Free Cheese In A Mouse-Trap
Everyone loves free cheese. How about free tanks and Kalashnikovs? Russians have an interesting word for that — khalyava. It was a general assumption that Tajikistan was receiving khalyava tanks, aircrafts, Kalashnikovs from Moscow and hundreds of its students were attending Russian military colleges for free.
Now, however, the situation is changing drastically. Moscow is going to sell its weapons and equipments to Tajikistan at world market prices, which are very high, and will ask Tajikistan to pay tuition and board for each Tajik student who is attending a Russian military college.
The free cheese for the poorest post-Soviet country was shown as a sign of philanthropy and special friendship called ‘strategic partnership’. The changes came in response to the Tajik’s persistent demands to have Russians pay for the hosting of the Russian base. Dushanbe officials, who always obey Moscow, became greedy, seeing how Kyrgyzs were receiving multi-million dollar payments from both the United States and Russia for hosting their military bases in “Manas” and “Kant”.
Therefore, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, for the first time in his presidency, declined to attend a Moscow summit in February, 2009. Although he did change his mind later on, and visited Moscow again, at the end of February, to take a fishing trip with the Russian President in Zavidovo, he returned to Tajikistan empty handed.
While the Tajik demand to have Russians pay for their bases in Tajikistan was portrayed as ridiculous in the state-controlled Russian media, with such articles entitled as, “Tajikistan is offering Russia Love for Money”, it ricocheted into the latest Russo-Kyrgyz agreement on a second Russian base in Kyrgyzstan, where Moscow is willing to pay full rent and ecological damage costs. “Are these monetary payments for love?” asks the Tajik media.
Fundamentally, Dmitriy Medvedev had promised to review the money issue during his visit to Tajikistan at the end of July. He had stated that he will order his cabinet to find a solution and a solution was found. Now, Russia wants to monetize all its military ties with the small Central Asian country of Tajikistan.
Medvedev’s aide Sergei Prikhodko emphasized that the armament of the Tajik army is 100% Russian-made and gave a statement to ‘Kommersant’ (01.08.2009) that
“the Russian Federation will discuss with Tajikistan the conditions to the accommodation of its base in Tajikistan and the provision of Tajik army with the Russian military technical equipment in a package.”
It seems like a small partner could be as equal to a huge one in this ‘strategic partnership’, however, now there is deep concern in Dushanbe. What will Dushanbe do if Russia pays some symbolic rent money, but sends a large expensive bill for the tanks, aircrafts and other military equipment? Who will win and who will lose?
Tajikistan did not buy from Russia any military technical equipment, but received it as a gift, said the Tajik Defense Minister, Sherali Khairulloev in an interview to Asia-Plus. He also said that 1750 Tajiks studied at the Russian military colleges during last several years. According to him this education could be as expensive as $20 000 to $180 000 per year.
However, the minister himself is a Russian-educated, strongly pro-Russian Tajik official. He speaks better in Russian than Tajik, and has many Russian friends, particularly in the Russian military establishments.
Parviz Mullojonov, an independent Tajik expert, on the other hand, states that the free Russian military technical equipment is a myth (Asia-Plus, 20.08.2009). The Russian officials like to point to the agreement signed amongst the CSTO members
‘but forget to add that there are significant amounts of restrictions. For instance, acquired military equipment must be received only by the national units included into collective rapid deployment forces. In such situation only, will the price be the same as for the Russian army itself. Another important restriction is that if the country leaves the pact then the privilege will be liquidated and the differences between export and agreed prices rewritten as a state loan’.
Hence, it is not such a huge loss for Tajikistan to agree with the Russian proposals. The same goes for the education cost of Tajik officers in Russian colleges, which Tajikistan could afford and has had been paying for till 2005. Russia itself made the military education free when France and India began to educate military cadets from Tajikistan for free. The quality of the Russian-educated officers in comparison with those who attended French and Indian military schools is considerably inferior, says a military expert in Dushanbe.
Ultimately, the main question now is how much will Russia pay to rent off huge fenced areas in three parts of Tajikistan – near Dushanbe, in Kulob and Qurghonteppa? The garrison of Russian army in Tajikistan is the largest military base outside Russia. One could predict the possible rent of it having in mind the story of Okno (Window) space surveillance complex in Norak, 68 kilometers east of Dushanbe. Russia took over this unique optoelectronic space object tracking system in 2004 and is renting the land for it for $0.30 a year. (!)
Tajikistan had been asking $50 million annually, but agreed to Russian conditions, because Moscow promised in exchange for the base and the Okno system to write off $242 million of Tajik debt and to invest over $2 billion in the Tajik economy. The debt was written off, but Tajikistan did not receive $2 billion investments.
In sum, the rent for the military base could not be as big, as Tajiks think. Who is enjoying a free meal or khalyava in the deal made during Tajikistan’s harsh times now? As to the free cheese, Russians have a good saying: the free cheese can only be found in a mouse-trap. However, it applies perhaps to small mouses only.