A video of Tajik President Emomali Rahmon complaining to Russian President Vladimir Putin about his lack of respect for the countries of Central Asia that were once part of the Soviet Union has struck a nerve on social media, where it has been viewed millions of times.
Rahmon, addressing Putin directly, said that Tajikistan and other countries in the vast region have been treated like outsiders and indicates that the region deserves more investment from Moscow.
Rahmon made the comments on October at a summit of leaders from the former Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana.
Putin appears uncomfortable in the seven-minute video posted on YouTube, where it has been viewed around 4 million times. The video also also shows the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan looking on silently.
“We have always respected the interests of our main strategic partner,” Rahmon said, referring to Russia. “We want respect, too.”
At one point, Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev asks him to stop, but Rahmon refuses, saying, “We came to talk.”
Touching on a subject that Putin himself has cited, Rahmon said both he and Putin witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
“I was there in those meetings in the room when the Soviet Union collapsed,” he said. “Then like now — and you have to forgive me for saying this — not enough attention was paid to the small republics, the small nations.”
Putin has called the collapse of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [20th] century.”
Rahmon said the neglect of Tajikistan and the other countries of Central Asia, which he said were only used for their raw materials during the Soviet era, was one of the reasons for the collapse.
Putin’s response, according to TASS, was that during the Soviet era books were published in national languages, theaters were opened, and culture and the economy were developed.
Rahmon said Central Asian countries are not asking for many investments, adding that Russia should invest and that even billions invested “can be recouped in a very short period.” He suggested this would be reasonable in light of the Central Asians who travel to Russia to work.
Some of the YouTube users who commented on Rahmon’s statement congratulated him for speaking the truth to Putin. But others criticized Rahmon, who has ruled the tightly controlled former Soviet republic for three decades. Many said if he had provided decent living and working conditions for Tajiks, his relationship with his people would be different and Tajiks would not have to leave the country to find work.
Rahmon is one of Putin’s main allies, and Putin in June made his first public foreign trip since Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine to Dushanbe for talks with Rahmon.