Books on Uzbekistan
Update No: 314 - (22/02/07)
A country in limbo
The situation in Uzbekistan has become highly bizarre. There is nothing more
troubling for a dictatorship than the matter of succession. Dictators do not
like to anoint an obvious successor, who could expedite their own political, and
perhaps mortal, demise. But to be without one casts a question mark over any
regime. This is where democracy scores heavily over dictatorship every time. The
decision can be taken in due course by the people, not the dictator.
The seven-year term of office of the president of Uzbekistan expired on January
22nd 2007. Since no election has been announced, media outlets feel free to
speculate on the subject. On 22 January, Islam Karimov completed what was
supposed to be his last term in office, and Uzbekistan was left without a
president - but only on paper.
No election date was announced. The government simply ignored the fact that
Islam Karimov was no longer the president. Most Uzbeks did not seem to pay
The first and so far only president of independent Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov
came to power in 1989. Since then, there have been just two presidential
elections. And only two opponents have ever challenged Karimov. In the
Soviet-style election of 2000, Karimov received 91.9 percent of votes.
The term that began with that election was expected to end in 2005. However, a
2002 referendum passed two amendments to the constitution. One created a
bicameral parliament. The other extended the presidential term from five to
All hypotheses and forecasts come down to three scenarios that are regarded as
the likeliest: a referendum extending the presidential term of office, an
election with Karimov running for president again, and an election without
Karimov. Which will it be?
The population is so indifferent towards politics that the outcome of the
referendum, provided it is organized of course, would essentially be a foregone
conclusion. Two previous referendums (in 1995 and 2002) show that the
authorities always get what they want. In other words, this option is quite
likely, particularly since the opposition is disjoined and cannot organize
protests in the country. The international opinion is the only catch.
Uzbekistan is not the only post-Soviet country to have made use of referendums.
Its neighbours do not hesitate to organize referendums too. Practically all
presidents elected in the wake of the disintegration of the USSR were limited by
two-term provisions at first, but referendums took care of that. Turkmenistan
and Kyrgyzstan chose different means to practically the same end.
All this tampering with constitutions was frowned on in the West. Countries of
the region cannot help taking the opinion of the United States and European
Union into account. Or, rather, they cannot afford to fail to take it into
account. Referendums are no longer fashionable. Presidents of Kazakstan (2005)
and Tajikistan (2006) extended their reigns through elections.
A new trend is undeniable in Central Asia nowadays. Central Asian leaders are
out to legitimise their regimes through the instrument of election. Now that
elections have taken place in Kazakstan and Tajikistan, official Tashkent is
unlikely to want to be an outsider.
There is another factor that should be mentioned here. Tashkent must go through
the motions of democratic procedures because of the signal it recently received
from the European Union that international sanctions might be eased or even
lifted (the sanctions became the response of the international community,
horrified by the massacre in Andijan in May, 2005).
Election with Karimov
The question here remains the same: will the West acknowledge legitimacy of
the election with the results known in advance?
Let us therefore consider presidential elections in other Central Asian
countries. Running for re-election in 2005, Nursultan Nazarbayev in Kazakstan
enjoyed powerful international support. Not even US politicians, former and
incumbent, remained disinterested observers. Praising Nazarbayev for having
elevated Kazakstan "to the leading positions in the region" and
enabled it to "become a nexus of Eurasia in the 21st century, a place where
all roads meet," US State Secretary Condolleezza Rice demonstrated official
Washington's new attitude towards the "old" leaders it had criticized
only recently for their patent unwillingness to step down. Neither the Americans
nor anybody else entertained any illusions with regard to who would come in
first in the presidential race in Kazakstan.
Tajikistan became the second Central Asian country where the West demonstrated
its pragmatic approach. US State Undersecretary Richard Boucher visited the
republic on the eve of the presidential election in 2006 and said, "This
election may become a step forward in observance of all international laws and
standards in establishment of democratic institutions and reinforcement of
national stability." A spokesman for the OSCE who commented on the absence
of alternatives that was undermining legitimacy of the election earned a
sharply-worded diatribe from President Emomali Rahmonov, "We cannot meet
OSCE requirements or international standards because 99% of the population of
Tajikistan are Moslems. International norms are therefore beyond our reach for
the time being."
