Rashid Abdullo: Tajikistan and Eurasian integration project
“It is possible that the political elites in Tajikistan will give credit to the new integration project and accept it. But where is the guarantee that in some years, another politician would not come power in Russia, and Russian development will not follow the model of 1990s?”, said Rashid Abdullo, an independent expert (Tajikistan, Dushanbe), in an article written exclusively for the CABAR.
On January 1, 2015, a new association called the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) emerged on the political map of the world. It was formed by the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan and Belarus. Armenia and Kyrgyzstan signed this agreement and are in the process of accession. Tajikistan is thinking about joining it.
It is expected that this project could be equivalent to the Schengen agreement that was concluded between the EU countries. A common economic space covers migration policy and visa issues, working units, canceling internal border controls and other issues. It creates conditions for the free movement of goods, capital and labor, will allow for a coordinated policy in other branches of economy. Harmonization of national legislation with the rules of the new union should be completed within a 10-year period. According to the agreement of the participating countries, a common pharmaceutical market should be created in 2016, a common electricity market – by 2019, and the market of oil, gas and petroleum products – in 2025. By 2025, a supranational body to regulate the financial market of the Union should start working in Almaty.
To date, members of the EEU are former Soviet republics, which are quite an integral part of the phenomenon that is called in Russian world. They are the republics, in which a significant portion of the population consists of ethnic Russians or Russian-speaking people, or where the Russian language is widely used by a huge part of the titular nation, especially in the capitals and major cities. (Belarus. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia).
As for Tajikistan, it is obvious that its economic importance for Russia is not too large. Abundant natural resources in the country, as a rule, are difficult to access, or their development is associated with the need to invest billions of dollars, with a very long period and are not always clear prospects of return. (For example, a project to develop one of the world’s largest deposits of silver “Big Koni Mansur”, with a minimum value of 3 billion dollars).
Prospects of developing water and energy resources of the country that take a second place in terms of the post-Soviet space look better. However, there are some difficulties, too. Uzbekistan strongly opposes the construction of large hydropower projects on rivers in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and Russia is not willing to conflict with Uzbekistan on this matter.
The not entirely positive experience of relations between the Russian and Tajik business entities reduces economic importance for Russia of Tajikistan’s presence in the EEU. The issue of debt in tens of millions of dollars of a Tajik public energy holding “Barki Tochik” to Russian investors to complete the construction of Sangtuda-1 hydropower plant is still not resolved. Disputes and litigation between the Tajik Aluminum Company “Talco” and structures of Oleg Deripaska have also taken long time. The sum involved is a few hundred million dollars. Only a few weeks ago, there were reports that the parties settled the offence peacefully.
This suggests that not so much economic but political factors make Tajikistan’s accession to EEU important for Russia. They are based on both the strategic location of Tajikistan, and the presence of military facilities of Russia on its territory.
Tajikistan is on the border of the former Soviet Union with China, Afghanistan, as well as India and Pakistan. It has a 500-km border with China, and 1400km with Afghanistan. India and Pakistan are separated from Tajikistan by the called Wakhan Corridor – a strip of territory, the width of which in the narrowest point is not exceeding 20 km, given to Afghanistan in pursuit of the Russian-British agreements of late 19th century, in order to avoid direct contact between the Russian Empire with the boundaries of what was then the British India.
On the territory of the republic, there are such strategically important for Russia objects of its military infrastructure, as the Space Surveillance station “Okno” and the largest foreign Russian military base 201. Apparently, it is assumed that the military and political security of Russia will be ensured to a greater extent with the entry of Tajikistan into the EEU.
The desire of Russia to see Tajikistan, as well as Kyrgyzstan, in the EEU is determined by the fact that the upper reaches of the largest rivers in Central Asia are in the territory of these two republics. Accession of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in the EEU, coupled with the dislocation of military bases and facilities of Russia on their territories, will ensure their safety, which strategically is of great importance, including for Russia.
In Tajikistan itself, the attitude to the republic’s joining in the EEU is ambiguous. The position in this matter of the government is characterized by uncertainty. Judging by the statements, it believes that at this time, it is necessary to carefully examine all EEU documents and the conditions of entering into it, the real experience of Armenia and especially Kyrgyzstan, the procedure of entering into this Union, and to look to what in fact has Kazakhstan experienced after participation in the EEU. Moreover, many people in this country say that so far, the only result was the rise in prices for everything, and the expansion of Russian companies on the territory of Kazakhstan. Kazakh opposition looks at these processes, among other things, as nothing less than a threat to the sovereignty and independence of the country.
