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150 Years of Cooperation

Interview - October 6, 2014

The Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the Republic of Tajikistan, HE Igor Lyakin-Frolov, talks to United World about Russia’s long history of diplomatic engagement with Tajikistan. This developed notably a century and a half ago during the time of the Russian Empire, when the Tajik Emirs officially became vassals of the Tsar during the 1860s. Ambassador Lyakin-Frolov discusses the expansion of relations since this time, development of the country during the Soviet period and the strong, economic, strategic and cultural ties that exist between Russia and Tajikistan today.

Could you please discuss the long history of contact between Russia and Tajikistan, the rapid rate of development achieved during the Soviet era and how these two historic influences continue to affect current relations between the two countries?

On April 8th, 2014 Russia and Tajikistan marked the 22nd year of diplomatic relations which were signed into effect on the 25th of May, 1993 as the Agreement on Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Aid.

Russian-Tajik relations have a long history. Over the course of several centuries there has always been two-way commerce; commercial routes from Tajikistan into Russia ran along the Volga, the Don and the Caspian Sea. Just one century ago (before 1920), part of the territory of modern day Tajikistan was within the Bukharan Emirate, which enjoyed mutually beneficial relations with the Russian Empire.

But the most significant part of our shared history is, of course, included with that of the Soviet Union.

Tajikistan was one of the fifteen republics of the former Soviet Union, and this inclusion in the USSR really allowed Tajiks to preserve their national language, culture and literature. Throughout the 1930s to the 1950s, tens of thousands of teachers, doctors, geologists, engineers and other specialists from different republics of the Soviet Union came to Tajikistan.

It was during these years that modern industry, agriculture, education, health-services and the sciences appeared in Tajikistan. Decades of living within the same country, as well as tight political, economic and social connections have led to the formation of tight bonds in the post-Soviet period.

After the collapse of the USSR, Tajikistan went through an incredibly difficult period, during which more than 100,000 residents of the Republic of Tajikistan were killed, and $7 billion USD worth of damage was inflicted on the country’s infrastructure. The period following the war was marked by difficulty in establishing an independent and unified Tajik government.

It is doubtful that anyone would deny the fact that Russia stood by Tajikistan throughout this time and did what it could to aid the peace process. As a result, Russia and Tajikistan became close strategic partners. The approaches of Russia and Tajikistan to international and regional problems are often very close or coincide completely; we have similar opinions and views on the current world order and the international rule of law and we closely cooperate within the framework of several international organizations.

Tajikistan is a reliable partner and ally in the post-Soviet territory, including through the framework of organizations such as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), The Eurasian Union and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The Tajik leadership is supportive of strengthening the CIS and the CSTO, and signs most documents produced by these organizations.

At the moment, the prospect of Tajikistan’s joining the Customs Union is being discussed at a very high level. For Russia, Tajikistan is an important factor in restraining the flow of terrorism and drug trafficking. Besides that, Tajikistan is one of the largest suppliers of labor in Russia; several studies suggest that at any given time, there are more than 1.5 million Tajik citizens living in Russia.

Today, one can say with ease and confidence that Tajik-Russian relations are on the rise. The President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, substantially described and outlined the current state of Russian-Tajik relations during a recent meeting with President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon at the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization: “We consider Tajikistan a very close partner and ally. These aren’t just strategic relations we’re talking about: these are warm relations between allies. We value this highly and are determined to continue our partnership in the same vein.”

Prior to this, on April 23rd of this year, Emomali Rahmon spoke along the same lines during his address to the parliament, during which he underlined that the content and character of bilateral relations between our two countries defines not only our geopolitical interests and economic pragmatism, but also our spiritual, cultural and human ties.

Our political dialogue is always developing and has serious potential. Despite the fact that the Tajik leadership engages in a foreign policy of multiple vectors, Russia remains one of Dushanbe's main and closest partners. We are connected by mutual interests in terms of security, economic ties, mass labor migration and many other things. As it stands, it is logical for Tajikistan to consider ties with Russia a priority and to act accordingly in the framework of regional and international organizations.

Recently, we have seen an increase in the intensity of our bilateral relations. In this year alone, four meetings between the leaders of our countries took place. Besides that, representatives of the State Duma and the Federation Council––Sergei Naryshkin and Valentina Matvienko––visited Dushanbe, and a member of the Lower Chamber of Parliament of the Republic of Tajikistan, visited Russia. One must also note that the first foreign visit of newly elected Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sirodjiddin Aslov was to Moscow. A representative of the Upper Chamber of the Tajik Parliament is planning to visit Moscow in the end of October. All of this point to the high level of mutual interests shared by our two countries in the future development of our bilateral ties.

