Large numbers of Soviet military forces were located in the five Central Asian republics when the Soviet Union dissolved officially at the end of 1991. All the newly independent states took measures to gain control over the Soviet units they inherited, establishing a variety of agencies and ministries to define the gradual process of localization. In the mid-1990s, as support grew in Russia for recapturing in some form the lost territories of the former Soviet Union, attention focused on the five Central Asian republics, which still had substantial economic and military ties with the Russian Federation. When the Soviet Union dissolved at the end of 1991, the main military force in Tajikistan was the 201st Motorized Rifle Division, whose position and resources the Russian Federation inherited. Although nominally neutral in the civil war that broke out in Tajikistan in the fall of 1992, the 201st Division, together with substantial forces from neighboring Uzbekistan, played a significant role in the recapture of the capital city, Dushanbe, by former communist forces. As the civil war continued in more remote regions of Tajikistan during the next three years, the 201st Division remained the dominant military force, joining with Russian border troops and a multinational group of "peace-keeping" troops (dominated by Russian and Uzbekistani forces and including troops from Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan) to patrol the porous border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
The openly avowed purpose of the continued occupation was to protect Russia's strategic interests. Those interests were defined as preventing radical Islamic politicization and the shipment of narcotics, both designated as serious menaces to Russia itself. Meanwhile, Tajikistan formed a small army of its own, of which about three-quarters of the officer corps were Russians in mid-1996. Tajikistan, having no air force, relied exclusively on Russian air power. In mid-1996 the preponderance of the estimated 16,500 troops guarding Tajikistan's borders belonged to Russia's Federal Border Service. Border troops received artillery and armor support from the 201st Division, whose strength was estimated in 1996 as at least 12,000 troops.
Russia has kept more limited forces in the other Central Asian republics. Turkmenistan consistently has refused to join multilateral CIS military groupings, but Russia maintains joint command of the three motorized rifle divisions in the Turkmenistani army. Under a 1993 bilateral military cooperation treaty, some 2,000 Russian officers serve in Turkmenistan on contract, and border forces (about 5,000 in 1995) are under joint Russian and Turkmenistani command. Altogether, about 11,000 Russian troops remained in Turkmenistan in mid-1996. Uzbekistan has full command of its armed forces, although the air force is dominated by ethnic Russians and Russia provides extensive assistance in training, border patrols, and air defense. Kazakstan, which has the largest standing army (about 25,000 in 1996) of the Central Asian republics, had replaced most of the Russians in its command positions with Kazaks by 1995--mainly because a large part of the Russian officer corps transferred elsewhere in the early 1990s. No complete Russian units are stationed in Kazakstan, but an estimated 6,000 troops from the former Soviet 40th Army remained there in training positions in 1996, including about 1,500 at the Baykonur space launch center, which Russia leases from Kazakstan.
In Kyrgyzstan, which has developed little military capability of its own, Russian units guard the border with China. But maintaining military influence in Kyrgyzstan has not been a high priority of Russian military planners; a 1994 bilateral agreement improves incentives for Russian officers to remain in the Kyrgyzstan's army on a contract basis through 1999, but, as in Kazakstan, the Russian exodus has continued. President Askar Akayev of Kyrgyzstan lobbied for a larger Russian military presence to improve his country's security situation, but no action had been taken as of mid-1996.