Uzbekistan tilts to Moscow

Russia has increased its support for the embattled government of Uzbekistan, announcing that it will soon conduct joint military exercises with the regime of President Islam Karimov. The announcement by Sergei Ivanov, Russia’s defense minister, was broadcast in Moscow after a meeting with Karimov. Ivanov said the maneuvers would be in central Uzbekistan this summer, the first since Uzbekistan broke from the Soviet Union in 1991.

The televised remarks were the highlight of a Moscow visit by Karimov that comes as NATO, Europe and the US are calling for a credible investigation into the repression in the city of Andijan last month, which survivors say killed hundreds of people. (Chicago Tribune,, June 30)

Russian news agenies report that Russia also agreed to deploy military units in Uzbekistan if the Central Asian nation faces destabilization. Karimov’s visit was semi-official and Russian President Vladimir Putin received him at his residence outside Moscow rather than in the Kremlin. But the oppsotion Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported that Karimov and Ivanov did sign a document on military cooperation. Writes RIA Novosti: “According to some sources, Tashkent is ready to revise [the] Uzbek-U.S. agreement on using the Khanabad military base. Uzbekistan has therefore decided to modify its foreign-policy vector and to shift its gaze in the direction of Russia. Uzbekistan may well become Russia’s main Central Asian ally.”

On June 29, the US House of Representatives voted to bar Uzbekistan from the foreign military aid. “Tashkent will therefore have to rely on Moscow’s economic and military assistance,” the Russian agency wrote. (RIA Novosti, June 30)

Uzbekistan has already limited US military use of Karshi-Khanabad airfield, known as K2, a key base serving Pentagon operations in Afghanistan. The move has forced US Central Command to use “work-arounds” for military support for operations in Afghanistan, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters. Whitman would not go into details, but the Washington Post reported that the restrictions prohibited nighttime air operations and also limited flights by military C-17s and other heavy cargo aircraft. Search-and-rescue planes have been re-routed to Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base, and heavy cargo flights are now going through neighboring Kyrgyzstan.

“There have been some limitations placed on the use of the airfield by Uzbekistan … in the last couple of weeks,” Whitman said. “The Central Command has worked out some temporary work-arounds. But beyond that, I don’t think I want to get into any of the operational details.”

He spoke a day after a U.N. human rights mission arrived in Kyrgyzstan to investigate the violence in Andijan. (Reuters, June 15)

Meanwhile, the UK Guardian reports that British military advisers trained Uzbek troops in “marksmanship” shortly before the Andijan massacre. The training was part of a British military program carried out despite concerns expressed by the Foreign Office over the Uzbekistan government’s human rights record. A group of Uzbek military cadets were given a “coaching course” in marksmanship by British soldiers in February and March this year. (Guardian, June 30)

At least two reporters have been targeted in Uzbekistan following the Andijan repression. Paris-based Reporters Without Borders accused Uzbek authorities of “systematic repression” against the media, stating that Gafur Yuldashev, a Radio Free Europe correspondent, was questioned for four hours by police June 26 in Andijan, where he had planned to interview opposition activists. Police also seized Yuldashev’s tape recorder, the group said. Also on the 26th, independent journalist Ulugbek Khaidarov was brutally beaten by unidentified assailants in the southern city of Karshi, the group charged. (AP, June 30)

For all this, the Bush administration is said to be divided on a military aid cut-off to Uzbekistan, with the State and Defense departments apparently at odds on the question. (RFE/RL, June 15)

See our last post on Uzbekistan.