RUSSIAN FORCES ARE THE MAIN STABILIZING FACTOR IN CENTRAL ASIA AND TRANSCAUCASIA

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Only Moscow finances Collective Peacekeeping Forces in Tajikistan and Abkhazia

Russian peacekeepers are currently operating in different hot spots of the former Soviet Union. Their biggest contingents are deployed in Transcaucasia (mainly in Abkhazia) and Tajikistan. In these regions stability and peace depend on their presence. Although the peacekeepers in hot spots are supposed to be represented by contingents from different countries, their backbone is formed by Russians. In Abkhazia there are 1,600 servicemen, and in Tajikistan there are about 8,000.

On July 29 Commander of Collective Peacekeeping Forces (CPF) in Tajikistan Lieutenant General Vladimir Chilindin announced that at present the citizens of Tajikistan account for 10% of the peacekeepers, being primarily privates and warrant officers. The main force of the CPF is represented by two battalions of the 201st Russian mechanized infantry division, the units of which are deployed in Dushanbe, Kurgan-Tyube, and Kulyab (south of the republic). Despite the corresponding agreements the Uzbek and Kirgiz battalions are not represented in the CPF. These countries also do not finance their share (15% and 10% correspondingly) of the peacekeepers maintenance which costs about 400,000 rubles monthly. The burden of expenses is laid on Russia and Tajikistan, added the commander.

Meanwhile peacekeeping expenses of Russia are justified. Military experts point out that from the point of view of long-term strategic interests of Russia its presence in the CIS regions is needed. For example, in Tajikistan this presence is dictated not only by the problems generated by the war in Afghanistan, and internal instability, but also by the remaining possibility of interethnic and regional conflicts in the territories of neighboring Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

At present Tashkent officials are extremely discontent with strengthening of the Russian-Tajik relations. Meanwhile it is known that in the territories of the Samarkand and Bukhara Regions the major part of the population is formed by ethnic Tajiks, who were registered as Uzbeks in 1930’s. Here there is a certain tension in relations between the population and representatives of the authorities. The tension is preserved in the Fergana Valley of Uzbekistan where the influence of Wahhabiyah ideas is high. The situation is also tense in the Osh Region of Kyrgyzstan where there is a conflict between Uzbeks and Kirgiz people. For enforcement of law President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov significantly increased the number of operational units of interior forces and militia in comparison to the Soviet times. The Uzbek army also became bigger in comparison to the Soviet times. However the massive exodus of the officers of Slavic nationalities lowered the combat-readiness of the troops. Tashkent leaves the Treaty on Collective Security (TCS), evidently excluding a possibility of assistance of CIS countries in case of conflicts in the country. Possibility of such conflicts is confirmed by the explosions which sounded in the center of the Uzbek capital in February.

Kyrgyzstan is an ally of Russia in the TCS. In case of any conflict in this country Moscow will assist Kyrgyzstan. Meanwhile passivity of Bishkek with regard to the peacekeepers problems in Tajikistan is alarming. It might be connected with the wish of the country to spend less money, although it is known that a miser pays twice. The border of Kyrgyzstan with Tajikistan is the longest.

Attitude towards the peacekeepers in the CIS is different, although all people understand that at present the peacekeepers are needed in the hot spots. “So far the main issue, disarming of armed forces of the opposition in accordance with the protocol, remains unsettled and causes a serious concern,” announced CPF Commander in Tajikistan Chilindin on July 27.

“If the CPF mandate includes certain tasks, we will be able to provide significant assistance to the government of Tajikistan and United Tajik Opposition (UTO) in disarming of armed forces of UTO, taking into account that their reintegration into the governmental power structures was already started,” pointed out Chilindin.

Thus, despite the improvement of the situation in Tajikistan, the issues of conflict resolving and reconciliation of warring parties are still vital in the country. The leadership of the republic is unable to cope with these problems on its own.

