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Dec 20, 2016 | 09:01 GMT

3 mins read

Moscow Deepens Its Eurasian Security Tendrils

(SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
Summary

As its military and diplomatic standoffs with the West continue, Russia is renewing its efforts to boost security cooperation with its Eurasian neighbors. Under an agreement announced Dec. 15, Russia will station mobile missile launchers at its base in Tajikistan. This is the latest example of a pattern that will continue in 2017 as Moscow seeks opportunities to increase its presence throughout the region.

The Russian military said Dec. 15 that it would deploy BM-27 Uragan self-propelled multiple rocket-launcher systems to its 201st military base, which comprises 7,000 troops stationed at facilities in Dushanbe and Qurghonteppa. The highly maneuverable truck-mounted missile systems will increase Russia's ability to hit targets in Tajikistan's mountainous terrain. This latest deployment follows a Nov. 30 announcement by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu that additional weaponry and equipment, including airplanes and helicopters, would be sent to Tajikistan in 2017.

Tajikistan is not the only country on the Russian periphery that is tightening military and security ties with Moscow. On Dec. 12, Russia and Belarus agreed to conduct joint counterterrorism operations. This is a notable enhancement of their security collaboration, which previously had been limited to exercises. Neither the scope nor the timing of those missions has been disclosed. In Armenia, meanwhile, Moscow and Yerevan said they will create a joint army group — the United Group of Troops — that will combine Armenian army units and personnel from the 102nd Russian military base in Gyumri. Shoigu said the combined force is intended to "provide an adequate response to any armed attack as well as to other challenges and security threats to the parties." Further details about the group's mission or structure have yet to be revealed.

The new security arrangements parallel an increasingly tense political environment in Europe and the presidential transition underway in the United States. Russia hopes to take advantage of such distractions to increase its influence in the former Soviet sphere and strengthen its military position in the region.

Although recent deals were struck with countries already considered security allies — Armenia, Belarus and Tajikistan each are participating members of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization — Russia has forged military agreements with states outside that framework. On Nov. 29, Russia signed a deal to help Uzbekistan modernize its armed forces. The next day, the Russian and Azerbaijani defense ministers said their countries would expand their existing military cooperation to areas such as weapons purchases and training.

The various agreements deepen Moscow's influence among its Eurasian allies, but they do not give the Russian military free rein in those countries. Notably, neither Tajikistan nor Armenia gave Russia permission to increase its troop levels in their countries. In Belarus, the deal for joint security operations does not include establishing a permanent Russian base in the country, a politically sensitive topic there. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan are likely to maintain their neutrality and will try to balance their military cooperation with Russia by developing security agreements with other regional powers.

Russia will continue to face competition in its borderlands from the United States and NATO, whose semi-permanent force rotations in Poland, the Baltics and Romania will continue. But even if Western military commitments are scaled back, those countries and others in the region could turn to one another for security backing. Still, the West's divisions and distractions have given Russia more room to maneuver in its periphery. The recent spate of agreements between Moscow and other Eurasian countries is an indication that the Kremlin is likely to follow an increasingly assertive security strategy in the region.

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