Monday, 14 November 2005, 06:21 S E C R E T DUSHANBE 001812 SIPDIS STATE FOR P, EUR, SA, DRL, S/P NSC FOR MERKEL ALMATY PASS TO USIAD EO 12958 DECL: 11/14/2015 TAGS PREL, PGOV, PINR, PROP, ECON, EAID, KDEM, KPAO, RS">RS, TI SUBJECT: DESPITE RUSSIAN PRESSURE, THE UNITED STATES CAN PROMOTE ITS POLICY GOALS IN TAJIKISTAN REF: A. A) DUSHANBE 1805 B. B) DUSHANBE 1762 C. C) DUSHANBE 1646 D. D) DUSHANBE 1352 CLASSIFIED BY: Richard E. Hoagland, Ambassador, EXEC, Embassy Dushanbe. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d) CLASSIFIED BY: Richard E. Hoagland, Ambassador, EXEC, Embassy Dushanbe. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
1. (S) SUMMARY: Although we now de-emphasize its previous Cold-War primacy in U.S. foreign policy, Russia still requires clear-eyed scrutiny for the havoc it can play with the President's democracy agenda and larger goals for transformational diplomacy in the former Soviet republics. We believe Russia is exerting consistent and strong pressure on Tajikistan to reduce the U.S. and Western role and presence. Although Tajikistan's "open-door" foreign policy seeks to balance competing foreign pressures for its own best interests, Moscow's pressure is beginning to take a toll. To promote democracy and economic and political reform in Tajikistan, we need to develop new ways to overcome negative Russian actions and influence. END SUMMARY.
WHY IS RUSSIA FOCUSING ON TAJIKISTAN?
2. (S) Russia is paying special attention to Tajikistan because of its military base and other strategic interests, including the Nurek Space Tracking Center. Moscow is determined to do everything possible to prevent a "color revolution" in Tajikistan that could threaten its perceived strategic interests. Working from the "siloviki" zero-sum-game worldview of current geo-politics, some in Moscow seem to believe that the United States wants additional and permanent U.S. military bases in Central Asia and sees Tajikistan as a prime candidate, especially after the U.S. loss of Karshi-Khanabad in Uzbekistan.
3. (S) Despite the fact that Tajiks are war-weary and opposition-leary, and President Rahmonov is still genuinely popular, Moscow truly fears a "color revolution" in Tajikistan. Elsewhere, "color revolutions" have tended to bring Western-oriented leaders to power, although in Tajikistan no Saakashvili or Yushchenko is waiting in the wings. A "color revolution" in Tajikistan, the "siloviki" fear, would open the door for a U.S. military base, or even more devastating to Moscow, for Dushanbe to kick out the Russians and give the Russian military base to the United States. The nightmare of the "siloviki" is that the United States would then have a string of bases from Afghanistan, through Tajikistan, and into Kyrgyzstan to weaken Russia and dominate Central Asia, which Russia persists in calling its "sphere of influence."
4. (S) This may sound like easily dismissed fringe paranoia, but the "siloviki" do not play by our rules of fact-based logic. It is worth recalling that Moscow and the Russian Embassy in Dushanbe consistently put out the irrational rumor in 2004 that the United States had secretly convinced Tajikistan to demand that the Russian Border Force leave the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border which Russia had controlled back to the 19th century.
WHAT IS RUSSIA DOING?
5. (C) Because Russia is militarily weak, it uses other means to assert its authority in Tajikistan. After years of inconclusive negotiation, Russia and Tajikistan rapidly reached
agreement in 2004 (following Tbilisi's Rose Revolution) to forgive Tajikistan's bilateral debt and to establish the legal basis for the Russian military base in perpetuity.
6. (C) The symbolic culmination was President Putin's October 16, 2004, visit to Tajikistan. To set the hook in Rahmonov's jaw, Putin also announced major investments, variously described as $1.2 billion to over $3 billion, in Rahmonov's pet interests - hydropower (primarily Sangtuda-1 and secondarily Rogun) and the old Soviet aluminum tolling industry. Until then, no nation, especially in the West, took Rahmonov's pleas seriously to invest in these Soviet-era behemoths, although it is now evident that they had some economic merit, especially for South Asia.
7. (C) Since Russia made its commitment-in-principle, Iran has expressed interest in creating the financial consortium for Sangtuda-2, and China has said it will invest in the Nurek Hydroelectric Station. These potential investments, especially Russia's, could be seen as economically positive for Tajikistan and the region, or at least politically benign - except that Russia appears recently to be working to exclude Western participation in them (septel).
8. (C) Through the second half of 2004 and 2005, Russia has mounted a campaign to prevent "color revolutions" in the CIS. In overt media propaganda and in private and covert communications with governments like Tajikistan's, Moscow has asserted that U.S. democracy NGOs - specifically, National Democratic Institute, International Republican Institute, Freedom House, and Internews - are U.S. covert tools whose job is to prepare the local populations to overthrow "legal governments" in the CIS. More recently, the goal of Russian pressure seems to be to limit the presence of not just U.S. democracy NGOs but all Western elements present in Tajikistan.
