Russia's President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with his Kyrgyz counterpart Almazbek Atambayev at the Ala-Archa State Residence in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan February 28, 2017. (Xinhua/Reuters)
MOSCOW, March 1 (Xinhua) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin visited traditional allies of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan on Monday and Tuesday to "synchronize watches" in face of challenges, analysts said.
According to them, Putin's diplomatic flurry, which was rare in recent years, aimed to settle pressing issues in the region and build a more consolidated Central Asia.
Russia will beef up efforts to protect the Tajik-Afghan border, including using a Russian military base in Tajikistan, Putin said after talks with his Tajik counterpart Emomali Rahmon.
Under a deal that expires in 2042, the Russian military base in Tajikistan now houses the largest ground troops of the Russian Armed Forces outside the country.
"This is important because Tajikistan shares a 1,300-km border with Afghanistan, where comes growing terrorist threat," said Stanislav Pritchin, research fellow at the Center for Central Asia and Caucasus Studies of the Oriental Studies Institute in Russia.
During Putin's visit, Russia and Kyrgyzstan also agreed to strengthen military and technical cooperation to fight terrorism and crimes.
Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russia-led military alliance established in 1992.
Putin said Russia will coordinate joint activities with the three countries within the CSTO.
"Russia prioritizes security interests in Central Asian issues," said Andrei Grozin, head of Central Asia and Kazakhstan Department at the Commonwealth of the Independent States Institute.
In Duschanbe, Putin urged closer trade and economic ties with Tajikistan and said Russia is interested in increasing the imports of agricultural products from the country.
In Bishkek, Putin said Russia plans to invest 100 billion rubles (about 1.7 billion U.S. dollars) in Kyrgyzstan's gas distribution network and help reduce its financial burden.
During the tour, Putin told his counterparts that Russia's cooperation with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan ensures economic development in the three countries.
Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, together with Armenia and Belarus, are members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), a Russia-led economic bloc aiming to optimize the flow of goods and services among its members.
During his visit, Putin, seeking to include Tajikistan in the EEU, agreed to relax restrictions on Tajik workers in Russia.
CONSOLIDATION AMID UNCERTAINTIES
Putin's visit to the three countries came as the leaders have realized the geopolitical uncertainties, including "the change of power in the United States, the destructive process in the European Union and aggravated problems in the Middle East," said Grozin.
"The world is changing and the Central Asian countries need to consolidate around its nearest neighbors, which are their natural and historical allies," he said, calling Putin's visit a "synchronization of watches."
In addition to Russia, China is also an important partner of Central Asian countries given the Belt and Road Initiative and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, according to Pritchin.
Grozin said an integrated Central Asia will facilitate the development of the EEU and the Belt and Road Initiative as well as the connection of them.