The European Union must have learned the lesson. Its officials nowadays are
openly courting Central Asian countries despite the lamentable state of affairs
with democratic freedoms in the latter. They know that they may lose important
partners in the energy sphere otherwise.
Europeans' new strategy in Central Asia will probably be outlined in the Concept
expected in April. It does not take a genius to foresee that Uzbekistan will be
playing a special part in this strategy. Active contacts between the European
Union and Uzbekistan confirm it, and so do the words of a major EU executive who
is convinced that "vital interests of the European Union include
development of relations with Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries in
the spheres of energy, transport, and environmental protection."
Uzbekistan's relations with the international community are improving indeed.
The sides have even reached a compromise on the events in Andijan on May 13,
2005, the very cause of the partial international isolation of Uzbekistan.
Restoration of relations with Tashkent is known in the European Union as
The Europeans will certainly demand from the Uzbek authorities some steps in
terms of democratization. Tashkent in its turn is prepared to meet the Europeans
halfway - but only to a certain extent. Something has to be done to sweeten the
pill for the West and persuade it to put up with the election whose winner is
known in advance.
Election without Karimov
Election without Karimov and on the day specified by the Constitution
(December 23, 2007) would certainly become a sensation. Of course, Karimov is
not going to leave big-time politics altogether. He may orchestrate his own
transfer to the upper house of the parliament which will be wielding a great
deal of presidential powers due to the planned political reforms.
As a matter of fact, Karimov meant precisely that when he had a parliament of
two houses formed in the country in 2002. Men who know what they are talking
about maintain that the Andijani events compelled official Tashkent to table
these plans because the country was in the focus of the West's attention then.
International pressure was applied to Uzbekistan. Karimov responded with having
non-governmental organizations, most of them American, driven from the country.
Democratisation, even partial and half-hearted, was out of the question while
the country was in isolation.
Some sources imply that the whole project has been retrieved and dusted off. Its
adoption now promises some interesting changes. The authorities mean to ease the
regime (somewhat) in the country, to become more transparent in relations with
neighbours, and to restore relations with the international community. Needless
to say, reforms like that (even mostly illusory) require some serious motives.
The motive is easy to guess. Introducing certain self-restrictions, the
authorities offer the West an exchange: modernization (or at least an attempt at
modernization) in return for acknowledgement of legitimacy of transfer of the
reign to the only person the president trusts - his daughter Gulnara.
As a matter of fact, the president may even step down before his time is up to
have the country passed down to Gulnara at some later date. This is actually the
likeliest variant - even if Karimov is elected the president again. Like his
Kazakh counterpart, Karimov has to solve the problem of succession. The
situation in Uzbekistan being what it is, the choice is his and his alone.
Realpolitik to the fore
A turn towards Russia is the logical course for Tashkent after burning its
boats with Washington over the repression of the demonstration at Andijan in
May, 2005. Moscow has no qualms about the odd massacre or two, nor about boiling
people alive and other atrocities. It is even perhaps useful for their purposes,
because the West does draw the line somewhere and that makes the regime easier
for the Russians to woo.
The Uzbeks don't like the Russians, nor the Russians them. But they both know
this to be the case and know that the other side does too. Mutual dislike, if
quite openly acknowledged, is a fruitful basis for cooperation.
Russia, Uzbekistan Sign Agreement on Military Airbase
Russia has secured permission for its military aircraft to use an air base
in Uzbekistan, The Associated Press news agency reported on December 21st, as
part of Moscow's efforts to extend its presence in Central Asia.
The Interfax news agency quoted Lt. Gen. Aitech Bizhev, a deputy chief of the
Russian air force, as saying that the two nations agreed in November that
Russian military aircraft could use the Navoi air base in central Uzbekistan in
emergencies. In exchange, Russia will equip the air base in the ex-Soviet nation
with modern navigation systems and air defence weapons, Bizhev said. While
falling short of a permanent military presence, the deal offers Russia an
opportunity to quickly deploy its forces to the region.
Bizhev also said in the future, Uzbekistan will host the regional headquarters
of a unified air defence system for Russia and several other ex-Soviet nations.
Uzbekistan evicted US troops last year and signed a far-reaching alliance treaty
with Moscow that opened the way for possible Russian military deployment.
