definition of the Russian frontier whereas Turkestan was regarded as an imperial holding with all attending ramifications.
Most likely, Moscow's objective vis-a-vis other Central Asian states is to turn them into Russian "protectorates," as it has already happened with Tajikistan. The Tajik case proves that Russia would be content to have her economic, security, and military interests secured and would let local elites to administer domestic affairs. Such was the Russian policy in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Tajikistan may be given priority and special attention if Moscow decides to use the Tajiks with their profound awareness of being Central Asia's non-Turkic minority as a counterbalance to prevent Uzbekistan's attempts to emerge as a regional power and challenge Russia in the region. The latter problem needs to be addressed, because the Uzbek president and his uncompromising attitudes are one of the fundamental obstacles to the success of Moscow's (re)integrationist policy in Central Asia.
RUSSIA AND UZBEKISTAN: FROM STRATEGIC ALLIES TO STRATEGIC RIVALS
Islam Karimov elected to intervene in Tajikistan and solicited Russian help to implement his own agenda. He wanted to silence domestic opposition, both Islamic and secular, and to show force to other regional leaders to make them choose to his vision of the region's future. Since independence, Uzbekistan has striven to emerge as a regional power. Revoking the notion of Turkestan's and Turkic unity, Karimov seeks to reestablish some sort of an Uzbek-led Turkestan. His concerns and ambitions have their roots in history.
The rise of the Uzbeks to political prominence and eventual regional leadership was engineered by the Russian Bolsheviks in anticipation that the Uzbeks would be conduits of the Kremlin's policy in the region. Their calculation had antecedents: when the Russians conquered Central Asia in the second half of the nineteenth century, they made Tashkent political and administrative center of Russian Turkestan. After the Bolshevik revolution and national and territorial delimitation of Central Asia in the 1920s, Tashkent became the capital of Uzbekistan and remained the center of Soviet Central Asia. It hosted a number of institutions which trained Communist Party, state and military cadre for the region that permitted the Uzbeks to exercise [certain] influence over the regional cadre policy. In its regional cadre policy, Tashkent emulated Moscow. It ensured that local Uzbeks were part of political elites of the neighboring countries and selected and backed groupings within them which would become Tashkent's power base. Among those whom the Uzbeks favored were Khujandis from the northern Leninobod province of the neighboring Tajikistan.
Unlike the majority of the Tajiks, the Khujandis, together with some other northern Tajiks, were incorporated into the Russian Empire at the same time as the Uzbeks. One can trace Khujandis' alignment with the Uzbeks back to that time. It paid off after the emergence of Tajikistan in 1929. With Tashkent's backing, the Khujandis rose to a leading role in Tajik politics in the 1940s and reciprocated by recognizing Uzbekistan's leading role in the region. For Karimov, the decline of Khujandis' power would have decreased his chances for regional domination, as well as energized Uzbekistan's internal opposition to his regime. To prevent that from happening he needed Russian assistance. Inside Tajikistan, he brokered an alliance of the Khujandi elite with the pro-communist forces of the Kulob province and urged Tajikistani Uzbeks to support this alliance. He also obtained help from Afghan General Dostam, an ethnic Uzbek.
By masterminding this alliance and intervening in Tajikistan with Russian help, Karimov counted on reinstating the old Khujandi-dominated regime, i.e., his own influence, in the republic. Yet, he underestimated the aspirations of the Kulobis. In return for the manpower the latter provided to fight the UTO, a Kulobi, Imomali Rahmonov, was elected head of state for the first time in Tajikistan's history. The Kulobis were given the majority of ministerial portfolios and filled top positions in local administrations. Karimov and the Khujandis reckoned that Rahmonov would only be a temporary front man and that after some time the Khujandis' authority would be restored. Yet the Kulobis turned out to have staying power. One reason for that was an acquired taste for power that made the Kulobis to resist all efforts to be stripped of it. Of greater importance, however, was the geopolitical factor.
As Russia re-emerged as a key player in Central Asia, Uzbekistan's desire for regional domination did not escape her attention. The Kremlin understood that it had acted primarily in Karimov's interests by intervening in Tajikistan in December 1992, that led Moscow to start separating its interests from those of Tashkent. The old system of patron-client relations became defunct. In Tajikistan, the Kremlin had to find a group, other than the Khujandis, through which it could reassert its influence in Tajikistan and challenge Uzbekistan for regional domination. Russia chose the Kulobis who, in contrast to the Khujandis, had never held power in Tajikistan. To consolidate and legitimize their power, the Kulobis, with Russia's backing, held a referendum to endorse the new constitution and staged parliamentary and presidential elections, which appeared fixed and rigged to international observers. After the November 1994 presidential election, the Kulobis, apparently with Russia's consent, began to gradually drive the Khujandis and Tajikistani Uzbeks out of the central government and local administrations throughout Tajikistan, including the Leninobod province, Khujandis' power base.
