On April 27, the head of the RF Ministry of Defense completed his working trip to Tajikistan. In Dushanbe, Sergei Shoigu took part in a meeting of the CSTO Council of Defense Ministers and held talks with the Minister of Defense of the republic Sherali Mirzo. On April 28, the minister arrived in Uzbekistan on a visit. In Bukhara, he met with his Uzbek counterpart Bakhodir Kurbanov. During this trip, the minister concluded several important agreements. In particular, about the unification of the air defense of Russia and Tajikistan.
It must be admitted that Sergei Shoigu’s “Central Asian tour” is clearly no coincidence and, on the whole, very timely. As we know, an active withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan is underway. And according to the forecasts of the Americans themselves, it is very likely that after the withdrawal of their contingent, the army and special services of the official Afghan government will simply collapse. Moreover, this will happen in the foreseeable future – that is, there will not be a prolonged transition period, as it was after the departure of the Soviet troops, in this case, apparently, will not happen.
There are still contingents of other NATO countries in Afghanistan. How long is still impossible to say for sure. It is also unclear whether employees of private US organizations will remain. But in any case, the burden on the remaining contingent will increase, and even more on the official Afghan government and its armed forces.
In such conditions, within one or two years, a certain power vacuum may occur in the region. Then we will see the picture that developed by 2001, when the Taliban, in fact, controlled the whole of Afghanistan, with the exception of a small territory that was under the control of Ahmad Shah Massoud. But this time the situation is aggravated by the fact that today, in addition to the Taliban, ISIS, which is still banned in Russia, operates in Afghanistan.
Against this background, it can be recognized that the actions that Moscow has been taking in recent years to strengthen the armed forces of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan neighboring the troubled region by donating weapons from the warehouses of the Russian army to them are quite logical. Apparently, the recent trip of Sergei Shoigu was connected with the idea of how else the Russian Federation can contribute to increasing the combat effectiveness of the national armies of these two republics. And there are several options here.
First, Russia can agree to reformat and increase its contingent at the 201st military base in Tajikistan. It is not necessary to keep large forces on a permanent basis, but it is necessary that there be a mechanism for unhindered building up of the grouping in the face of some external threats.
Another opportunity that Moscow can use is to more actively involve CSTO partners in responding to threats in the Afghan direction. This issue is also very important for Kazakhstan and (albeit to a lesser extent) for Belarus. The Kazakh side is interested here to the greatest extent, and understanding with it is quite possible to find.
As for the combat capability of the armed forces of Tajikistan, with the support of the Russian army, they are able to localize small groups that have infiltrated across the border. But whether they will cope in the event of a breakthrough by a group of militants numbering several hundred and even more so thousands of people – there are possible questions. If they do, then at the cost of a lot of effort.
The situation with Uzbekistan is somewhat different. The country has a special position, it is not part of the CSTO. And its armed forces are incomparably stronger than those of Tajikistan, and it is capable of keeping the border on its own. There is military-technical cooperation between Moscow and Dushanbe – it was discussed during the negotiations. Here Russia can help in a number of ways. Uzbekistan is interested in modernizing the air force and air defense systems, purchasing equipment for ground forces, helicopters, modern small arms, vehicles (including protected vehicles), artillery and multiple launch rocket systems.
The smallest scale of military-technical cooperation in the region belongs to Russia and Turkmenistan, which has a long border with Afghanistan. They bought separate batches of weapons from Moscow, in particular, T-90 tanks. This republic has a small military budget and army, but earlier they had certain agreements with the Taliban, and what will happen next is unknown. In any case, the likelihood of some form of Russian forces appearing there is minimal. They can only call on Russia as a last resort.
It is impossible to say which of the three republics bordering Afghanistan is in the most vulnerable position. We do not know which section of the border the Taliban or ISIS terrorists will reach. But, at the very least, it is necessary to monitor – including with the help of satellite reconnaissance means. If the situation in Afghanistan begins to deteriorate, it would make sense for Russia to overtake reconnaissance aircraft to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to collect information.
As long as the Afghan army has aviation support, they can somehow control the situation. But when the US leaves, the morale of the government forces will drop dramatically, and the Taliban (banned in Russia) may begin their victorious march across the country.
The author is a military expert
The opinion of the author may not coincide with the position of the editorial board