Tag Archives: Tajikistan

Tupolevs Over Tajikistan

Tu-95 MS Bear (photo TVZvezda)

Tu-95MS / Bear (photo: TVZvezda)

Moscow integrated Tu-95MS / Bear and Tu-22M3 / Backfire bombers into a “large-scale” exercise with Tajikistan this week.

Bears and Backfires (and Tu-160 / Blackjacks) participated in strikes on Syrian targets last November, and we’re accustomed to Russian bombers probing U.S. and NATO air defenses.  But this might be the first time the Russians have deployed strategic bombers for training over a former Soviet / CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization partner.

If not, it is uncommon.

This somewhat dubious distinction might indicate that Kremlin concern about Tajikistan’s security (and its impact on Russia’s) is a notch above worries about other allies right now.

The Bears flew from their base at Engels in Saratov Oblast by way of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to get to Tajikistan.  The TVZvezda video below shows one hooked up to a tanker aircraft.

The Backfires operated from Tajik airfields along with 30 Russian Su-24M and Su-25SM aircraft and combat helicopters, according to TVZvezda.

The “anti-terrorism” exercise began on 14 March, and involved roughly 2,000 troops from the two sides, news agency TASS reported.

The combined force, including troops from Russia’s 201st Military Base in Tajikistan, VDV, and VDV Spetsnaz, blocked and destroyed a large notional motorized insurgent group that violated the country’s border.  The VDV conducted tactical airborne and air assault operations against the notional enemy along the Tajik-Afghan border.

Central MD commander General-Colonel Vladimir Zarudnitskiy and Tajik Defense Minister Sherali Mirzo observed the exercise.

So why the bombers?  First, it’s good to get flight familiarization over terrain where one might fly a real combat mission one day.  Second and more important, bombers armed with cruise missiles make a more immediate and tangible impression than equally threatening submarines cruising in the Black Sea or Med.  It’s almost the inverse of Syria where subs got the first action but LRA also had the chance to conduct real-world operations.

What of Tajikistan, the ostensible reason for the entire military display?

For Jamestown.org, Paul Goble has written about its vulnerability to Islamic State or Taliban forces.  But, he says, Turkmenistan might actually be a more vulnerable and more attractive target.  It has natural gas for the taking and it lacks a fairly strong and proactive ally like Russia.

Also writing for Jamestown, Steve Blank speculated that Tajikistan could become a “fourth front” for Russia, along with Ukraine, Syria, and the North Caucasus. Tajikistan is a key part of Moscow’s “domino theory.”  If Dushanbe falls into hostile hands, the rest of Central Asia and Russia itself become more vulnerable.

Come what may, an exercise involving strategic aviation just beyond Russia’s periphery is an interesting and rather unnoticed event that we could see again.

Advertisements

Curious Coincidence

Danila Chaykin

IA Regnum reported today that a Russian conscript serving in Tajikistan apparently shot himself to death on January 29 while pulling guard duty.  A sad though fairly routine occurrence.  The reasons are unclear.  The unfortunate young man, Danila Chaykin, seemed to be doing well in the service.

But Chaykin wasn’t just any conscript.  He previously served alongside Ruslan Ayderkhanov in the Yelan military garrison.  You’ll recall several months ago Ayderkhanov was apparently savagely beaten before his attackers hanged him to make it look like he committed suicide.

According to the press agency, Chaykin was a witness in whatever investigation of Ayderkhanov’s death took place.  But Ayderkhanov’s case was closed when military investigators almost unbelievably concluded there was no evidence of dedovshchina or other barracks violence.  They say he hung himself for personal reasons.

Recapping Interfaks and Life.ru coverage, Lenta says military officials suggest Chaykin took his life because his girlfriend married someone else.  But his friends say he didn’t have a girl, and he was due to demob in a couple months.  Meanwhile, Life.ru claims Chaykin had six gunshot wounds on his body.

Lenta’s version says Chaykin and Ayderkhanov were friends, and the former was questioned about the latter’s death.  Then they transferred Chaykin to Tajikistan.

Transfers of one-year conscripts are pretty rare in the Russian Army, though not unheard of when it comes to manning units in Tajikistan.

It seems a really curious coincidence that Chaykin too would kill himself.  Or was it a move to silence an inconvenient witness?

It’s odd too that the Ayderkhanov case — a case of patently obvious abuse –would die so quietly and completely.

Why does the Russian military, or someone higher up, want to conceal the truth about what happened at Yelan?  The authorities are very nervous about crimes that take place on a “national” [i.e. ethnic] basis.  It’s been postulated that Ayderkhanov was targeted because he was Tatar.

As recently as five or six years ago, there were people who would fight for answers and accountability.  One fears there are fewer today.  Maybe fear itself is greater now.

A Rock and a Hard Place

Russians in Tajikistan (photo: RIA Novosti / Vladimir Fedorenko)

Conscripts or contractees?  It’s difficult for the Russian Army to get the right kind of conscripts, where it needs them.  But, over time, it hasn’t been any easier to obtain long-term contract enlisted either. 

Last week, Izvestiya wrote about army plans to replace conscripts currently serving in its 201st Military Base in Tajikistan with contractees. 

An officer in the formation told the paper it’s too costly to keep 3,000 conscripts in Tajikistan, and, by the end of 2012, the Russian Army will replace half with contractees.  A GOMU source tells the paper replacing all 3,000 at once is “unrealistic.”  Contractees will reportedly serve on three-year deals getting 30,000 rubles per month.

The situation for Russians in Tajikistan, the officer says, is strained, and Tajik authorities regularly detain conscripts for one reason or another.  As an example, he cites the case of a conscript driver who killed three Tajiks last January.  Thus, he concludes, it would be easier with “professionals” – contractees —  who “know what they’re doing, and can be responsible for their actions.”

But there’s no reason to think contractees will avoid trouble any better than conscripts.  The first contract experiment proved that.  Contractees are more costly and just as difficult to control, if not more than their conscripted brother-soldiers.

According to Izvestiya, the 201st now has 5,500 personnel, including the 3,000 conscripts.

An old Krasnaya zvezda report says, in early 2007 – at the height of the first, failed attempt at introducing contract service – the military base had 7,000 servicemen in all, about 60 or 65 percent contractees.  Its two maneuver units had 50 percent or fewer in their ranks.

Back then, the Defense Ministry daily said the military was all set to send conscripts in place of hired soldiers.  It was hard to convince older, experienced men to go to Tajikistan because of the difficult living conditions and prospects for serving on contract in Russia.

As Izvestiya’s interlocutor intimated, relations between Moscow and Dushanbe are a bit strained right now, prompting some to wonder out loud if manning the 201st won’t become a moot issue.