“The tasks of the CPF in this Central Asian republic including assistance to resolving of all disputes by political methods, being a guarantee of peace and security, provision of humanitarian aid to the population, observation of the course of fulfillment of peaceful inter-Tajik agreements, contribution to provision of human rights, and active participation in clearance of the territory from mines still remain vital,” stressed the general.

After the end of the civil war in Tajikistan in 1992 the CPF transported about 10,000 refugees, more than 800 tons of humanitarian cargoes, cleared 25 kilometers of roads, liquidated 103 mine fields, detected and destroyed 141,205 mines. According to Chilindin, on July 28 by the request of the government of Tajikistan a military plane of CPF delivered 1.5 tons of humanitarian cargo (mainly foods) to Khorog (one hour of operation of An-26 airplane and Mi-8 helicopter costs 7,000 rubles to the CPF). Chilindin added that in 1999 foods were delivered to the Gorno-Badakhshanskaya Autonomous Area which is difficult to access only by the CPF aviation. Chilindin highly appreciated achievements of official Dushanbe and UTO regarding fulfillment of the agreement on peace and national accord in Tajikistan. Chilindin stressed that one of priorities of the peacekeepers is strengthening of the second echelon of protection and guarding of the southern border of the CIS. Commander added that “the army of Tajikistan has been significantly strengthened.” The CPF actively assist the training of personnel for Tajik army.

Commander of the 201st mechanized infantry division Major General Valentin Orlov reported that the units of his division cover eleven directions of the Tajik-Afghan border, and guard important economic objects of the republic. For this purpose over 1,000 servicemen, several tens of armored vehicles, artillery and aviation are used daily.

According to Chilindin, command of the peacekeepers “attentively analyzes the internal and foreign military-political situation in Tajikistan.” This enables the general to say that there will not be any combat operations in Tajikistan and on its external borders due to a range of objective and subjective reasons. “However the peacekeeping forces permanently maintain their combat-readiness,” stressed Chilindin.

Mandate of the CPF stay in Tajikistan expires in August. Chilindin expressed his assurance that during the summit of the CIS leaders it would be prolonged again. According to him, in the prolongation of the mandate both the government of Tajikistan and the opposition leaders are interested. Representatives of the opposition frequently told the commander that. “Neither party made official or unofficial demands to withdraw the CPF from Tajikistan,” stressed the commander. At this point we need to remind that in April the Presidents of Russia and Tajikistan signed the treaty on status and conditions of stay of the Russian military base in Tajikistan. This base is organized on the premises of the units of the 201st division which will be still operationally subordinated to Privolzhsky Military District. Existence of the base is planned for five years with the further prolongation, if the parties so wish. According to the sources in the Defense Ministry, signing of the treaty does not mean expansion of the Russian military presence in the region, but legalizes the presence of Russian military units in Tajikistan more clearly. Both the Russian and Tajik party say that the base has a defensive character.

Thus the military presence of Russia in Central Asia is established seriously and for a long time. The situation in Abkhazia is quite different. During his press conference in Moscow Airborne Forces Commander Colonel General Georgy Shpak announced that certain forces in Georgia counter-act to the Russian peacekeepers. According to him, the situation here “remains very tense.”

In Abkhazia “mine warfare on the roads, attacks of our checkpoints, and provocations of bandits continue,” says Shpak. As an example he reminded that a week ago a checkpoint of Russian peacekeepers at the railway station in Gudauta was attacked, as a result of which two soldiers were heavily wounded. Shpak stressed that the Russian peacekeepers “fulfill a huge peacekeeping task in Abkhazia and especially on the line of separation.” “If we leave, there will be war. There is no doubt, and everybody agrees with this,” added Shpak. He also stressed that the Russian peacekeepers should continue fulfillment of their task in Abkhazia “despite a certain opposition on the part of Georgia.” Thus the military leadership understands the necessity of continuation of peacekeeping operations in the hot spots of the CIS. Russia in this case is not only a stabilizing force, but also a factor of protection of its interests in the former Soviet republics.

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