June 5, 2022, will be remembered as a turning point in the history of Kazakhstan. On that day, an overwhelming majority of our people turned out and voted in favor of a series of proposed reforms to the constitution, intended to create a fairer system with greater transparency, accountability, and expanded freedoms. The sweeping democratic changes put forward on this referendum day, are deep-rooted and systemic. They follow a meaningful process of listening to the people and taking on board their grievances.
The issues that require addressing are many and varied, affecting every aspect of Kazakhstan’s social, political, and economic culture. This long-term reforms program is all building toward the New Kazakhstan vision, created by The Head of State, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. New Fair Kazakhstan is a country with the human rights, freedoms, competitiveness, and opportunities of Kazakhstan’s modern contemporaries, combined with the culture and traditions of our Central Asian heritage.
Among the significant innovative reforms is Government Decree No. 258, known as “The Follow-up Plan for Human Rights and the Rule of Law”, adopted by Kazakhstan’s government on April 28, 2022. This proposal includes 27 actions divided into eight sections designed to protect and expand the rights of the people, focusing on marginalized and minority groups across Kazakhstan. It is pursuant to Decrees No’ 871 and 597 of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, dated April 13, this year, and June 9, 2021, “On further actions of the Republic of Kazakhstan in the field of human rights”.
Measures within this Follow-up Plan are unprecedented in Kazakhstan’s 31 years of independence since the Soviet era faded away. They are aimed at eliminating discrimination against women, promoting equal rights and opportunities for men and women, protecting the rights to freedom of association, the rights of persons with disabilities, victims of human trafficking, migrants, stateless persons, and refugees, as well as improving mechanisms for interaction with UN bodies.
Ending Discrimination Against Women and Ensuring Gender Equality
Previous proposals passed by this government kickstarted the process of tackling discrimination against women—for example by removing the list of jobs that women were restricted from taking up, thereby expanding employment opportunities.
The new plan seeks to expand on these gains by promoting the commitments to gender policy at the local government level and giving women a more powerful voice on policy through increased representation in government and state-related advisory roles. It also calls for new mechanisms to prevent violence against women and children and includes a proposal for accession to the International Labor Organization Convention on the Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the Workplace.
Freedom of Association
The plan calls to include two new draft laws to expand the freedoms afforded to citizen-led organizations. The first of these would expand the rights of citizens to form public associations and organize their activities, reducing state interference in the process. The second would improve legislation and law enforcement surrounding trade unions and labor conflict resolution. This section of the plan was drafted with the support and recommendations of the International Labor Organization.
Persons with Disabilities
This section of the plan envisages a series of proposals to be put before the Presidential administration by the end of 2022 with proposals for non-financial incentives for businesses and organizations in the social and banking sectors and other service providers, to ensure increased opportunities and accessibility to persons with disabilities. Such proposals are not only a moral imperative but as with many of the clauses, they are also geared toward creating the circumstances for meaningful social and economic impact for the individuals themselves as well as for the wider society.
Criminal Justice and Prison Reform
This is the most extensive and detailed part of the plan, once more building on the existing process of reforms to ensure that its benefits are felt across every part of society, especially those most often overlooked, marginalized, and mistreated. Its measures will materially affect the work of the government, the Supreme Court, lawmakers, prison officers, civil society organizations, and the business sector, offering a fundamental and vital overhaul to existing processes.
Much of the work outlined in this section includes proposals to modernize existing procedures, such as applications for early release owing to illness or disability (and updating the list of diseases that qualify the sufferer for early release), improving the functionality of the centralized database of the penitentiary system, streamlining the appeal submission process while ensuring full confidentiality, and automating the selection process for drafting a list of jurors. Also on the penitentiary system, there are proposals for the construction of 17 modern penitentiary institutions to reduce overcrowding, as well as renovating and upgrading existing institutions.
Also included in this section is a liberalization of the administration and oversight of human rights organizations, to ensure they can carry out their work to protect the rights of those they serve without unnecessary and unwanted interference and the establishment of a working group on their protection. In terms of the legislative branch, specific articles and laws to be amended include provisions on discriminatory policies, administrative arrest, and “dissemination of knowingly false information.”
Finally, there are regulations on investigating torture in accordance with the Istanbul Protocol and examining the use of physical force and “special means” by law enforcement, specifically by GP officers.