These fears are not groundless. The dominant force in the former Soviet Union is still Russia. In view of the political and now economic circumstances that have developed to date around Russia, it is interested in the speedy restoration of its unity. But such unity may be only be achieved in the case of the creation of supranational authorities. And this is related to the process of delegation by members of part of its national sovereignty. The reality today is that all participants of this process – present and future, with the exception of Russia – will be limited in their sovereignty.
Attempts to force the events in this direction have already taken place. Thus, some Russian politicians have already publicly spoken about the necessity of deprivation of independence of the Central Asian countries and making of them one or two Russian provinces. Others put forward a proposal for an early transition to create a common supranational parliament a couple of years ago. The last proposal has angered the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev. And, judging by the fact that he quite regularly insists that the Eurasian integration is economic, not political in nature, the attempts to speed up the development of all forms of the integration process continue to take place.
All the above cannot be ignored by Tajik leadership, at least, because, in many respects, its legitimacy in the eyes of the population, especially the active part of it, including such political forces as the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, and the Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan, is based on the declared commitment to the utmost protection of the sovereignty and independence of the country.
There are some other circumstances that may conflict with the entry of Tajikistan in the Eurasian Union.
In 2001, Tajikistan has begun negotiations with the WTO about accession to this organization. Despite the fact that over the following ten years, they were not very active, in 2011, this process had dramatically intensified. And in December 2012, the negotiation process was successfully completed. The corresponding document was signed in Geneva from the Tajik side by the head of state, President Emomali Rahmon. In March 2013, Tajikistan became a full member of the WTO.
Accession to the WTO does not prevent Tajikistan’s accession to other regional economic organizations, particularly in the EEU. However, the republic has obligations to other members of the WTO, which may be different from the obligations under the possible accession to the EEU, for example, EEU import duties may be higher than import duties established in accordance with WTO rules. In this case, there is a question of compensation by the republic for these differences to the other members of the WTO, which could result in a very large amount of money. In other words, the full membership of Tajikistan to the WTO objectively also prevents its rapid entry into the EEU.
In Tajikistan, there are supporters for the unconditional entry of the republic in the EEU. They emphasize that the profitability and value of entering into an integrable post-Soviet space, from an economic point of view, do not raise doubt. Especially that during the past 15-17 years, the republic has firmly and permanently inscribed into the contour of the Russian economy. Objectively, it is an integral part of the Russian economic space, although a very peculiar space.
According to the Federal Migration Service of Russia, as of 2014, there were 1 million Tajiks on its territory. The majority of them are labor migrants, whose money remittances back home via banking and non-banking channels were about $ 5 billion in 2013, according to experts. This amount of money was more than half the country’s GDP. According to the results of 2014, due to economic difficulties in Russia, this amount slightly decreased. So, if in 2013, the amount of remittances through banking channels was equal to 4.2 billion dollars, in 2014, it was 300 million dollars less. Added to this is the economic effect of the migrant money turnover in the country. At the conference “Tajikistan as a subject of modern integration: Status and Prospects” held in Dushanbe on October 23, 2014, Professor Khodzhimukhammad Umarov said that, according to his calculations, this effect was not less than 25% of the country’s GDP.
Supporters of entering the EEU hope that if it takes place, it is possible that it will remove a lot of problems for Tajik labor migrants in Russia. Accordingly, the cash flow from labor migrants’ remittances can greatly increase. They also believe that with the entry into EEU, export duties and quotas on goods coming from Russia and Kazakhstan to Tajikistan will be eliminated, and it will be easier for the republic to export dried fruits and other traditional exports to these countries. It is possible that some manufacturing plants, idle after the collapse of the USSR, can be re-started. Finally, the development of relations between the academia, especially in the sciences, of Tajikistan and Russia will get an additional impetus. This is probably the positive and, overall, considerable effect of the republic’s accession in the EEU.
However, to date, not entirely positive effects of Tajikistan’s entering in EEU lie in the political sphere. Objectively, Russia does not need amorphous structures such as the CIS or SCO. It rather needs more rigidly structured associations. As it was mentioned above, such union can only be achieved if one or another part of the sovereignty of the association members will be delegated to its political center, as it happened in the European Union.
Many people in Russia are openly saying that the country can successfully defend its national interests, and in fact, survive and remain as such, only if it will exist in the form of empire. It is understood that the new so-called “fifth empire” should include all post-Soviet territories, with the exception of the former Soviet Baltic republics, already included in the EU.
Those people who think the same way, but do not consider it necessary to talk about it openly, are even more numerous in Russia. They prefer to talk about the Russian world, understanding the space of the Russian language, which determines the influence of the Russian information, cultural, scientific, etc. field. It is clear that such an understanding of the Russian world covers a space of all post-Soviet states of Central Asia.