In the past, Uzbekistan's authoritarian President Islam Karimov had reacted
coldly to Russia's military cooperation initiatives and sought to cultivate
closer ties with the United States and other Western nations, hosting US troops
for operations in Afghanistan in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
But Karimov abruptly changed course following Western criticism of the Uzbek
authorities' brutal suppression of the May 2005 uprising in the city of Andijan,
and forged closer ties with Russia and China. As long as he is allowed, without
voluble protest by them to boil people alive without censure, he is quite happy
to have anyone as allies.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a security grouping dominated by Moscow
and Beijing that includes Uzbekistan and three other former Soviet Central Asian
nations, urged the United States in 2005 to set a timetable for withdrawing from
their bases in the region.
Both the United States and Russia maintain air bases in another ex-Soviet
nation, Kyrgzystan. They both also have military bases in neighbouring
Tajikistan. Bizhev said on December 21st that Russia was modernizing
Tajikistan's air defence headquarters with state-of-the art equipment.
Death of Niyazov
These various deals happened to be announced on the same day as the death of
the Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov.
It is as well for the Central Asian despots to be reminded of their mortality.
Karimov is reputed to be in poor health himself and the spectre of succession
looms in Tashkent too.
In fact 2007 is a presidential election year. But the elections will be a
formality. There is some speculation that Karimov's daughter, Karimova, is being
groomed for the succession. But she is fiercely unpopular for doing the obvious
vulgar thing of using her parentage to enrich herself spectacularly and, few
doubt, corruptly. Moreover, as a woman she would face a strong opposition in a
profoundly sexist society.
Turkmenistan closes border with Uzbekistan
Turkmenistan closed its border with Uzbekistan, a spokesman for the Uzbek
customs committee said on the same day. "Customs checkpoints on the Uzbek
side are working as normal, but the Turkmen side has closed crossing points
along the whole border," he told RIA Novosti.
The spokesman said the situation at the five customs and security checkpoints on
the border with Turkmenistan remained calm after Turkmen President Saparmurat
Niyazov, who ruled the Central Asian country for more than 20 years, died at the
age of 66.
The Turkmen government, the State Security Council and parliamentarians said in
a televised statement earlier: "The people of Turkmenistan will remain
committed to the political course of Saparmurat Turkmenbashi."
Tashkent Makes Small Concessions on Andijan
An official delegation from the European has completed a fact-finding trip
to gather information about the Andijan violence of May 2005. NBCentralAsia
commentators say the visit was of great significance for both Tashkent and the
EU, providing President Islam Karimov with an opportunity to score some points
ahead of the presidential election, and allowing the Europeans to begin a
dialogue even if the concessions the Uzbeks made were insubstantial.
The EU mission on December 11 to 15 was investigating what happened on May 13
2005 when hundreds of people were shot dead by security forces in Andijan. Since
Uzbekistan has not allowed an international investigation to take place, the
authorities continue to deny that the protests involved a peaceful meeting in
support of local businessmen, broken up when the authorities opened fire.
Tashkent insists the rally was organised by Islamic terrorists.
The EU imposed economic sanctions on Uzbekistan in October 2005, in response to
the government's refusal to allow an independent investigation. In early
November 2006, the Uzbek authorities agreed to discuss Andijan events with EU
representatives, and in turn, Brussels agreed not to widen the scope of the
sanctions, although they were extended for six more months.
NBCentralAsia commentators believe Uzbekistan's decision to make some
concessions is linked to the presidential election scheduled for 2007.
"It has everything to do with the presidential election," said
political scientist Avez Baburov. "Time is now working in favour of the EU
and against Karimov, since the end of his current term is fast approaching. That
will forced Tashkent to give ground."
For its part, the EU is interested in opening a dialogue with Tashkent, as
sanctions have alienated Uzbekistan from the West and driven it closer to Russia
and China. The EU has therefore welcomed Uzbekistan's consent to discuss Andijan,
even though the fact-finding team were not given an opportunity to conduct an
independent investigation, according to Alisher Saipov, regional editor of the
Fergana.ru news agency.
"The delegation was given information that depicted events in a way that
was advantageous to the authorities," Saipov told NBCentralAsia.
"Anything else would have amounted to an admission that innocent, unarmed
civilians were killed that day."
