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Even with Russia’s recent intervention and bombing campaign in Syria and its annexation of Crimea in eastern Ukraine in the spring of 2014, the country’s largest external military presence, at least officially, is still in Tajikistan. Russia has 5,900 troops stationed there and aims to raise that number to 9,000 by 2020. Next door, at its air base in Kant, Kyrgyzstan, Russia is renewing its fleet of fighter jets and attack helicopters.
Russia claims that its buildup in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan comes out of concern for the growth of Islamist terrorism along Central Asia’s southern border with Afghanistan. But there is more to it than that. The moves are part of Russia’s goal to assert its influence over the entire region. In line with that effort was the proposal, a month after the Taliban seized Kunduz in September 2015, to create a shared Commonwealth of Independent States border force to respond