Victims of Human Trafficking, Migrants, Stateless Persons and Refugees
Kazakhstan’s efforts in recent years to tackle the scourge of human trafficking have been recognized in the US Government’s annual “Trafficking in Persons Report.” In the report, it was noted that Kazakhstan is “making significant efforts,” that the country has increased the number of trafficking convictions for a second consecutive year (including of a complicit official), and that the government has expanded its collaboration with NGOs and international organizations.
As part of these efforts, the plan calls to introduce the draft law on combating human trafficking and to adopt the government’s 2024-2026 action plan on preventing and combating crimes related to human trafficking. This is based on findings from the existing action plan and recommendations provided in a special report of the Commission on Human Rights. Recognizing the global nature of such issues, one article in the plan also calls for the government of Kazakhstan to propose international treaties to safeguard the human rights of stateless persons and foreign nationals temporarily residing in Kazakhstan.
Interaction with UN Bodies
Many of the issues identified in creating this plan can be tackled and reduced by working with international organizations and relying on the existing corpus of research and protocols. In this spirit, the plan calls for the continued implementation of human rights assessment indicators, based on the model of the Global Indicators developed by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The Road to Modern Democracy
The Follow-up Plan for Human Rights and the Rule of Law is yet another step on Kazakhstan’s ongoing journey to build a better future for its citizens. We are under no illusions as to the scale of the task ahead — the road will be long and patience will be required on all sides.
The most recent national address of President Tokayev launches a new political era for Kazakhstan. Political modernization stressed by the President can give significant impetus to the nation-building project “strong President – influential Parliament – accountable Government”. Yet as President highlights some pressing issues related to a plurality of opinion, freedom of speech, domestic violence, and socio-economic development remain to be solved.
Nonetheless, I am convinced that these reforms in aggregate will lead the country to a brighter economic and social future. They will encourage a more motivated and engaged middle class, with improved opportunities. They will establish new channels to respond to our citizens’ voices. In an age of regional and global turmoil, when concerns of democratic backsliding are extensively felt in many countries, I am confident the New Kazakhstan is traveling the opposite road – The road to a New Fair Kazakhstan.
Further details on the approval of Kazakhstan’s Follow-up Plan for Human Rights and the Rule of Law can be found on the official website of The Ministry of Justice
Kyrgyz-Tajik Conflict: Small States Becoming Victim In Games Of The Great Powers
The Military conflict on September 14th 2022, on the border of two post-soviet countries- Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan took lives of more than 90 people from both sides. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan considers that the events which took place on September 14-17, 2022 necessary to state as a pre-planned armed act of aggression by Tajikistan against the sovereign state Kyrgyzstan. As a result of the inhuman actions of the Tajik side 59 citizens of Kyrgyzstan were killed and 140 were injured, about 140,000 people were forced to evacuate. But the Tajik officials and mass media actively accusing Kyrgyzstan of aggression and violation of non-attack agreements. Both sides blame each other for the outbreak of violence. As the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan declared that the information of the Ministry of Foreign affairs and other authorities of Tajikistan did not correspond to reality. The Kyrgyz side has all the evidences (photo and video materials) that recorded the beginning of the aggression, as well as all the crimes committed by the Tajik military on the territory of Kyrgyzstan. If necessary, the Kyrgyz side is ready to provide this evidence.
The Kyrgyz-Tajik border 950 kilometers long. At the moment, Bishkek and Dushanbe have recognized only 520 kilometers of a common border, the rest of the sections since the collapse of the USSR are considered controversial and run along villages and roads.
The conflict has many aspects: here are territorial disputes, competition for the possession of water resources, and inter-ethnic problems. It is also associated with activities on the border of criminal structures, with smuggling, with drug trafficking. Radical religious organizations may also be involved in it. Therefore, all relations in the conflict zone between the Kyrgyz and Tajik sides are extremely aggravated. And the reason for the next clashes can be anything, any petty domestic situation.
In spring 2021 a similar bloody conflict took place on the border of two republics. As it turned out later, this escalation had domestic reasons. It was provoked by a dispute over the sharing of a water distribution point located between Kyrgyz and Tajik villages, which ended with a fight afterwards by killing each other by weapons. The state border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan is 950 kilometers, and 520 km of it has not yet passed the demarcation procedures. Despite that the Central Asian states gained independence more than thirty years ago.
