Kremlin seen using IS attack in Tajikistan to further interests in region

Caravanserai and AFP


Russian soldiers at the 201st military facility in Tajikistan, Russia's largest base abroad, line up in formation before conducting an operation in March 2019. [Russian Ministry of Defense]

DUSHANBE -- Observers are expressing concern that the Kremlin is using the alleged "Islamic State" (IS) attack in Tajikistan last week to play into the narrative that countries in Central Asia "need" Russian military assistance.

Tajik authorities November 6 said that 15 IS members were killed and five were captured during an attack on a border post with Uzbekistan. Two days later, IS claimed responsibility, saying 10 Tajik soldiers had been killed.

Russia, which maintains a military base in Tajikistan, quickly seized on the news, warning about potential IS incursions from Afghanistan into the region.

IS is setting up a base in Afghanistan to target ex-Soviet countries, Alexander Bortnikov, director of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), said November 7.


A burned-out vehicle is shown November 6 near the Tajik-Uzbek border after a shootout with IS militants. [Tajik Interior Ministry]

"We are seeing increased activity by IS units in Afghanistan," Bortnikov told a regional security forum in Tashkent, quoted by TASS state news agency.

"Their goal is to create a base to expand into CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] territory," he said.

IS units in Afghanistan are all part of the IS Khorasan branch (IS-K) and are working in tandem with groups called Jamaat Ansarullah and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (also known as the Turkistan Islamic Party), he said.

The expansion into the ex-Soviet countries "will be done by militants who are citizens of Central Asian republics and have experience in warfare as members of terrorist groups", Bortnikov said.

Russia has a history of using this type of scaremongering to bolster support for its interests in Central Asia. The timing of the FSB statement suggests more of the same.

Advancing Russian interests

Since 2005, Tajikistan has been guarding its own border with Afghanistan. Formerly, Russian troops helped patrol that frontier.

The Kremlin has not given up the idea of "proving" the need for its troops to return there.

In addition, the 201st Russian Base, which under a 2012 agreement is now entitled to stay in Tajikistan till 2042, is the largest Russian military installation abroad.

Observers of Central Asian-Russian relations see blatant self-interest in the Kremlin's remarks.

"Russia makes such statements in order to strengthen its military presence in Central Asia," said Talgat Ismagambetov, an Almaty-based political scientist.

"Arguments that the terrorist threat from Afghanistan is growing are questionable ... because IS is weak in Afghanistan."

Any attempts by IS to swarm from Afghanistan into Central Asia would run into the Taliban, IS's much stronger rival, and anybody -- Taliban or IS -- trying to conquer Central Asia would "have to fight Russian troops", he said.

"Russia ... is simply scaring its southern partners and trying to lure them into its integration projects," he said. "This message is especially directed at Uzbekistan, which is not part of the Collective Security Organisation or the EEU [Eurasian Economic Union]."

Murat Konokbayev of Bishkek, a former Kyrgyz diplomat, was similarly sceptical of Moscow's intentions toward Central Asia.

In Kyrgyzstan, Russia keeps multiple military bases in the secure north and no base at all in the more restive southern Batken Province, "though Bishkek has requested one from its ally for many years", he said.

Bortnikov's dire warnings about IS preparing to invade Central Asia are "exaggerated", Konokbayev said.

"The militants in Afghanistan ... give no signs of planning to attack [Central Asia]," he said. "This is characteristic rhetoric for Russian security agencies when they want to implement an agenda that serves Moscow."

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It's necessary to steer clear from Russia. Stealing is the only thing they know how to do. One should expect nothing good from them. It's 100% certain that Russians set up this attack.


Kazakhstan is losing about three billion annually because of the Customs Union. But it is necessary to pay to keep Pukin from starting a war. Soon we will settle a score; Russia is weakening.


I 100% support this conclusion. Not only through IS, but Russia even actively uses poor migrants to make Tajikistan join the Customs Union, which has no benefits for the country. The Tajik government also doesn't react to Russia's Nazi approaches. We are helpless before Russia. Tajikistan need broad cooperation with Europe and the USA.


First off, learn to write Russian without mistakes!!!


But I am not Russian and I don't have to write without mistakes in Russian


You see the freaking mess in many countries where America set its foot


Then write in Amharic


It is purely Russian provocation. Their military bases need to be shut down all over Central Asia.


Exactly! And replace them with the American [bases]... And then we'll start living it up!


You could tell right away. Moreover, the Kremlin forces most likely orchestrated this attack. So to the contrary it is necessary to fight off Russian meddling.