Russia remains the main commercial-economic partner of the Republic of Tajikistan. Hundreds of thousands of Tajik citizens work in our country. In one word, we are bound tightly together by indestructible chains. We have such a solid foundation in our bilateral relations that there is no way back.

I’d also like to mention that Tajikistan is one of the only countries whose citizens are allowed to have dual citizenship in Russia. The Russian embassy in Dushanbe yearly processes around 3000 citizenship applications.

On what level does the Russian Federation and the Republic of Tajikistan cooperate in terms of development, commerce and education, allowing for the movement of people between both countries and the improvement of the investment climate?

In 2013, the exchange of commercial goods exceeded $1 billion USD. From the period extending from January through to July of this year, already $855 million USD have been exchanged: if the pattern continues, this will exceed last year’s figure by about 60%. Of note is also the fact that many petroleum products, auto-manufacturing and technological products are delivered from Russia to Tajikistan. Meeting the demands of our Tajik partners halfway, Russia recently canceled custom tariffs for petroleum products, which in turn had the effect of essentially tripling the import of Russian refined petrochemical products. This agreement allows the Republic of Tajikistan to save around $300 million USD a year. Cooperation in the field of industry is also developing at a rapid pace: The Saratov-based company, Trolza, exports auto parts from which Dushanbe builds modern trolley busses.

An example of the success of our economic cooperation can be seen in the activity of the Russian company, Gruppa GAZ, which has facilitated the transfer of over 153 GAZ busses and 200 LIAZ busses to Tajikistan over the past 10 years.

There are over 25 active Russian-Tajik enterprises. Russian mobile operators such as MegaFon and Beeline are incredibly active in the country. Subsidiaries of the Russian company Gazprom help in the search for hydrocarbons. Sarikamysh, a town located in Tajikistan’s northern province, Sughd, holds Central Asia’s largest well, reaching a depth of over 6450 meters and from which we are expecting impressive results. If hydrocarbons are found there, this will allow the Republic to supply itself with its own oil and gas for several decades. Last year, more than $30 million USD were invested in another subsidiary of Gazprom called Gazpromneft-Tajikistan. The amount of Russian investment by companies working in Tajikistan in 2013 totaled around $80 million USD. Tajikistan exports a significant amount of cotton, vegetables and fruits to Russia.

I think much of this progress can be attributed to the activity and livelihood of the Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation, which works to further and strengthen ties between our two countries.

I’d also like to say several words about Russian financial aid to Tajikistan. Financial aid is delivered both through established government channels and through international organizations. I’ll give you some of the latest examples. In the middle of September, Tajikistan received more than $5 million USD from the World Food Program to be used for projects concerning the development of medical support and the provision of food for several regions of the Republic, as well as the daily provision of meals for more than 350,000 students in primary and secondary schools. The amount of Russian aid to Tajikistan connected with the provision of food alone is close to $60 million USD.

Another good example is Russia’s contribution of more than $6.7 million USD to the budget of the UN Development Program (UNDP) for a program called The Improvement of Conditions for 1 million People Living in 9 Regions of the Republic.

Many students from Tajikistan come to Russia for a university education. Last year alone, 1,133 Tajik students were accepted into Russian universities. More than 5,000 Tajik citizens currently study in Russia. For the 2014-2015 academic year, more than 800 tuition-free spots have been allotted to Tajik citizens in different universities in Russia. With local partners, we hold annual events that deliver information about education in Russia, which allows recent, secondary school graduates to inform themselves about the Russian educational system, different programs and requirements placed on aspiring students. We recently had an exhibition in April, and universities from more than 20 Russian provinces participated.

Several universities also participate in exchanges, such as: Moscow State Linguistic University, Moscow State University of Culture and Art, The Pushkin State Institute of Russian Language and others. Our activities are wholly welcomed by local universities, such as Tajik National University, The Slavonic University and other leading institutions of higher education.

In recent years, labor migration has gained more and more importance. It is reasonable to say that the number of Tajik migrant workers in Russia will only grow with time. Controlling this process is both necessary and beneficial to the Russian Federation and to Tajikistan. Tajik workers have very advantageous working conditions in Russia that no other country of the CIS (with the exception of countries already in the Customs Union) enjoys; there are relaxed laws in place for citizens of Tajikistan that allows them up to two weeks to register with the Federal Migration Service, and they are allowed to extend their stay for up to three years without having to leave the country.

Despite this, illegal immigration is, unfortunately, a problem. Official statistics indicate that the number of Tajik citizens who have been barred from entering the Russian Federation for periods of 3 -5 years has risen to more than 272,000. The question of migrant labor is incredibly sensitive and, in certain situations, can become a nasty point of contention in our bilateral relations. Both sides must observe incredible reserve and weigh all their decisions carefully. However, I am confident this problem will be solved by the process of regulating the flow of Tajik immigrants in and out of the country on a highly effective level.

