October 05, 2012

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan (AP) — Russia and Tajikistan agreed Friday to extend the presence of Russian troops in the ex-Soviet nation on Afghanistan’s northern border until 2042.

An aide accompanying Russian President Vladimir Putin on a visit to the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, said Moscow would be assured use of the facility “virtually free of charge.” Central Asian nations are apprehensive at the prospect of the NATO coalition’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 and have expressed fears that violence could spill over, prompting them to see security guarantees from their Russian and U.S. partners.

“The Russian base in Tajikistan is an important factor in stability in this republic, with which we are bound by special, brotherly and very close strategic relations,” Putin said. Tajikistan is believed to have sought large rental payments from Russia for use of the base, but those requests appeared to have been successfully resisted.

“We are talking about certain sums, but we are getting this base virtually free of charge,” said Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov. The current base lease is due to expire in October 2014. The Russian 201st Motorized Rifle Division deployed in Tajikistan numbers around 7,000 servicemen and is the largest current deployment of Russian troops abroad. It is based in three garrisons — near Dushanbe and in the southern cities of Kulyab and Kurgan-Tube.

Russia’s military presence played a part in negotiating an end to the five-year civil war that devastated Tajikistan in the 1990s. Tajikistan economy is heavily reliant on the money sent home by the roughly 1.1 million migrant laborers working across Russia. Remittances from Russia in 2011 totaled around $3 billion, equivalent to around half Tajikistan’s gross domestic product.

Putin and President Emomali Rakhmon reached an agreement Friday to relax bureaucratic procedures for Tajik migrant laborers seeking to work in Russia, many of whom are frequently compelled to work illegally due to the complications of registration. Under the new terms, migrants will be granted work permits valid up to three years from one year, as currently.

“This will positively impact on the state of the labor market in (Russia) and enable the citizens of Tajikistan to form their life plans on a more solid basis,” Putin said.