Books on Uzbekistan
Update No: 322 - (26/10/07)
Title of honorary elder of Turkmen people conferred on
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov signed a decree on conferring the
"Honorary Elder" title on President of the Republic of Uzbekistan
Islam Karimov on October 18.
Islam Karimov was paying an official visit to Turkmenistan at the invitation of
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. He is courting the new man in
He knows none of his neighbours will so much as mention his appalling human
rights record. The West now does all the time.
The Uzbek president was awarded the honorary title for his "contribution to
developing the friendly relations between Turkmenistan and the Republic of
Uzbekistan; strengthening unity and solidarity between the two brotherly peoples
who are traditionally bound by ties of friendship, good neighbourliness and
spiritual kinship;" as well as for, "particular contribution to
increasing the level of political, economic and cultural relations" between
the two countries.
The award ceremony was held at the Ruhyyet Palace followed by a gala concert by
Turkmen and Uzbek masters of arts.
Usmanov the successor?
Karimov is only mortal. He is rumoured to be in bad health. He has one possible
successor, who might improve things, as Niyazovc's is doing somewhay in
He's one of Russia's richest men, an oligarch whose industrial empire stretches
from mining and media to a stake in London's famed Arsenal football club. But if
Alisher Usmanov seems to have everything he could want, appearances may be
deceiving. After all, the Uzbek-born billionaire is widely seen as a possible
political heir to Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan's authoritarian president.
Over the past two decades, the Russian tycoon, who hails from one of the Uzbek
capital's most prominent legal families, has amassed a fortune that is estimated
at more than $5.5 billion. Yet outside the former Soviet Union, little was known
of the portly 54-year-old until last summer, when Usmanov suddenly seized
headlines in Britain and elsewhere with a series of sensational stories -- not
all to his liking.
In Britain, Usmanov seemingly took the easy route to instant notoriety: In
August, he went on a buying spree of shares in former English Premier League
champion Arsenal, raising his stake in the team to 23 percent. In doing so,
Usmanov put himself in a position to launch a takeover of the storied club, and
became an instant target of criticism by English fans concerned about the future
of the "Gunners."
Around the same time in Russia, Usmanov was winning praise for donating the
entire collection of artwork of the late cellist Mstislav Rostropovich to the
Constantine Palace in St. Petersburg, a presidential residence and venue for
international summits. The works, which carried a reported price tag of $40
million, seemed to signal a desire to please President Vladimir Putin, whom
Usmanov has called "a blessing" for Russia.
But back in Britain, more bad press beckoned. On his Internet blog, Craig
Murray, the outspoken former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, made a series of
allegations about Usmanov's business affairs and his alleged financial ties to
Gulnara Karimova, Karimov's eldest daughter. Murray also called Usmanov a
convicted criminal in reference to his 1980 imprisonment for fraud, extortion,
and rape. Usmanov, who says he was framed, calls himself a "political
prisoner," who was later pardoned by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Murray's blog sparked a legal storm in Britain, which boasts some of the world's
toughest libel laws. Usmanov's lawyers succeeded in having Murray's post taken
down, citing libelous charges. Then, Usmanov launched a charm counterattack,
flying several British reporters on his private jet for interviews at his
retreat outside Moscow. The result was a series of profiles in the British press
that portrayed Usmanov as an enlightened tycoon hard done by both the Western
media and the Soviet system. "All my life I've been confronted with
prejudiced people who are determined to turn me into a stereotype -- a Central
Asian thief," he told (the Murdoch) "The Times" of London.
The billionaire, however, perhaps didn't anticipate the unintended consequences
of his legal and media offensive. In recent weeks, a flurry of blogs and
websites has popped up to post Murray's original criticisms as well as other
scathing remarks about the Uzbek-born billionaire. If Usmanov had sought to
silence his critics, the effect of his actions has been to shine an even
brighter light on his controversial story.
Which is what Murray continues to do. "It's true that Russia is something
of a gangster state now, where the mafia in alliance with the KGB and former KGB
operators really control the state," Murray later told RFE/RL. "And
this has enabled a small number of people to become ridiculously wealthy
billionaires through seizure of state assets -- like the state's mineral
resources -- for which they did not, in fact, pay a single penny. They simply,
effectively, stole them. And Usmanov is one of that class of oligarchs."
Not that any of this has mattered back home. In fact, Usmanov's London buying
spree as well as the latest brouhaha surrounding his alleged conduct have
largely been ignored by the media in Russia or in his native Uzbekistan.
The tycoon himself says he has little to do with Uzbekistan. A Russian citizen,
Usmanov says his ties to his native land are limited to annual pilgrimages home
to visit his parents' grave. Yet many people, including Murray, are convinced
that Usmanov harbors significant ambitions regarding his Central Asian homeland.
Murray says Karimov and his family would like Usmanov to succeed the president,
who is largely reviled in the West as one of the most oppressive leaders in the
former Soviet sphere. Of course, any such move does not appear imminent, even if
Uzbekistan is set to hold presidential polls in December. That's because while
Karimov is barred by the constitution from running for a third term, he is
widely expected to change the law or hold a referendum to stay in office -- a
common practice in the neighborhood.
"I've been aware for at least the last three years that Alisher Usmanov was
looked on favorably by the Karimov family as a possible, eventual successor when
President Karimov decides to give up in -- what Karimov hopes -- won't be for
several years," Murray says. "But the Karimov family has been very
keen to find a successor who they trust will not take all the money and all the
industries and properties away from the Karimov family."
Yevgeny Volk, who heads the Nasledie think tank in Moscow, says it is too early
to speculate about a possible successor to Karimov. But he agrees that Usmanov
would be a likely contender to take over when the 71-year-old strongman passes
on. "I think [Usmanov] needs power because -- first of all -- he still is a
stranger in Russia to some extent," Volk says. "With his [ethnic]
origin and roots, he belongs to the Uzbek nation. I think his political
ambitions could be realized in Uzbekistan."
But it's not just his native roots, as displayed in the gilded Central Asian
vases that line the halls of his retreat on the Moscow river, that would make
Usmanov the right man for the job. Usmanov, a senior adviser to Gazprom and
president of one its subsidiaries, is arguably part and parcel of the Kremlin's
Because Russia and its energy firms still play a significant role in Tashkent's
affairs, Usmanov could be uniquely poised to eventually take over in the Uzbek
capital with pivotal backing from Moscow. "Usmanov's latest steps show his
efforts to create a rapport with Russian leaders and demonstrate his
loyalty," Volk says. "His purchase of Rostropovich's collection for a
significant amount of money is a kind of investment in exchange for the Russian
elite's support for his future ambitions."
Like British-based Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who also owns an English
soccer club, Usmanov is believed to operate freely in large part due to his
support for Putin. In 2006, Usmanov bought the Russian newspaper "Kommersant,"
which once belonged to Putin's staunch critic and London exile, Boris Berezovsky.
The newspaper can be relied on by Kremlin leaders for a steady stream of
Usmanov has never said publicly that he would consider entering politics. Nor
has he made any political comments about Uzbekistan. There could also be
official and legal barriers for Usmanov to run for the Uzbek presidency. His
Russian citizenship and years abroad could work against his candidacy. But with
Russia using energy clout to reassert hegemony over the lands of Moscow's former
empire, few profiles might better fit the bill to lead Central Asia's most
populous nation than that of Alisher Usmanov.