9. (C) On the ground in Tajikistan, the Russian position seems to be hardening. The previous Russian Ambassador, Maksim Peshkov, was reasonable, amiable, and accessible. He worked the diplomatic circuit and was always available for reasonably frank, even if inconclusive, discussions with the U.S. and other Western ambassadors.
10. (C) Since the arrival in early summer of the high-level political appointee, Ambassador Ramazan Abdulatipov, the Russian Embassy has become a closed bastion. The U.S. Embassy's previous access to different sections of the Russian Embassy has nearly dried up, and Abdulatipov very seldom appears in public. He continues to accept diplomatic invitations, but almost invariably at the last minute pleads an unexpected visitor from Moscow or that he is indisposed. The rare times that he is seen in public - e.g., at important countries' national days - he ostentatiously huddles in a corner with the most senior Tajik officials present.
11. (C) At the same time, we and other Western embassies hear that Russian Embassy officers have unlimited free access at any time to Tajik Government offices, sometimes even barging in without appointments. This is especially telling because all other embassies are required to submit diplomatic notes, to which the responses are often long delayed, for appointments to conduct even the most mundane mid-level daily business.
12. (S) Most important, the Russian intelligence services thoroughly dominate Tajikistan's Ministry of Security. Ministry of Security views often take precedence in the Presidential
Apparat and key ministries like Justice that is responsible for registering foreign NGOs and Tajik media outlets and political parties.
BUT RAHMONOV IS NOT A SIMPLE PAWN
13. (C) Tajikistan describes its foreign policy as "open door," and balances its relations with the United States, Russia, China, Iran, and the European Union seeking what is best from each for its own national interests. During the last six months, President Rahmonov has repeatedly let us know he is "satisfied" with the U.S.-Tajik relationship. He is especially pleased with the security relationship - primarily U.S. funding and training to increase Tajik capabilities for border control, counter-narcotics, and counterterrorism.
14. (C) Even on the contentious issue of U.S. democracy NGOs, Rahmonov has appeared to split the baby - refusing legal registration for National Democratic Institute and Freedom House, but allowing them, nonetheless, to operate most of their programs. Another positive sign is that he has just approved for the national school curriculum a civic-education textbook that has been a long-term project of the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES). For some reason, IFES is the only U.S. democracy NGO that escaped Tajik scrutiny and operates unfettered.
INCREMENTALLY CLOSING IN ON WESTERN NGO'S AND OTHERS
15. (C) More recently, though, we detect an incremental hardening of the Tajik position. Although no new Tajik anti-NGO legislation is pending like in Kazakhstan and Russia, the Tajik Government is consistently working to gain greater control over all NGOs, not just democracy ones.
16. (C) The Tajik Government argues that during the 1992-97 Civil War and in its aftermath, Western NGOs flooded into Tajikistan without limit or supervision. Dushanbe now wants to find out who is actually in Tajikistan and what they are doing. For any country concerned about security, this is reasonable. But we also believe it is a Ministry of Security response to Russian prodding to prevent a "color revolution" and limit Western influence.
17. (C) Further, Tajikistan has recently been floating a new policy position, including during Secretary of State Rice's October visit and more recently with the European Union. The Tajik Government suggests it is time for foreign assistance delivered via NGOs to cease and be replaced by direct foreign investment in infrastructure projects (like the hydroelectric stations and roads) and business "joint ventures."
18. (C) Foreign Minister Nazarov has told us that this is, so far, a Tajik Government "desire, not a policy" (reftel B). Tajikistan argues that NGOs are both expensive, because of their high overhead to support foreign advisers, and sometimes ineffective. This, Tajikistan says, is an unacceptable waste of foreign assistance. While this argument has some merit, it suggests a worrisome trend, and will scare off the very international investors they are trying to attract.
INCREASING VISA DELAYS - MALEVOLENCE OR JUST INCOMPETENCE?
19. (C) Even more worrisome, obtaining Tajik visas is becoming more difficult - not just for U.S. NGO staff, but also for European NGO workers, foreign business people, and even staffs
of international financial institutions. Being an "inscrutable Eastern country," Tajikistan never likes to say "no." It just drags things out until reasonable but impatient people give up. There is a credible view in the Western diplomatic community that these new visa problems are a result of Russian prodding to limit Western influence in Tajikistan. It is worth noting the Ministry of Security vets all visa applications.