Such turn of events did not suit Karimov and jeopardized the implementation of his plans. The number of Russian troops in Tajikistan -- around 50,000 men, as well as the war in Chechnya and growing nationalistic and neo-imperialistic sentiments in Russia, made Karimov reassess political realities and choose different tactics. Capitalizing on alarm about Russian intentions in Central Asia, he propelled Akaev and Nazarbaev to closer regional cooperation and acceptance of his idea to found the Central Asian Union (CAU). Karimov was pushing forward for such an organization since 1993 as an important step toward his goal of an Uzbek-dominated Turkestan. Apprehension about Karimov's intentions explained initial reluctance of Akaev and Nazarbaev to accept his proposal, but it faded in the face of cold winds blowing from the north.
The agreement initiating the CAU was signed by three presidents in July 1994 in Almaty. The objective of the Union was creation of a common political, economic, and cultural space through regional integration supervised by supranational institutions, the idea which Karimov opposes vehemently at the CIS level. The CAU was seen by many as a framework to deal with Russia on a multilateral basis thus providing the Central Asia states with a more favorable negotiating position. Yet in August of 1996, after two years of lobbying, Russia entered the Union as an observer-state potentially deflating whatever hopes have been pinned on the organization.
The intent to deal with Russia collectively was demonstrated at the CAU summit in Chimkent in April 1995 when Akaev, Karimov, and Nazarbaev agreed on a common line toward Tajikistan. To nobody's surprise, this new line was articulated in Tashkent in the wake of Karimov's consultations with Akbar Turajonzoda, first deputy Chairman of the Movement for the Islamic Revival of Tajikistan and head of the UTO's delegation at the U.N.-mediated intra-Tajik peace talks. It favors a political solution to the Tajik civil war, free parliamentary and presidential elections with the participation of all political parties, and formation of a coalition government. In addition, in Chimkent the three leaders adopted a statement which urged the Tajik government to achieve political reconciliation as quickly as possible and threatened otherwise to withdraw their troops from the Tajik-Afghan border. The three leaders also agreed to establish a regional peace-keeping force under the UN aegis and proposed to hold the fourth round of intra-Tajik peace talks in Almaty, the capital of Kazakhstan, in lieu of Moscow.
Though Karimov, Nazarbaev, and Akaev never openly opposed Russian presence in Tajikistan, their new common policy toward Tajikistan, meetings and discussions with Turajonzoda and other leaders of the Opposition, and Karimov's attempts to knock together an alliance between the Khujandis and the UTO caused Moscow's discontent which surfaced during the fourth round of the intra-Tajik peace talks. The round was held in Almaty in May 1995 concurrently with the CIS summit in Minsk at which Akaev, Karimov and Kazakhstan's vice-president pressured Rahmonov to share power with the UTO, and Kazakhstan did not sign the extension of the CIS peace-keepers mandate in Tajikistan. Though the Almaty round failed to produce any tangible progress toward ending the war it was very close to it, as a result of Nazarbaev's personal intervention. Nazarbaev personally brokered an agreement on some minor matters of the round's agenda but after the arrival of Albert Chernyshov, then Russia's deputy foreign minister and head of the Russian observer team, the Tajik government delegation disavowed the agreement. It was done for one good reason: to show that Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have no influence over their regional affairs and that they cannot succeed in managing them without Russia.
Since then Karimov has been keeping a low profile. With the poor showing of Yeltsin's camp in December 1995 elections to the State Duma, Karimov apparently decided not to spoil Yeltsin's chances in June 1996 presidential election by publicly rebuking heightened nationalistic rhetoric of Yeltsin's campaign. Karimov understood too well that only with Yeltsin in power would Uzbekistan have any chances to develop as an independent country, as did other CIS leaders. In a rare display of a common approach to the Tajik issue, Karimov dispatched Bakhtiyar Gulyamov, his national security adviser, to team up with Yuri Baturin and pacify an anti-Rahmonov mutiny of the 1st brigade of the Tajik army in February 1996.
At the same time, Karimov has been aggressively pursuing rapprochement with the United States as a means of counterbalancing Russia. In June 1996, he accomplished his three-year-old dream and was granted an audience with Bill Clinton at the White House. The Uzbek president hopes that large-scale American investment in the Uzbek economy and development of a substantial network of joint business ventures would in short term provide a much needed economic independence from Moscow.
