Tajikistan: integration with Eurasian Union?Long discussed as the next potential member of the Eurasian Economic Union, Tajikistan is taking time to explore the pros and cons of its entry. Zafar Abdullayev, an independent expert from Dushanbe, shares his opinion what could be advantages and disadvantages, as well as expectations of Tajik authorities, with Tajikistan`s integration with the Union. 

 

Interviewer: Rusif Huseynov

 

 

Huseynov: Tajikistan has long being discussed and expected as the most likely next member of the Eurasian Economic Union. It is interesting that Tajikistan did not become part of the Union immediately once it was established, given Dushanbe`s traditionally good ties with Moscow. It is more interesting that Dushanbe has been prolonging the membership process. 

Abdullayev: Judging objectively, Dushanbe maintains normal ties, which are not friendlier than the relations of other ex-Soviet republics; these ties have long been based strictly on possible benefits and maybe even fears. The Kremlin is afraid of losing any of the former Soviet republics, including Tajikistan from its influence, as it clearly realizes the loss of the military-boundary buffer from hostile forces, and therefore seeks to maximally support all existing regimes in the CIS, and keep its armed forces,  where possible. In Tajikistan, Russia possesses several military facilities and the 201st military base. For the Tajik authorities, Russia, in its turn, is an attractive country, where surplus labor force and oppositional circles of society have found shelter and work, having turned into a powerful source of currency inflow o the country.

A new generation in both Russia and Tajikistan vaguely imagine what the two countries may have in common. During these 25 years of independence, the former Soviet cultural community of the two peoples is gone, while xenophobia or nationalism in relation to each other has reached a high level. The former economic cooperation is broken, remaining only in the form of a monopoly of deliveries from Russia of wood and fuel and investments in a couple of infrastructure projects.

Thus, there were no prerequisites for Tajikistan to join the Eurasian Economic Union as a pioneer; and such  prerequisites are not visible even now. In simple terms, we have long since forgotten how to live together with Moscow.

 

Putting aside all the speculations around the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), economic problems in its major members, what dividends and problems may joining the project bring to Tajikistan? How ready is Tajik society for the membership and what are its expectations?

If you leave aside the fears of the idea of joining the EAEU, I think there are many advantages for Tajik entrepreneurs and citizens, the most important of which could be the free movement of labor resources. Labor migrants are currently one of the main elements of the Tajik economy, and the improvement of their labor and legal conditions in the Russian Federation can contribute to the growth of remittances into Tajkistan and, as a consequence, to a new growth of the local economy. Also, easier access to the markets of the EAEU countries can give rise to a number of Tajik industries, especially agriculture, mining, and textile.

Among the possible disadvantages, we could name the rise in price of many types of products due to introduction of high duties on Chinese, Indian or Turkish goods, which are quite popular in Tajikistan at the moment. Probably large industries can collapse due to high corruption of the local economy and management inefficiency, and become property of big investors from the Russian Federation, who can subsequently dictate certain economic conditions.

In any case, reluctance of Dushanbe to enter the EAEU is most likely a political decision of ruling circles that enjoy close personal business ties with China and the U.S., which obviously do not welcome such integration of Tajikistan with the Russian Federation and its partners.

 

What could be major conditions for Tajik side at the negotiations table for ascending to EEU membership: softer approach to Tajik gastarbeiters abroad, military base, transfer of power inside the ruling family?

The personal interests of the ruling clan, in my personal opinion, are higher than the interests of the nation, so I do not think that the issue of labor migrants will be so fundamental for the Tajik government. We will probably not learn the true conditions, which would be backstage. The issues you mentioned are not on the agenda and successfully solved within the framework of bilateral cooperation for more than 20 years and can continue to be decided outside the EAEU.

I believe that Tajikistan is not a key element for the EAEU; since the Kremlin realizing this, it will not torpedo this issue for at least 3-4 years.

 

In this context, what type of foreign policy and influence tools may Western powers and China use towards Tajikistan? Or do they accept the latter belongs to the Kremlin`s orbit? 

Undoubtedly, China, as a country directly bordering Tajikistan, is most interested in increasing its influence in this region and will do so through economy and new investments, especially since they are extra profitable for China as it obtains the most expensive fields almost for free. China is objectively stronger in Tajikistan than Russia, economically and will continue to hold this position for a long time and thus create all the prerequisites for the unsuccessful involvement of Tajikistan in the EAEU. The United States plays the role of the controller of incendiary processes in the Middle East and South Asia and, accordingly, poses a threat to the current regime, so the Rahmon government will do its best to keep “Washington`s friends” on the list. In general, it has so far succeeded, and I think, Emomali Rahmon in his own way suits all the powers, as they have already found a certain consensus among themselves in our country.

I believe that we will not see any external “pressure” in the near future, as the Tajik authorities will do everything to “study the issue of membership in the EAEU” as slow as the snail's move, as it has been so far.

 

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