Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Courting Tashkent

Roger McDermott, writing for the Jamestown Foundation, today discussed a perceived improvement in Russian-Uzbek relations:
"Russia’s Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov paid an official visit to Tashkent on March 7, describing Uzbekistan as Russia’s closest partner in Central Asia. This marked the first occasion that a Russian prime minister has visited Tashkent since 1999. Talks centered on President Islam Karimov’s ideas to further strengthen the rapidly growing cooperation ties between Russia and Uzbekistan. This includes comprehensive cooperation in culture and education, trade and the economy, and security, as well as within existing multilateral organizations. Karimov made the most of the visit, telling Fradkov: 'Your visit to Uzbekistan is seen as fresh evidence of how dynamic -- and I would say fast -- relations are developing between Uzbekistan and Russia. Dynamic development in our relations at multilateral as well as bilateral levels is obvious in a variety of areas in which we cooperate. We also use your visit to take a critical look at the state of affairs in various areas of cooperation. Not just a critical look, but we must also find solutions to urgent problems and agree [on] cooperation priorities' (Uzbek TV Second Channel Yoshlar, March 7)."

RFE-RL's Daniel Kimmage, however, has a different impression:
"Taken together, the slight chill in Uzbek-Russian relations, the appearance of an article in a major Uzbek government mouthpiece urging better ties with the West, and stated Western willingness to engage Uzbekistan suggest that a multivector moment is beginning in Uzbekistan's foreign policy.

"The example of Kazakhstan, which has skillfully used a multivector foreign policy to maintain solid ties with Russia, the West, and, increasingly, with China, likely provides added incentive for President Karimov, whose sense of rivalry with his oil-rich northern neighbor is no secret.

"Uzbekistan's room for multivector maneuvering remains considerably smaller than Kazakhstan's, however. Tashkent has shown no sign that it will accede to Western demands for an independent investigation of accounts that Uzbek security forces massacred demonstrators in Andijon in May 2005."

Reading both pieces, I think McDermott mistook Russia's desire for closer ties to Uzbekistan for the actual existence of such ties. Karimov's government has been reaching out to Russia, the United States, and the European Union, and will probably avoid becoming anyone's client.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


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