Russia, in turn, has achieved some success in upsetting Karimov's plans for an effective CAU and a coherent front against her policy in the region. In August 1996, she was admitted to the CAU as an observer state after a prolonged lobbying of two "weaker links" in the union: Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Those two countries entered into a customs union with Russia that may force Uzbekistan to follow suit, if only out of economic common sense. To give a measure of legitimacy to the Rahmonov's regime, Primakov traveled to Bishkek in July 1996 and persuaded President Akaev to pay an official visit to Dushanbe. Shortly after Primakov's departure Akaev went to Tajikistan, rescuing Rahmonov from a de facto ostracism by regional and CIS leaders, orchestrated by the Uzbek leader. Moscow is trying to sideline Uzbekistan in the peace settlement emerging between the government and the UTO in Tajikistan by blocking Abdullojonov, Tashkent's ally, his party and Tajikistani Uzbeks from power sharing arrangement in the post-war Tajikistan at the risk of making peace in the country fragile and short-lived.
Yet Russo-Uzbek rivalry is not terminal. With all the antipathy toward Rahmonov and rejection of Russian "deceptive tactics," Karimov is caught between two fires -- Russian neo-imperial assertiveness and repercussions of the UTO's reappearance in the political life of Tajikistan. While the Tajik opposition's comeback is certain to reinvigorate Uzbek secular and Islamist opposition and complicate life for Karimov, he will always be able reach a deal with the Kremlin that would keep him in power and maybe continue in his role of a Russian ally, though under revised terms. Karimov's greater vulnerability to threats from the south rather than the north became apparent after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban and Taliban's initial military success in September-October 1996. Then, Karimov traveled to Moscow to seek a common policy to contain the Taliban. As a result, Moscow and Tashkent sponsored an alliance between ousted President Rabbani and General Dostam which managed to stop the march of the Taliban.
Russian policy-makers understand Karimov's centrality to the success of their Central Asian policy, resolution of the Tajik conflict in particular, and may demonstrate a greater, than in other cases, measure of flexibility in accommodating him. Many observers believe that the Uzbek president will use his rapprochement with Washington as a bargaining chip in cutting a deal with Moscow.
In the final analysis, an Iranian diplomat is right: Central Asia's destiny is in the hands of Moscow. The Kremlin still possesses enough might leverage to enact whichever policy it chooses to pursue in the region. The current course toward a confederation through "deeper integration" may be but an interlude in the near abroad policy which is a work in progress. Whether the policy succeeds or fails will depend, in part, on the CIS countries. Central Asian elites recognize Russia's legitimate geopolitical interests in the region, but, with the exception of Tajikistan under President Rahmonov, want to build up their independence and develop relations with Russia on the basis of respect, equality and mutual benefit. Russian attempts to enforce (re)integration, claim a heavy toll as is ex amplified by the continuation of the civil war in Tajikistan. Such scenarios of (re)integration hardly appeal to anyone in Central Asia or the CIS. They will only stimulate centrifugal tendencies and Russia may loose Central Asia forever, as President Karimov stated.
Attempts to bring the region back into a "confederation" are likely to turn into a political and economic catastrophe for Russia and may generate her own disintegration, the possibility which was made manifest to the Kremlin in Chechnya. The Chechen war has explicitly demonstrated that Russian political elites and public at large, with few exceptions, have a proclivity to step on the same rake they have previously hit in Tajikistan and Afghanistan. As a result, the Afghan adventure speeded up the disintegration of the Soviet Union, insecurity and instability came closer to Russian borders, and then --after military intervention in Chechnya-- crossed the borders and set in Russia herself. If methods used in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Chechnya to keep these countries within the sphere of Russian influence or, in case of Chechnya, as part of the Russian Federation are applied to (re) integrate the disintegrated, one can expect ramifications more destructive than these three crusades has had given Russia's current vulnerabilities.
The other possible scenario is integration, primarily economic, without emasculation of their independence and plans to establish a confederation. It would better appeal to the CIS countries, would not require overextension on the part of Russia, and will still secure her interests. It is clear that Central Asia with its vastly untapped potential and unexplored riches will figure prominently in Russia's near abroad policy. Which scenario Moscow would opt for will depend a great deal upon dynamics of the internal politics and eagerness of the international community to recognize CIS member-states as Russia's "backyard" and give her a free hand in deciding their future. The way the Tajik conflict is settled can become an early indication of Moscow's choice. The question posed by Katkov more than a century ago remains to be answered.
© Russia's Policy Toward Central Asia. Carnegie Endowment for International peace. Carnegie Moscow Center. Moscow. 1997.