Russian President Vladimir Putin (R), Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev (C), and Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko take part in a meeting of the Eurasian Economic Union in Astana, May 29, 2014.
Mikhail Klimentyev (RIA Novosti, Kremlin) / Reuters

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

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  • EDWARD LEMON is a doctoral candidate at the University of Exeter. He specializes in migration and security in Russia and Central Asia.
  • JOE SCHOTTENFELD is an Associate Research Scholar at Yale Law School. He was previously a Visiting Fellow at the University of Central Asia and a 2015 recipient of a National Geographic Young Explorers grant.
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