How would you describe the partnership between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Tajikistan when it comes to issues concerning security in Afghanistan, ensuring regional stability, preventing the smuggling of narcotics and combatting terrorism?

We pay significant attention to maintaining joint efforts in providing regional security, combatting international terrorism, religious extremism and drug trafficking. Nowadays, this issue is particularly important because of the withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan. We are continuing to monitor the transition of power to the Afghan security forces, and are certain that international security-assistance forces will fulfill their obligations entrusted to them by the UN.

Security in Russia is highly dependent on protecting the Tajik-Afghan border; that why we consider this border as an area of common responsibility in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Since 2005, a Council on Border Protection under the auspices of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) has been supporting Tajiktan’s border guards. In November 2013, a program entitled, The Development of Cooperation of Border Guards of the Russian Federation and Tajikistan, came to be the basis for mutual border protection.

I would even dare to assert that the military cooperation between Russia and Tajikistan demonstrates the nature of a true and tested alliance. Our countries are members of the CSTO with all the responsibilities associated therein. The Russian side is Tajikistan’s major partner in terms of military and technical cooperation. This can be explained by our historical and traditional connections, as well as by the Russian military presence on the territory of Tajikistan. We recently signed the Program on Modernization of the Military Forces of Tajikistan agreement, which will entail a massive transfer of Russian armaments and military equipment to Tajikistan.

It is well-known that our countries cooperate effectively in terms of counter-drug trafficking. In the beginning of this year, Russia provided Tajikistan with material and technical facilities worth $900,000 USD, which were bought in accordance with the Program of the Federal Drug Control Service to the Anti-Drug Agency under the President of the Republic of Tajikistan for 2012-2014. The total value of this equipment is more than $5.4 million USD.

What is the significance of Russian military personnel in Tajikistan for bolstering the country’s defense capabilities?

The largest Russian military base (RMB) abroad is deployed on the territory of Tajikistan; a Russian military satellite station is also based here.

An agreement on the Conditions of Stay of the Russian Military Base on the Territory of Tajikistan was signed during an official visit of Russian President, Vladimir Putin, in October 2012. That agreement ensured the long-term military deployment (until 2042) in a region key to international security. It is of a great importance for providing security and stability in Tajikistan.

It is necessary to point out that according to the above-mentioned agreement, the Russian military base protects the interests of both Russia and Tajikistan. It provides security in Tajikistan. In case of an escalation in the political situation in the region, a threat to sovereignty and independence, or in case of aggression against Tajikistan from the side of any state, terrorist organizations or illegal military formations, the Russian military base will act in accordance with a decision made by the Supreme Commanders of the Armed Forces of both parties in accordance with the countries’ respective legislation.

How would you describe the significance of the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit for relations between the Russian Federation and Tajikistan?

The SCO Summit which took place on September 11th and 12th, 2014, was a great event of international interest. Russian President Vladimir Putin praised the high level of organization at the Summit.

We assess the outcomes of the Summit as very successful. The SCO state members support each other in different issues of international and regional importance, including the situation in Afghanistan. The Summit members fully agreed on a number of fundamental issues, including the situation in Ukraine (though this issue was not raised as a separate topic). All these issues were reflected in the Dushanbe Declaration of the Heads of the SCO Member-States.

The Summit outcome saw the further development of joint projects in economic, infrastructure-related and humanitarian issues. A proposal to form an SCO transport system, along with the usage of the transit potential of the Trans-Siberian railway in connection to the creation of a “Silk Road Economic Belt” as proposed by China, is full of great perspectives and opportunity.

At the Summit, a number of meetings between the President of Russia with the leaders of Tajikistan, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and the Kyrgyz Republic took place, and numerous documents regulating the process of obtaining membership in the Organization were also adopted. This is an important step towards the expansion of the SCO: it contributes to the process of the formation of legal, administrative and financial conditions for the admission of new members.

The number of countries with different approaches to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization strengthens both the local and international authority and importance of the Organization. During the period of the Russian Chairmanship––which began after the Dushanbe Summit––we are determined to begin the process of expanding the membership of the Organization, simultaneously concentrating on the extending of our cooperation with Observer States and Partners in Dialogue. We plan to hold the next summit in July of the coming year. More than 100 different activities of various importance and nature are planned, both economic and humanitarian.

Please tell us about the activities of the Russian Embassy both here in Dushanbe and in other parts of the country when it comes to providing access to the studies of both Russian language and Russian culture?