Uzbekistan moving in the right direction, foreign scientist says
The draft of the Constitutional Law "On strengthening the role of
political parties in the renewal and further democratisation of state governance
and modernization of the country" and the draft of the Law "On
introduction of amendments to certain articles of the Constitution of the
Republic of Uzbekistan" submitted to Oliy Majlis by President Islam Karimov
continue to evoke the interest of foreign experts.
In particular, a reflection on the draft of the Constitutional Law has been
received from the Centre of Russia and Eurasia (CRE) under the Institute of
International Relations of the Panteon University of Political and Social
Sciences (Greece), the brain centre of the Greek government specialized in the
studies of CIS countries. The Centre has been recognized by the experts around
the world for its scientific validity and objectivity.
The Director of the Centre, Doctor Konstantinos Filis said the draft of the new
Constitutional Law was quite clear and detailed in terms of the separation of
executive and legislative powers. According to Doctor Filis, the law would
contribute largely to the strengthening of the role of political parties in
state administration and expand the rights of the parliamentary opposition in
influencing the government's actions.
The Greek expert says the new Constitutional Law, which reflects contemporary
trends and realities, is likely to stimulate public and political activeness of
citizens, particularly at the regional scale.
"I am particularly glad to note that the Karimov administration, when
making decisions, takes into account the traditions, customs, principles and
values of its nation, thereby protecting it against the loss of national
identity in the century challenged by globalisation," Filis said.
I believe, that Uzbekistan, with only 15 years of independence behind, by
adopting the laws like this new Constitutional law is moving in the right
direction, gradually becoming a prosperous, democratic state with a strong civil
society and a powerful legislature, which will have a strong voice and will
participate actively in the public and political life of the country, and will
thereby be able to "check" the decisions adopted by the executive
Gazprom receives Ustyurt exploration license
Uzbek national holding company Uzbekneftegaz has granted Gazprom a licence to
carry out geological exploration in Ustyurt region, an Uzbekneftegaz source
said. Gazprom has received a license for the right to carry out geological
exploration at the Akchalak, Agyin, Shakhpakhty, Nasambek, Kuanysh, Aktumsuk and
West-Urga investment blocks, the source said.
He said that at the end of last year the Uzbek government confirmed a program of
gradual geological exploration work in Ustyurt region in 2006-2011, developed by
Gazprom together with Uzbekneftegaz.
To carry out this work Gazprom set up a subsidiary - Ustyurt-Zarubezhneftegaz,
which was registered by the Uzbek Justice Ministry.
The source said that Gazprom started exploration drilling at one site in the
West-Ugra investment block in the middle of 2006. The first stage, in 2006-2007,
will involve 6,700 linear metres of 2D and 3D exploration, and also 41,700
metres in exploration drilling.
In January 2006, Gazprom and Uzbekistan signed an agreement on main principles
underlying the sharing of production regarding the Urga, Kuanysh and Akchalak
fields. Gazprom and Uzbekneftegaz signed an agreement on the main principles
underlying the geological survey of underground resources at the investment
units of the Ustyurt region.
According to Gazprom, the cost of geological work in Ustyurt region in 2006-2008
will amount to about US$260 million.
Uzbekneftegaz and Gazprom plan to sign a second PSA for the development of the
Ustyurt region over a period of 25 years. Uzbekneftegaz is a monopoly operator
in the Uzbek oil and gas complex, was set up in 1998 and includes six joint
Russia to buy oil, gas project assets in Uzbekistan
Russian gas giant Gazprom intends to buy most of Switzerland's Zeromax GmbH
holdings in oil and gas projects in Uzbekistan, Interfax quoted the National
Holding Company Uzbekneftegaz as saying.
According to the company official, the agreement on the purchase of oil and gas
assets was reached between a Gazprom subsidiary and Zeromax. "Gazprom is
expected to become a strategic investor both in the joint venture created by
Zeromax in the Uzbek oil and gas sector, and in the Swiss company's subsidiaries
working in the sector," he said.
According to the company official, this cooperation will contribute to
intensification of exploration and extraction of hydrocarbons in Uzbekistan and
will boost development of the oil and gas sector as the whole. Zeromax had no
comment on the report.
Zeromax has been in Uzbekistan since 1999. The company is a co-founder of about
ten joint and subsidiary enterprises in the oil and gas sector of Uzbekistan.
Zeromax subsidiaries are engaged in projecting and implementing projects to
rebuild, build and lay gas pipelines, as well as to build facilities in the fuel
and energy sector.