Books on Uzbekistan
Update No: 300- (01/01/06)
Back to Post-Soviet business
There is no doubt that the massacre in Andijan in May last year, in which
hundreds were killed, has changed everything. Uzbekistan is no longer a Western
ally in Central Asia. The US is to leave its base in Karshi-Khanabad, close to
the Afghan border, since its condemnation of the appalling events in May.
The ghastly dictatorial regime is naturally looking back to Russia. Karimov
continues to vilify the United States and the EU. In a December 7th speech, the
Uzbek leader suggested that the US democratisation strategy was ill-conceived.
"There is not and cannot be a single model of universal democracy,"
Karimov said. "I think it is short-sighted for a country that views itself
as the most powerful country to say that its own model of democracy is
"Think for yourselves, dear friends, exporting democracy and introducing it
forcibly from abroad is in itself against the nature of the concept of
democracy," Karimov added. This at least introduces a philosophical
dimension to the dispute.
Westward- ho - yes, towards Russia
Uzbekistan has rapidly developed into what some analysts describe as Russia's
"largest strategic bridgehead" in Central Asia. A mutual security
pact, concluded in November, opens the way for the establishment of a Russian
military base on Uzbek territory. Moscow is also looking to rapidly expand its
economic influence in the Central Asian nation.
Uzbek leader Islam Karimov and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the
security pact in Moscow on November 14. The signing ceremony occurred a week
before the last US military aircraft departed from an Uzbek air base at
Karshi-Khanabad, culminating a process that started with the Karimov
administration's eviction order in late July.
Russian political analysts have described the recent turn of geopolitical events
in Uzbekistan as a great "victory for Russian diplomacy." Alexei
Malashenko, a Central Asia expert at the Moscow Carnegie Centre, asserted in an
interview published by the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper that the restoration of
Russia's position in Uzbekistan had been one of the Kremlin's top geopolitical
priorities. Russian leaders, however, show no signs of contentment with recent
diplomatic successes. Some analysts believe that Moscow will continue to expand
its influence across Central Asia, including Kyrgyzstan.
The Uzbek-Russian pact creates the possibility of the establishment of a
permanent Russian base in Uzbekistan. But Russian officials say there is no
hurry to place Russian troops in the country. Uzbek troops "are capable of
preserving peace and stability on the border with Afghanistan on their
Eventually, Russia may try to set up a forward operating base in Uzbekistan with
a relatively small number of troops, Sergei Karaganov, the chairman of the
Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, suggested in an interview with Echo
Moskvy radio. Such a facility could be rapidly expanded, if circumstances
warranted such action. "The prospect of rendering mutual assistance in the
event of conflict is [in itself] a deterrent," Karaganov said.
As Uzbekistan becomes strategically dependent on Moscow, other analysts say, the
Kremlin will look to expand economic ties, aiming to secure a prominent role for
the Russian energy giants Gazprom and Lukoil in several lucrative oil and gas
projects in Uzbekistan. Some experts also suggest that Russia will press Karimov
on a debt-for-assets swap, in which Russia would forgive Uzbekistan's roughly
US$500 million debt in exchange for control over two strategic aircraft
The process of Uzbekistan's economic re-integration into Russian-dominated
structures is already underway. Tashkent has applied for membership in the
Eurasian Economic Community (EAEC), according to Grigoriy Rapota, the
secretary-general of the organization. "The application is under
consideration at present," the Kyrgyz news agency Kabar reported Rapota as
saying in a report distributed December 8th.
There are a few Russian analysts who are wary of Moscow's deepening involvement
with the Karimov administration. The dissenting voices warn that the short-term
strategic gains achieved by the signing of the mutual defence pact could be
wiped out over the longer term. They add that Karimov's hold on power may be
tenuous, given the large and perhaps growing domestic opposition to his rule.
They are also alarmed that the Karimov administration has done little to address
the economic complaints that serve as the foundation of popular discontent. This
leaves open the possibility that Russia could get sucked into what would be
essentially an Uzbek civil war pitting the Karimov administration against its
Strong Russian support for Karimov also stands to be a source of friction in
Russia's relations with the United States and the European Union, a few analysts
in Moscow suggest. Both the United States and European Union demanded an
independent investigation into the Andijan events, in which Uzbek troops killed
hundreds of civilians. Uzbekistan's refusal to comply has prompted the United
States and the EU to take retaliatory action.