The reasons of the latest invasion of Tajikistan to the territory of Kyrgyzstan still not clear. What could be the reason of breaking the Agreement of non invasion? Why it started the same day of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit? Why its happening after the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict? Why Post-Soviet countries are in war with each other? Scholars and some officials have various assumptions about the latest bloody clash. “There are provocateurs and third forces.” – says the head of the government of Kyrgyzstan Akylbek Zhaparov.
The military conflict started the same date of the summit of the SCO in Samarkand. On September 14, the governments of China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan signed a long-anticipated agreement to push ahead with construction of a railroad linking these countries that will establish a shorter route to Europe bypassing sanctions-hit Russia. So according to some Kyrgyz officials the clashes on Tajik and Kyrgyz borders started after the signing of the agreement about the construction of the railway-plausibly as a warning about the discontent of Russia, which throughout the history of the Central Asian countries has tried to make the region as economically dependent as possible. Moreover the President of Tadjikistan Emomali Rahmon wouldn’t invade into territory of Kyrgyzstan without Putin’s support.
If the first group of people considering that two countries are in this battle because of Russian tactics, the second group of people like the Deputy of the State Duma of the Russian Federation Alexei Chepa noting that the cause of this conflict lies not only in unresolved disputes between the two countries. They suppose the external forces, primarily enemies of Russia, have decided to take advantage of the situation and create conflicts in the region. As they use the internal problems of Tajikistan and the conflict situation with Afghanistan, where the United States left a huge amount of weapons and a certain contingent of troops. And all this are aimed at using conflicts to further discredit Russia. We see this in the example of conflicts arising in Kazakhstan, Armenia and Azerbaijan and in some countries of the Caucasus.
This conflict would repeatedly escalate and next time would lead more death of civilians until the demarcation and delimitation of Kyrgyz-Tajik borders process would be finished and signed. This kind of military battles can lead to the unleashing of a large-scale interstate conflict, as well as to the destabilization of the situation in the Central Asian region as well.
Shanghai Cooperation Organization: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
On September 15 and 16, 2022, the extended format of participants of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) are scheduled to meet in Samarkand, the ancient Silk Road Karavansarai in Uzbekistan. SCO —founded in 2001— is the first international organization founded by Beijing. It started as the Shanghai Five with the task of demarcating borders between China and its Central Asian neighbors: Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Russia, and Tajikistan, following the breakup of the Soviet Union. The meeting in Samarkand marks the 21st Head of State summit of this organization, which is growing in international importance. All Heads of member states have confirmed their attendance.
SCO came to the attention of Washington policy makers, when Vladimir Putin used it as a vehicle to set a timeline on U.S. bases in Central Asia there to support operations in Afghanistan. Through direct engagement of President Bush with Chinese President Hu Jintao, this deadline was not repeated in the communique of the following year. This demonstrated Beijing’s unwillingness to have an open rift with Washington and made clear China’s leadership of the organization. Beijing’s interest in preventing anti-American statements has changed in the last 17 years. With the return of Great Power Competition in the Washington-Beijing relationship, who leads the SCO and what is on its agenda should be of considerable interest in Washington.
The SCO is no longer just a talk-shop between Russia and China with its Central Asian neighbors, but is now expanding to the Gulf, South Asia, South East Asia, and the Caucasus. The expanded membership of the SCO makes up 24% of the global GDP, more than half that of the G7 and more than that of the European Union in 2020. SCO’s expanded participant list accounts for 44% of the global population.
If those seeking membership status at the upcoming meeting in Samarkand achieve their goal, the SCO will include in its ranks: Azerbaijan and Armenia who recently fought a war in Nagorno-Karabakh; Saudi Arabia and Iran, competitors over the direction of the Gulf; and current members India and Pakistan, historic adversaries. Afghanistan and Mongolia are currently observer states in the organization. Partner countries of the organization are Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey, and Sri Lanka. The status of dialogue partner state will likely be granted to Egypt, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia in September. Bahrain and Maldives are next in line for the latter status.
In 2005, the US had an opportunity to pursue observer status with the SCO. Those who supported it, saw it as opportunity for the US to shape this organization and for Afghanistan to reconnect with its neighbors with American support. Others thought our being an observer of the SCO would lend legitimacy to this nascent organization. Yet, overtime, flaws in the latter stance surfaced and was repeated by the Obama Administration’s failed attempt to isolate China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
In a vote on April 7 for the suspension of Russia’s membership in the UN Human Rights Council, Turkey was the only participant in the expanded SCO out of 18 countries that voted in favor of the resolution. Of the member states, all voted against the resolution, with India and Pakistan abstaining.