Cooperation and mutual enrichment of the peoples of our two countries in the humanitarian sector has a long and rich history and tradition. I am sure that the deep respect of the Russians for the culture, the language and the way of life of the people of the East, connected with a sincere interest in the study of their ancient and rich history became a basis for further cooperation, which resulted in the establishment of the science, education, art and architecture of contemporary Dushanbe.

Despite the importance of our military-political and economic partnership, I believe that investment in education, science and culture is no less a priority and, without doubt, equally as promising. It is impossible to perceive investment here purely in financial terms. With my deep respect to our Tajik partners, not just taking into account the preservation of the colossal cultural and scientific potential of the republic, but offering practical support to our mutual projects grants meaning to the expansion of our common spiritual – humanitarian context.

Of course, efforts to present the current condition of bilateral ties in terms of science, education and culture would be narrow if we did not pay attention to the multi-faceted activities of Russian representatives in Tajikistan.

This includes the representatives of Rossotrudnichestvo (The Federal Russian Cooperation Organization for CIS Countries) and the Russian Centre of Science and Culture in Dushanbe, both of which arrange a wide range of cultural and educational events. They hold evening events related to music, literature, the arts and poetry. The themes of these events are unusually varied – they hold them on the eve of national holidays and on anniversaries from our history, culture and art. Representatives of Tajik society, our countrymen, students and school pupils all take part in these meetings, which include round tables, photo exhibitions, conferences, film festivals, concerts and master classes. However I’d like to point out that our priority audience is the young generation of Tajikistan.

Last year The Days of Russian Cinema became notable events in the cultural life of the republic, which included a performance of actors from a Moscow independent theatre who performed Master and Margarita, concerts from both the Tikhon Khrennikov String-Quartet and the famous pianist, the Russian People’s Artist, Yuri Rozum. This year we successfully hosted the Days of Russian Spiritual Culture exhibition featuring Tatar Shamail (a form of traditional fine art connected with Islam) of the 19th and 20th century, the Days of Culture and Education of Tomsk Region and a series of other events.

The embassy and representatives of Rossotrudnichestvo (The Federal Russian Cooperation Organization for CIS Countries) strive to maintain the use of the Russian language in Tajikistan, which continues to be a vital component of everyday life in Tajikistan. The Tajik leadership is fully supportive of our activities in this sphere. We’re happy to note that according to a law signed into effect by the President Emomali Rahmon, every educational institution is required to offer instruction in Russian. According to the Ministry of Education of Tajikistan, there are 17 secondary schools that are taught exclusively in Russian. In 166 schools, instruction is available in Russian. The demand for instruction in Russian often leads to overcrowding in schools and kindergartens.

As a result of a visit to Tajikistan in March of 2014 by the Federation Council, which was headed by Valentina Matvienko, over two dozen schools of Tajikistan were given more than 6,200 textbooks. Moreover, during a meeting with the faculty of Russian Tajik Slavonic University, Valentina Matvienko agreed to supply the university with the proper equipment for the building of additional campuses.

Despite the enormous amount of aid from Russia, it is still not enough to satisfy the needs of Tajikistan for modern academic literature. A more lucrative model of aide might be the installation of a publishing house here in Tajikistan that would be able to supply schools with the required literature; the Tajik leadership has shown willingness to engage and cooperate in such a project.

The strengthening of the position of the Russian language in Tajikistan is impossible without cultural and educational activities and exhibitions such as the Days of Russian Language and Literature and other joint projects. But even this is not enough. There aren’t enough Russian teachers in Tajikistan. Attempts to attract Russian-language specialists to Tajikistan were not fruitful. One solution to this problem could be further investment from the Russian side in the training and educating of Russian-specialists. Russian Tajik Slavonic University would largely be responsible for such work.

Do you have anything to add to conclude the interview?

I hope that this interview with help readers understand the nature of Russian-Tajik relations as well as Russia’s relations with other Central Asian states. Unfortunately, in the Western media, Russia’s intentions in Central Asia are falsified and given an utterly subjective appraisal.

I’d like to underline that Tajikistan has carved out for itself a foreign-policy that is favorable not only to Russia and neighboring countries, but also for Tajikistan itself. The fact that the interests of Russia and other countries in the CIS, the Eurasian Union, the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization often coincide is not surprising: it’s not just a matter of our geo-political vicinity and shared history, but rather because of our dependence on one another in areas such as security and humanitarian, cultural and economic cooperation. We don’t force our values on anyone.

I’d like to add before closing that Russia’s cooperation with Tajikistan and its activities in Central Asia is wholly advantageous to countries of the West such as the European Union and the United States. This is largely due to our commitment to the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking, as well as a number of other global problems. I think it would be wise for everyone involved to spend our strength and resources on the things that unite us, given the complexity of the current world order.