20. (C) However, another explanation is possible - corruption and incompetence. The previous reasonably professional chief of the Foreign Ministry's Consular Office was replaced this past summer by a Rahmonov relative (reftel D), and that's when the new problems started. It could be that he has the job to assure loyalty to a new restrictive visa policy. XXXXXXXXXXXX
BOOST THE ECONOMY TO PREVENT A "COLOR REVOLUTION"
21. (C) Russia's anti-U.S. stance in Tajikistan and Dushanbe's incremental moves against U.S. and other Western NGOs may be coincidental. However, we know Russia agitates for countries like Tajikistan to curtail, if not expel, U.S. NGOs. More indirectly, Russia does not deliver "foreign assistance" via Russian NGOs in Tajikistan. Moscow's promises of massive direct investment in hydropower and aluminum may have emboldened Rahmonov to begin to draw the line against NGO-provided Western foreign assistance.
22. (C) We know Rahmonov understands clearly that one of the key trip-wires for "color revolutions" is chronic economic stagnation. While he has been reasonably open to economic reform that would eventually create the conditions for Western economic investment, he may now be impatient with how long that process takes and that it comes with no tangible promises of investment. He may believe that to survive, he has to give Tajikistan concrete economic improvement and growth, and do it fast.
23. (C) From the West, Rahmonov receives painful and long-drawn-out economic restructuring and seemingly endless and inconclusive feasibility studies. From Russia (and Iran and perhaps China), he receives promises of large-scale investment that could potentially lift the entire economy. He has no extensive experience in the West and no deep understanding of the complexities and realities of the global economy. He wants Tajik economic growth, and he wants it now. If he has to take a little extra political baggage from Moscow, that's a price he may be willing to pay. At the same time, we do not believe that he will abandon Western-style economic restructuring and reform. He wants to hedge his bets.
WHAT CAN THE UNITED STATES DO?
24. (C) PUBLIC DIPLOMACY: Our short-term focus will be to protect the interests of U.S. NGOs as deliverers of developmental assistance. A mid-level Foreign Ministry official recently told us that the Tajik Government generally does not understand what U.S. NGOs really do and simply listens to Russia on these matters (reftel A). (COMMENT: This may not be as
absurd as it seems. All written communication with any part of the government must be conducted by diplomatic note, and the Ministry of Security screens all diplomatic notes. We suspect the Ministry of Security does not pass forward diplomatic notes with which it does not agree. END COMMENT.) Embassy Dushanbe plans to arrange information roundtables to bring together senior government officials and major U.S. developmental NGOs. We will also start a public diplomacy campaign of press releases focusing each week on one U.S. NGO and its achievements for Tajikistan. Print media reach a miniscule percentage of the population; but we know that the Ministry of Security and Presidential Apparat carefully study each and every U.S. Embassy press release, and that's what counts.
25. (C) SUPPORT FOR TAJIK HYDROPOWER IN GREATER CENTRAL ASIA: In brief, the U.S. Government needs to make clear to the Government of Tajikistan, in international fora and in public, that the United States supports the development of Tajikistan's hydroelectric potential for export to Afghanistan and Pakistan to create new Central-South Asian links. See septel.
26. (C) ENGAGEMENT: We cannot and should not attempt to compete with the constant back and forth of Russian and Tajik officials between Moscow and Dushanbe - and even less should we attempt to emulate their drinking bouts. However, building on Secretary Rice's successful October 13 visit, we would
SIPDIS definitely benefit from more frequent and - this is important - longer senior U.S. visits. Rahmonov does indeed listen, but he needs to have U.S. interlocutors willing to spend more than a few hours in Tajikistan every six months or so. He especially needs interlocutors who do not focus on the relatively stable security side of the bilateral relationship but who can tackle the harder parts of the relationship, including economic development.
27. (SBU) U.S. ASSISTANCE REVIEW: We do not want to appear like iconoclasts seeking to reinvent the wheel of U.S. assistance for Tajikistan. But we do suggest for consideration two possibilities:
28. (C) (A) For democracy NGOs, we need to consider whether current partners' approaches have been overtaken by events. For example, if Internews can no longer be effective with its current programs because Tajikistan is using its licensing regulations to strangle the broadcast of non-government information (reftel C), we need to consider whether a refocus on training journalists and helping "independent" media outlets to become financially independent might be a better way to meet our media goals. Any NGO will likely find successes to justify its current programs, but we may need a review council with political-level participation to determine whether current assistance is promoting U.S. core policy goals - or if we are on self-defeating autopilot.
29. (C) (B) It may be useful to convene an off-cycle senior assistance review with both U.S. and Tajik participants who are decision makers, not just at the technical level. We need to listen as well as to preach. What does Tajikistan want? How can we make what Tajikistan wants support core U.S. policy objectives? We believe that if we make this effort, and especially if we can jointly reach consensus, there will be less pressure on U.S. development NGOs. This, in turn, will provide a wider space for the United States to promote its core policy goals and objectives.
30. (C) COMMENT: Tajikistan has brought this latest crossroads
on itself. There is the requisite political stability for Tajikistan to continue on its modest path of democratic, economic, and political reform. However, thanks to Russian pressure, Tajikistan is embarking on a potentially confrontational approach that will slow development and encourage the Tajikistan Government's worst instincts. Now is the time to encourage Tajikistan to stay on track. END COMMENT. HOAGLAND