For members of the SCO, energy highlights their importance on the global stage and is a tool used in their foreign policy. Following the 2022 summit, SCO states, including Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, among others, will account for over half of the world’s oil production annually.
Until 2020, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization played a largely regional role for China, the heart of which was Central Asia. Initially reluctant, the recent rapid expansion of the SCO shows that China realigned the organization from a regional one, to one capable of implementing its global ambitions.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization gained greater significance with the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine, where an economically weaker Russia can turn to China, a partner with no limits and its leadership over the SCO.
At the 2022 Boao Forum, President Xi restated the goal of the 2021 SCO Dushanbe Declaration, where he articulated a world order not directed by the West. At this same summit, SCO members approved Iran’s membership despite international sanctions after a 15 year waiting period. Xi articulated in a flourish, calling it a community of a common destiny of mankind.
This has echoes of Chairman Mao’s vision of world relations, dating back to the 1970s. In meetings with Dr. Kissinger, Mao posited that imperialism and hegemony violate the world order. Instead, China should expand into what is now known as the Global South, including countries in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Central Asia. China’s mission lives on and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is becoming its vehicle.
Does Tajikistan Have a Choice Amid Anti-Russian Sanctions?
For a while now, the crisis in Ukraine has remained peripheral in official Russia–Tajikistan relations. The relationship between Moscow and Dushanbe was traditionally dominated by a shared regional agenda consisting of Afghan border concerns, Tajikistan’s strained relations with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan’s SCO membership, and the prospects of integrating Tajikistan in the Eurasian Economic Union. Bilateral Russia–Tajikistan relations were also filled with many important projects in trade, energy, migration, and security. These projects and issues continued to develop independently from the Ukrainian conflict, being kept as topics for discussion in Russia and Tajikistan’s bilateral agenda, even after the exacerbation of Russia’s relations with the West in 2014. Official state relations were also sufficiently intensive.
At a first glance, Russia–Tajikistan relations have not significantly changed following Russia’s launch of a special military operation (SMO) in Ukraine. Tajikistan’s leadership stresses the country’s neutral stance avoiding statements and actions that could be interpreted as open support for any party to the conflict. Moreover, unlike Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan witnessed no public protests against Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Still, there were also no rallies in support of Russia’s special military operation either. Tajikistan has distanced itself from publicly assessing Russian troops moving into Ukraine and there are no public discussions regarding this matter.
Tajikistani leadership’s caution towards the Ukrainian issue stems from a number of factors, with Tajikistan’s high economic dependence on Russia being of most significance. Russia’s Ministry of the Interior reports that over 1.7 million Tajikistani citizens entered Russia seeking work from January to June of 2022, which is almost a million more than in the same period of 2021. Such impressive figures evidence both the migration make-up rebound following border closings during the coronavirus pandemic, and Tajikistani citizens’ growing need to earn money in Russia. Shirin Amonzoda, Tajikistan’s Minister of Labor, Migration and Employment, says that 90% of all of Tajikistan’s migrants go to Russia. In August 2022, Moscow announced the resumption of railway traffic between the two states, which could additionally stimulate an influx of labor force from Tajikistan. It should be noted that both Russian and Tajik social media networks have reported alleged instances of Tajikistani migrants sent to the area of military hostilities in Ukraine. The very fact that such fake news is appearing in social media demonstrates that Tajikistani society is concerned with the possibility of being pulled into the Russia–Ukraine conflict. These fakes are mainly used to intimidate the most vulnerable group of Tajikistani citizens—migrants and their relatives—by creating a negative information backdrop for Russia’s actions in Ukraine. During the first weeks after the start of the SMO, there were also alarmist publications calling for migrants to leave Russia because the ruble’s exchange rate fell sharply and, therefore, the dollar value of wire transfers from Russia was falling, too. However, the subsequent strengthening of the ruble and the lack of a viable alternative to Russia’s labor market have gradually resulted in such discussions fizzling out. On the contrary, a strong ruble increased the dollar value of wire transfers made by labor migrants, which somewhat assuaged the situation in Tajikistan itself. Nonetheless, Tajikistan’s society is still debating Russia’s actions in Ukraine, yet these debates do not go beyond household discussions.
