Moscow, Russia (GVO) – Allegedly drunk, scantily clad Russian soldiers from Moscow’s largest foreign military base got a shock when partying in the Tajik town of Kulob: a gang of Tajik youth unimpressed with their behaviour soon set on them.
The July 28 brawl that ensued has since spilled onto social media, sparking confrontations between supporters and opponents of the base.
Tajikistan, which would have limited capacity to defend its 1,200 kilometer border with Afghanistan in the event of a serious incursion, looks to Russia for security.
But the base, which houses members of Russia’s 201st Motor Rifle Division, is unpopular with locals, who complain it has caused infrastructural and psychological damage in the area due to live fire military exercises. There have even been cases where livestock have died after being hit by stray bullets, they say.
News of the fray was passed over by Russian media and was only briefly mentioned by pro-Russian media in Tajikistan. Supporters of the base called the reports a “provocation” and appealed for perspective.
US-funded Radio Ozodi came under intense attack for publishing information about the fracas on its Facebook page:
Hey, Ozodi, what are you publishing? You are worse than tabloids. It looks like a provocation.
Nonsense! The 201st division helps us in defending the state!
Nonsense! You were silent and now you have started talking? It seems someone does not want this base in TJ
It is clear who finances this news agency and whose interests it lobbies.
Some commenters suggested closing the base:
It is time for the base to go back home to Russia.
We should send them from our country once and for all….
But they received replies underlining the country’s dependence on Russia:
Send them off and receive your two million migrants back.
Don’t you consider it important that thanks to this base we are not Afghanistan right now? Before the base our own defensive potential was zero and now we also have nothing to be proud of.
The 201st Russian military base, which currently hosts about 7,500 military personnel across three facilities, is the only Soviet military station that was not nationalized by the host republic after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. During the Tajik civil war between 1992 and 1997, the base continued to operate under the Russian flag. In October 2012 Moscow won a new 30-year term at the base. The Kremlin also has a Space Control System and Okno Space Surveillance System in Tajikistan.
While officially it adopted a neutral stance towards the conflict, many accused the 201st base of providing military assistance to the pro-government faction and effectively bringing incumbent President Emomali Rakhmon to power. Recently, Moscow announced that more than 300 Russian troops were killed during the Tajik civil war — an argument for those who say Russian soldiers were active participants in the conflict.
According to an interstate agreement, Russian soldiers stationed at the base cannot be prosecuted in Tajikistan for any crimes they commit, even those they commit outside the boundaries of the base.
Parviz, an Ozodi reader, wrote:
We are kindly asking the Kulob police not to prosecute the local lions who defended our honor and culture and got into a fight with these Russian drunks. Please, free them. Oppositely, those Russians who came half-naked into the centre of the city at midnight should be punished and deported. We live in an independent country and should not be scared of Kremlin or Putin in our decisions.
Another Facebook user concluded that it is his fellow countrymen that are guilty for allowing the soldiers do whatever they want:
It is our own fault. They don’t behave like this in Chechnya, Ingushetia, and even in Dagestan. Because they know they will get a response. Even in Afghanistan, where Tajiks live. This is our poor attention to religion. Every real Muslim should defend his honor.
The scenes of hooliganism and violence on July 28 were insignificant in the context of other PR disasters the 201st base has suffered during its time in the country. In 2009and 2014 respectively, two taxi drivers were allegedly murdered by Russian soldiers. All four murder suspects were surrendered to the Russian side for further prosecution.