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UZBEKISTAN


 

 

Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 9,949 9,713 11,300 91
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 420 450 550 173
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (date from the World Bank)

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 attention, either. 
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 seven years.
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?

Referendum
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 "critical dialogue".
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 branch. 

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ENERGY

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 stock companies.

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. 

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