Even though critical posts occasionally make it to Tajik social media outlets, there is no blatant country-wide campaign against Russia’s SMO. The conflict is essentially glossed over in Tajikistan’s state-owned media, which virtually avoids mentioning Russia’s operation. Tajikistan’s leadership attempts to distance itself from public discussions of events in Ukraine, thereby upholding its neutral stance towards the situation, while also leaving room for strategic maneuvering.
Russia is Tajikistan’s key trade and economic partner—in 2021, it accounted for 21.3% of Tajikistan’s overall trade turnover (according to Tajikistan’s Ministry for Economic Development and Trade). Trade is completely dominated by Russian imports, which are 16 times greater than Tajikistan’s exports. In trade turnover, Kazakhstan takes second place, China third, with its imports also being several times greater than Tajikistan’s exports. The Russia–Ukraine conflict happened at the peak of Russia–Tajikistan trade turnover, and because of this, Dushanbe is utterly disinterested in exacerbating its relations with the key trade and economic partner.
The second reason for Tajikistan’s restraint in assessing the SMO is because the special operation was quite suddenly launched. Even though there were whispers regarding possible military hostilities between Russia and Ukraine for several months on end, the conflict’s abrupt transition into an armed stage was unexpected, both for world leaders and for the leaders of Central Asian states. For instance, in the first days of the SMO, Tajikistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs addressed its citizens in Ukraine, simply advising them to take safety precautions. Tajikistan avoided any detailed political statements that could be interpreted as support for any of the parties to the conflict, or that would, at the very least, explicate the stance of Tajikistan’s authorities on the matter. Ukraine was of secondary importance at the meetings between Tajikistan’s officials and their Russian counterparts held after the start of the special operation. These meetings mostly emphasized their bilateral agenda and regional security issues.
Tajikistan’s neutral stance on Ukraine translates its desire to avoid direct actions violating the country’s own status quo. Tajikistan did not recognize the independence of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic, as it had not recognized Crimea as part of Russia; however, Tajikistan abstained when the UN General Assembly voted on the resolutions condemning Russian troops entering Ukraine. It should be added that Tajikistani officials generally share Russia’s anti-nationalist rhetoric. In 2019, Tajikistan became one of the countries that supported the resolution condemning the glorification of Nazism and racism that Russia proposed to the UN General Assembly. Already at the height of the special operation, Davlatshoh Gulmahmadzoda, Tajikistan’s Ambassador to Russia, wrote an article for Russia’s International Affairs journal noting that preserving the memory of the Great Patriotic War victory is the sacred duty of both states. Tajikistan thereby emphasizes that it shares Russia’s narrative on the inadmissibility of Nazism and opposes the revisionism of the 1941-1945 historic events.
Russia’s support in the upcoming 2028-2029 elections of non-permanent members of the UN Security Council is extremely important for Tajikistan. Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon nominated his country in the fall of 2021; prior to that, only Kazakhstan held a non-permanent member status in 2017–2018. Tajikistan goes to these elections with an anti-terrorist agenda, as well as with initiatives in regional security concerning the situation in Afghanistan. This means that focusing on the Ukrainian issue is not in the interests of Tajikistan’s leadership. Additionally, in stressing its neutral stance, Tajikistan is the only state in Central Asia not to have sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
Tajikistan fears the West’s secondary sanctions that could be imposed on states that openly support Russia’s special operation, especially since the U.S. has already made it known that it considers Central Asia (and Tajikistan in particular) a potential transit route for delivering sanctions-hit goods to Russia. This means the U.S. reserves the right to extend sanctions to those who will re-export sanctions-hit commodities to Russia. Restrictions apply to goods that can be used for military purposes, and the very fact that Tajikistan is on that list suggests that its trade and economic transactions are under external control and could produce unfavorable consequences for Tajikistan.
Dushanbe’s stress on neutrality is also determined by its fears of losing Washington’s economic aid. In April to June of 2022, as part of their Central Asia tours, four high-ranking American officials visited Tajikistan in a row: Secretary of State Uzra Zeya, Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu whose delegation included quite a few high-ranking officials (Director for Russia and Central Asia at the National Security Council, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, U.S. Agency for International Development Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for Asia, and the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy), and Commander of the United States Central Command Michael Erik Kurilla. In addition to the standard list of topical security agenda items, every meeting touched upon matters of further economic support for Tajikistan. By building up contacts with Tajikistan while simultaneously controlling its foreign trade with its key partner, the U.S. wants to limit Tajikistan’s bilateral relations with Russia.
