Official: Tajik leader to visit Russia after all

Tajikistan Materials 3 February 2009 12:44 (UTC +04:00)

Tajik President Imomali Rakhmon will travel to Moscow later on Tuesday after reversing an earlier decision to cancel a visit to the Russian capital, the foreign ministry said.

Tajikistan had announced Rakhmon's trip cancellation in a move analysts said was aimed at pressuring Moscow to increase financial support for the impoverished nation or risk losing a key ally in Central Asia.

"Tajik President Imomali Rakhmon will fly to Moscow in the afternoon," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Davlat Nazriyev, reported Reuters.

Asked why the president had changed his mind, Nazriyev said he did not have an explanation:

"I only know what I just told you."

Once in Moscow, the Tajik leader is due to hold talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and attend regional security and economic summits organised by Russia later in the week.

Analysts say Tajikistan has been emboldened by heightened U.S. attention due to its strategic proximity to Afghanistan and wants to show Moscow it may consider alternative alliances if Russia did not show more commitment to its ties with Tajikistan.

Russia has for years promised to help the tiny former Soviet nation finish building the Rogun hydro-electric power station, whose cost is estimated at up to $3.2 billion and which is central to Tajik efforts to solve domestic energy shortages.

But with the financial crisis deepening, the project is taking longer than planned. Analysts say worries about investment climate in Tajikistan have also stalled negotiations.

Tajikistan, which has little explored mineral resources, is also worried Russia has more strategic interest in its energy-rich Central Asian neighbours such as Uzbekistan.