In principle, there is nothing new for the Tajik ethnic group to be part of imperial formations on the territory of Central Asia. After the fall of the Samanid state in which Tajiks dominated politically and culturally, they had to quite a long time exist in imperial states, such as the state of the Ghaznavids, Seljuks, Mongols and Timurids. Of course, the supreme power in these countries did not belong to them, but they played a prominent role in their management, providing a basis for their administrative and bureaucratic apparatus, and for the most part, leading it. The language of public institutions, workflow, language of education and culture was Tajik (Farsi) language. It was a language of science, along with Arabic.
After the conquest by Tsarist Russia in Central Asia and the inclusion of its main part into the empire, the situation, in this regard, began to deteriorate for the Tajiks. During the Soviet era, the Tajiks lost most of their land, including their historical administrative and cultural centers. To date, the space of self-realization for Tajiks as an ethnos has reduced to the size of the Republic of Tajikistan.
Throughout the period of Soviet power and the current Central Asia, ethnic Tajiks outside Tajikistan were somewhere more and somewhere less the targets of imposed identity of the titular nation of the republics in which they lived, as part of the mono- ethnicisation process in these republics. With the collapse of the USSR, the situation in this regard has not improved for Tajiks.
The existence in the Soviet state turned out for the Tajiks by the double change of script, which has led to the actual loss of their direct relationship with their own cultural heritage. Ideological and political realities of the Soviet state led to the loss of links of Tajiks with their natural civilization space. The consequence of all this was a distortion of civilization and national-cultural code of Tajiks, which was formed during 12-13 centuries that preceded the establishment of Soviet power. This code is the basis on which the historical identity of the Tajik ethnic group was formed. There is a danger that with the restoration of the unity of the post-Soviet space, fraught with the loss of part, and maybe not just part of Tajikistan’s sovereignty and independence, all of these negative trends and phenomena will gain strength again.
In the summer of 2012, at a conference on the problems of Eurasian integration in Nizhny Novgorod, one of the main Russian speakers stated that in Russia, this space is seen as Eurocentric and Slavic-Turkic.
But Tajiks in Tajikistan are not Europeans, not Eurocentric, they are not Slavs and not Turks either. What awaits them, as an ethnic group, on the recovered single post-Slavo-Turkic space, in addition, managed by supranational bodies, which the larger participants in the integration process will dominate? We see that, for example, that in the SCO, two largest countries are always dominating. They have the greatest influence on decision-making in the organization.
Finally, it should be said about such a possible scenario: Tajiks, having paid an exorbitant price, ultimately accepted the Soviet government, accepted the entire Soviet project, believed in it and voted for its preservation during the All-Union referendum. And what did they get? Exactly what Alexander Solzhenitsyn recommended in his article “How to rebuild Russia”, which had become a program for the Russian elites, coupled with the economic collapse, political chaos and civil war.
It is possible that the political elites in Tajikistan will believe the new integration project and accept it. Currently, the guarantor of the implementation of a more or less stable functioning of this project is the President Vladimir Putin. But where is the guarantee that in some years, another politician would not come power in Russia, and Russian development will not follow the model of 1990s? Should this occur, where is the guarantee that Tajikistan won’t be back at the bottom of the ladder?
Given the cyclical nature of political developments in Russia, the likelihood that the above can be realized, is quite high. Therefore, it is necessary for Tajikistan to find a form of adaptation to the realities posed by the speeding up process of reintegration of the post-Soviet space, which will allow him to be implicated in it and, at the same time, to maintain its sovereignty, as well as to minimize the risks and adverse effects.
In order to avoid the negative consequences, it is not necessary probably to insist on a model of closer cooperation of post-Soviet states with Tajikistan, only in the form now proposed EEU. Optimal in this respect is further deepening of bilateral political, military and economic cooperation between Tajikistan and Russia and other former Soviet countries, multilateral military-political cooperation (CSTO) and the associated membership with the EEU.
A good example of this form of relationship in the world practice is the associated Union (membership) of Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) with the European Union. All three partners – the Maghreb countries, France, as the metropolis of its former colonies, and the EU – consider this form of alliance meeting their economic and political interests. I believe that in the former Soviet Union, especially in Central Asia, such a model of building relationships may also have the prospect to be successful and meet the interests of all parties involved. At the same time, Russia can be confident in the strength of a political and military alliance with Tajikistan, so important to it. Instead, the country can count on a positive solution by the Russian authorities of problems of Tajik migrants and be confident in maintaining the fullness of its sovereignty and independence.
Rashid Abdullo, an independent expert
Opinion of the author may not necessarily represent those of CABAR