Murray on the warpath
It is relevant to point out here that there is someone who is determined to
keep the real nature of the Uzbek regime in the public eye in the West; that is
former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray. The former ambassador was
squeezed out of his post by the Foreign Office in 2004 after criticising the
human rights record of the Uzbek government. He is turning to a number of
different forums in the US and the UK, the two Western countries with strong
ties and support for the Tashkent government before the bloody events of May.
Since the appalling massacre of May 13th in Andijan in the eastern part of the
Ferghana Valley near to Kyrgystan, whence hundreds of Uzbeks fled, relations
have soured. The US arranged for refugees being threatened with return to
Uzbekistan to be flown instead to Romania, and for some onwards to other
countries offering asylum. Tashkent responded by obliging the Americans to
vacate the military base that they were leasing in Karsi-Khanabad on the Afghan
border. Washington then cancelled payment of rent of the base for the last two
years. London, as ever, took its cue from its Transatlantic mentor. Uzbekistan
is no longer a favourite.
Murray saw that his moment has come once again. He is the one man who has been
thoroughly vindicated. He is championing human rights, not only in Uzbekistan,
but also those of the people being detained in the West's own campaign against
terrorism. He has not only Washington, but the British government in his sights.
Human rights violations lead to increased isolationism
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) is a private, international
communications service to Eastern and Southeastern Europe, Russia, the Caucasus,
Central Asia, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia, funded by the US Congress
through the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Uzbekistan is, therefore, in its
The increasingly isolated totalitarian government there keeps itself in power
through massive human rights violations and a system of slave labour, according
to Murray. He told a recent RFE/RL audience in Washington that "the Uzbek
government is not a model of Southeast Asian development; rather, it is much
closer to North Korea."
"Torture," said Murray "is the tip of totalitarian state control
in Uzbekistan." According to Murray, there are at least 10,000 political
prisoners in Uzbekistan and 99 per cent of all trials in Uzbekistan result in
confessions. Murray, who "fell out" with his government over policies
in Uzbekistan, claimed that much of the information passed to the British MI-5
and other intelligence agencies is unreliable, because prisoners are tortured
and their children and relatives are threatened with torture. "The
intelligence is rubbish," he said, "people who have been tortured will
sign up for anything."
"The Uzbek economy is not reforming," according to Murray. With
"60 per cent of the Uzbek population tied to the rural kolkhoz
system," Murray said these "serfs or bonded labour," particularly
on the state cotton farms, assure a cheap labour force for the government while
dampening political dissent. An average wage for farm workers is two dollars per
month, Murray said, while an Uzbek factory worker earns on average 28 dollars
per month and even those are "paid months in arrears, or often
in-kind." According to Murray, "one-third of the population, including
children as young as six or seven, are dragooned" to help with the cotton
Murray also described the Karimov government's economic stranglehold in
Uzbekistan. Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Uzbekistan has "dried
up," Murray said, because foreign investors are treated poorly. Murray said
that he thinks Uzbekistan is "looking to Gazprom and the Russian
government" as a model of economic development. According to Murray,
President Karimov fears that "a little liberalization would lead to
independent thought" in Uzbekistan, so the Russian business model is the
one most helpful to Karimov. Murray is "not surprised" by the trial of
23 businessmen in Andijan earlier this year, because "the [Uzbek]
government can't stand any private sector to exist outside the control of the
Murray concluded that, until recently, Western governments were
"complicit" in the actions of the Uzbek government by permitting
"certification [for continued foreign aid]." He urged the
international community to apply more pressure on the Uzbek government over its
violations of human rights.
Uzbekistan to attract 900m Euro in foreign investment
A government spokesman announced on November 18 that Uzbekistan intends to
attract 900 million Euro in foreign investment to fund 134 projects in 2006,
Interfax News Agency reported.
The representative of the external economic relations and foreign investment
department said the country would attract about 365 million Euro in secured
loans for 47 projects and about 553 million Euro in foreign direct investment (FDI)
for 87 projects, with five major energy projects accounting for 30 per cent of
FDI. Some of the projects highlighted by the spokesman were Russian oil major
LUKoil who will develop natural gas deposits in the central Bukhara region and
conduct geological surveys in the northwestern Ustyurt region; Swiss company
Zeromax GmbH who will conduct oil and gas exploration in the southwestern region
of Guissar and Malaysia's Petronas who will conduct exploration in the southern
part of the country.