Finally, as a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Tajikistan intends to view this organization as a resource in case Dushanbe loses control of the situation in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO). January 2022 set a precedent of resorting to the CSTO’s forces in Kazakhstan to protect a member state, and this precedent is important for Tajikistan, should a similar situation develop in its own territory. May 2022 saw mass protests in the GBAO; Tajikistan’s authorities called these protests a terrorist attack. Protesters themselves, however, see their conflict with Dushanbe primarily as a political confrontation between a region and the country’s central government. Even though the peak of tensions was assuaged, the GBAO still has a high conflict potential. Tajikistan’s leadership wants to have the CSTO at its disposal, or at the very least as a possible way of getting external support for their actions.
April 8, 2022 marked the 30th anniversary of the Russia–Tajikistan diplomatic relations. Throughout the years, the parties have signed over 300 agreements with the most fundamental being the 21st century-focused Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance as well as the Contract on Allied Interaction. Tajikistan is part to most integrations in the post-Soviet space, where Russia is a member, except for the EAEU. Russia and Tajikistan are building up their trade turnover that, according to official data, grew by 50% in the first six months of 2022. Russia has also taken several steps towards bolstering cooperation in Tajikistan’s industrial, agrarian, cultural, and humanitarian spheres. Among the important projects includes building schools where the Russian language is the primary language of instruction, as are their teachers. Russian educators are sent to Tajikistan’s remote regions as part of the “Russian Teacher Abroad” project. Tajikistan is home to several branches of Russian universities (Lomonosov Moscow State University, The National University of Science and Technology (MISIS), and, and The National Research University “Moscow Power Engineering Institute”) in addition to the joint Russian-Tajik Slavonic University which also enrolls students. In 2021, Russia increased quotas for Tajik students who want to be educated in Russian universities.
In addition, Vladimir Putin choosing Tajikistan as his first official state visit destination since the start of the SMO was a significant indicator of the Tajikistan’s importance in Russia’s foreign policy. As expected, the leaders did not publicly broach Ukraine-related issues and spoke primarily on regional security problems. Nevertheless, the fact that Vladimir Putin chose Tajikistan for his first official state visit testifies to Russia’s intention to preserve the current cooperation dynamics and, despite a lack of clear support for Russia’s actions in Ukraine, to continue developing its relations with Tajikistan. The first Russian official to visit Tajikistan when the special operation was already underway was Speaker of the Federation Council Valentina Matvienko, who arrived in Dushanbe on February 24, 2022.
Russia’s leadership thereby signaled that the special operation in Ukraine would not diminish the importance of Central Asia to Russia and that the Russian leadership would continue to remain focused on the region. It is also important for Russia to have guaranteed security along the Afghan border, where currently Russian troops are stationed, and to coordinate assessments regarding the political situation in Afghanistan itself.
Prior to the start of the SMO, in addition to security concerns, Russia and Tajikistan’s bilateral agenda featured the prospects of Tajikistan’s integration into the EAEU. Even though the matter of Tajikistan’s possible accession to the Eurasian Economic Union was discussed at length domestically, it never translated into a real project (unlike in the case of Uzbekistan that became an observer at the EAEU). Until recently, Tajikistan was the only country in the CIS where such a scenario was a possibility. However, sanctions pressure on Russia and Belarus, the two leaders of the Eurasian integration, is most likely to take discussions of the integration scenario outside of Tajikistan’s official discourse, and the country’s authorities will focus on bolstering its bilateral ties with Russia.
Tajikistan’s overwhelming dependence on foreign subsidies coupled with low quality of life makes it vulnerable to geopolitical threats and forces its leadership to maneuver and skirt contentious issues in its relations with its key partners.
Aware of its vulnerabilities, Tajikistani leadership creates foundations for shaping a cautious approach to developing international relations. It is important in this connection to note that Tajikistan’s leadership distances itself from playing the religious card to build up its foreign political potential in Central Asia and adjacent regions. Today, Tajikistan’s predictable goals at the regional and international stage afford it broader prospects than radicalizing its stance would. This position allows Tajikistan to both maintain stable relations with Russia and develop its international agency.
Russia is still a highly attractive partner for Tajikistan in trade, economic, military, energy, cultural, and humanitarian cooperation.
Given its geographic position, ethnic and cultural characteristics, and its high dependence on foreign assistance (primarily, from Russia), Tajikistan will in any case have to shape its foreign political agenda with account for the current geopolitical situation. Regardless of whatever may be, Russia’s place in this agenda remains quite solid.
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