Rahmon awaits Putin to launch Rogun hydropower plant

Rahmon awaits Putin to launch Rogun hydropower plant

President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon set the date of launching the first turbine of the Rogun hydropower plant on November 16. The date was not chosen at random - it coincides with the celebration of the President’s Day in the country. Rahmon sent out invitations to the ceremony to his 15 colleagues and representatives of international organizations in advance.

Special efforts are reportedly made by Tajik diplomats in the Russian direction. Rahmon is really exited to see Russian President Vladimir Putin in Tajikistan on November 16. And it's not just about the Rogun HPP. The expert community is convinced that on this day Rahmon will arrange the viewing of his son Rustam Emomali as possible successor. Today, he is the mayor of Dushanbe, but no matter how successful he is as a governor, serving as president will be extremely difficult for him, if the heads of neighboring states, including the Russian leader, do not like him.

Tajik expert Rustam Islambek told Vestnik Kavkaza that the next presidential election could be held as early as next 2019, not in 2020, according to the law. According to the Constitution of Tajikistan, Emomali Rahmon can be elected to the main state post many times, but he decided to perform the operation 'Successor'. He has started to prepare Rustam Emomali for the presidency a long time ago. Over the past 5 years, Rustam Emomali has worked in senior positions in the Customs Service, Anti-Corruption Agency, and since January 2017 he has served as mayor of Dushanbe. During his work, he showed good results and even was awarded the Order Zarrintoj (Golden Crown) by his father.

If Rustam Emomali becomes president, then Emomali Rahmon will retain the main role in determining the country's domestic and foreign policy. According to the 2015 special law, which gave Emomali Rahmon the status of the Founder of peace and national unity – Leader of the nation, future leaders of the country must agree important decisions with the Leader of the nation. Also they will create a large Fund of the Leader of the Nation for Emomali Rahmon, which will be allocated at least $4 million annually from the state budget after his departure from the presidency.

According to Rustam Islambek, Emomali Rahmon attaches great importance to the upcoming event, and looks forward for Putin's visit, that he is ready to give Moscow the construction of the Shurabad Hydroelectric Power Plant of the Vakhsh Cascade, if Russia is interested in the project. According to the expert, the successor issue is not as rosy as it may seem at first glance. Recently, Dushanbe-Moscow relations have been accelerated - the Tajik side has received funds from Russia for the development of the education system, senior Russian politicians often visit the country, but there are unresolved issues as well. Therefore, Islambek does not exclude that the Russian side may support the Tajik version of the operation 'Successor' by making a counter offer - regaining control over the part of the Afghan-Tajik border. Given the unrest and the recent Pamir conflict, it has grounds for this.

Commenting on the situation, expert Adolat Mirzoyeva told Vestnik Kavkaza that, apparently, the authorities will hold another special operation in the Pamir Mountains before November 16 - Rahmon has to show to his neighbors and Moscow that he fully controls the situation. "Without this, talking about his son as a successor, future legitimate president of Tajikistan, who is able to maintain stability, is not serious," the expert believes.

And of course, the Rogun HPP itself. According to Dushanbe, Rustam Emomali personally checks the progress at the facility every 3-4 days. The construction of the hydropower plant has become the national idea of Tajikistan. President Rahmon personally launched the protracted project two years ago, operating a bulldozer himself, when the overlap of the Vakhsh River was started. The Tajik president does not hide the fact that he sees Rogun as a 'pearl' in his crown. He repeatedly said that if Rogun is built, he would have no other desires. Recently he crowned himself the Founder of Rogun HPP. Although this project was developed in Soviet times by the Tashkent Institute 'Hydroproject,' the preparatory work for the construction of the Rogun HPP began only in 1976. While the dam was constructed in the period of 1982-1991, it was suspended due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the civil war in Tajikistan (1992-1997). The project was resumed in the early 2000s, but only at the level of a search for investors. Russia's Rusal responded to Dushanbe's request. But the parties could not agree on the height of the dam and the Tajik side terminated the agreement with Rusal.

In 2007, Emomali Rahmon announced the start of the construction of the dam with the use of public funds, as well as through the sale of Rogun shares to the population. Last year, funds raised from the sale of Eurobonds were also added to the budget funds.There were only a few days left before the first stage of the Rogun HPP is launched. However, in reality, Rogun was not launched for a long time, while replenishing the treasury with exported electricity started even later - there are no power lines along which it can be exported, and most importantly, there have been no potential buyers for Rogun energy yet. For example, Afghanistan and Pakistan, which were considered by Tajikistan as the main buyers of electricity, took a non-committal position - "when the hydropower plant is launched, then we will see." But in the East, this position can be quite interpreted as a refusal.

Expert on Central Asia and the Middle East Alexander Knyazev believes that it is crucially important for the leadership of Tajikistan to demonstrate that the implementation of the Rogun hydropower plant project is successful. "But they have no funds to continue construction, despite the fact that the originally planned capacity was reduced precisely for financial reasons. The solemn ceremony organized by the Tajik authorities is obviously intended for two audiences at once. First, Rahmon needs to demonstrate the success of his government to the population and there is no better proof than the Rogun hydropower plant, especially considering the PR campaign during the many years of its troublesome construction. Second, no less important for Rahmon, grand celebrations related to Rogun may arouse the interest of potential investors, who are still doubtful about  "the construction of the century." And VIP persons attending the celebrations in theory should reduce the level of critical or skeptical attitude of investors to the project," Knyazev believes.

Energy expert at Radio Ozodi (Radio Liberty) Sukhrob Oymakhmadov is really optimistic about the current situation, believing that Tajikistan will eventually become the largest electricity exporter in the region: “Tajikistan will have an opportunity to sell electricity to not just neighboring countries, but to South Asian countries as well. And it may contribute to attracting additional investments to the country. But do not forget about the domestic seasonal shortage of electricity. After the first Rogun units are launched, the population will forget about the limit of electricity, and the country will be able to develop the industry and create new jobs," Oymahmadov told Radio Ozodi.

Rustam Emomali is also responsible for the preparation of pompous celebrations dedicated to the launch of the first unit of the Rogun hydropower plant. Probably, the opportunity to present the likely future head of Tajikistan to high-ranking neighbors couldn't have been better. And the capital’s mayor, who intends to arrange a national holiday on November 16, is well aware of it. On this day, residents and guests of Tajikistan are promised a grandiose concert and an unprecedented theatrical performance when 400 snow-white pigeons will be released into the sky. The upcoming meal was also marked by eastern generosity - 40 bulls symbolizing wealth and luxury will be slaughtered, and the best chefs from Tajikistan and abroad will be mobilized for cooking.