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Central Asia news

Price of the Russian-Uzbek union: Political support must rest on responsibility

26.12.2007 12:15 msk

Nezavisimaya Gazeta

Analytics Uzbekistan

Political regimes have a tendency to solidify their positions - for years at least. Societies even come to perceive whatever happens in their respective countries as a blessing. Uzbekistan, the Central Asian country that elected its president last Sunday, is a vivid example.

Judging by the interim estimates aired by the Uzbek Central Electoral Commission, Islam Karimov carried the day again. He himself will probably fail to answer the question of how many years he will remain in charge yet. There is no way to count anything so flimsy in a country where referendums regularly replace elections to extend the term of office for the president. Karimov has been running the show for nearly two decades now. His reign began in the Soviet Union in 1989 and continued into the sovereign Uzbekistan. His first nationwide election took place in 1991. In 1995, a referendum extended his term of office for another five-year period.ÿKarimov won the election in 2000. Another referendum was arranged two years later and the term of office for Uzbek presidents (president) was extended from five to seven years. In other words, Karimov (he will be 70 next year) will rule Uzbekistan until 2014. In theory. In real life, however, he may remain in charge as long as he himself decides. No wonder the international community views him as a president for life.

It is to his unquestionable skills at maneuvering and shifting of bearing points that Karimov owes this repute. Being the president of Uzbekistan, he secured the West's support by proclaiming faithfulness to democratic values. Being the president, he executed a U-turn and signed a treaty of partnership with Russia in the East, the country he had not exactly favored until summer 2005. He had been friends with the United States before that, particularly when he permitted Washington to establish a military base in Uzbekistan in the wake of the September 11 tragedy. In summer 2005, however, Karimov severed all friendly relations with the United States and kicked the military base out of the country. It happened because the events in Andijan that May persuaded the international community to take a closer look at this Central Asian country. The United States and European Union imposed sanctions in response to the bloodshed in the Ferghana Valley and Karimov promptly turned to Moscow for support.

Russia and Tashkent signed an agreement on the relations of allies in 2005, a document stipulating mutual military assistance in the event of a threat to a signatory or to peace in the region. Uzbekistan joined the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization and quit the anti-Russian GUUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova). That was how Tashkent showed its appreciation. Russia backed Uzbekistan in the matter of Andijan, appraising what had happened there as an episode in the war on terrorism. (That was how the Uzbek authorities appraised the tragedy and Moscow chose to accept and second the appraisal.)

Moscow remained loyal to its ally last Sunday, calling the presidential election in this country transparent and democratic. Russia alone appraised the election in Uzbekistan in this manner. Backing authoritarian regimes, the Kremlin seems to be forgetting that this support implies certain responsibility. It costs Russia again and again but does not teach its leaderships anything. Moscow-backed leaders go, and chaos moves in. It happened when Eduard Shevardnadze was toppled in Georgia and Leonid Kuchma in Ukraine. In both cases, Moscow ended up facing unfriendly leaders in these countries and sour bilateral relations with them. Relations with foreign countries based on commonly shared values (the way the European Union and United States base their relations with foreign states on) would have enabled Russia to avoid it and taught Moscow that there are - apart from pipelines and recognitions of ambiguous integrity - other instruments of exerting influence with the countries Russia does not even have common borders with.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta, December 26, 2007, p. 2. © Translated by Ferghana.Ru