Uzbekistan’s late despot hailed by Russia and West

It is telling that Islam Karimov, the murderous dictator of Uzbekistan, is hailed upon his death as an ally in the war on terrorism in both Moscow and the West. The White House statement on the Sept. 2 passing was terse, perhaps reflecting Karimov's recent tensions with Washington, but certainly contained no trace of criticism. The CNN headline was typical: "US loses partner in terror war with death of Uzbekistan's leader." The story pictured Secretary of State John Kerry meeting with Karimov in November 2015. If you read down far enough, the story does mention the May 2005 Andijan massacre—"described as the biggest attack on demonstrators since Tiananmen Square in 1989"—portraying it as the point when US relations with the dictator hit the rocks. It also notes that "Karimov had led Uzbekistan since before that country's independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, making him one of the longest-serving rulers in the world." But "longest-ruling" is the better phrase; Karimov never "served" anything other than his own power, and (toward that aim) his imperial sponsors.

Washington was happy to underwrite Karimov's torture regime for years before the bloodletting at Andijan, and the dictator opened his territory to US military forces after 9-11. Actually, units that had received US aid were implicated in the massacre, and the White House blocked moves for a NATO investigation into the repression. US condemnation of the massacre was mostly for show—but even this was too much for Karimov. He booted the US military and subsequently tilted to Moscow, signing a defense pact with Russia. Yet in 2011 Obama resumed military aid when unrest in Pakistan made it necessary to use Uzbekistan as a supply route to Afghanistan. Karimov was adept at playing both sides in the Great Game.

A Reuters account, "Russia's Putin offers support to new Uzbekistan leadership," notes that Vladimir Putin flew in to pay his respects to Karimov, and was shown on state TV embracing Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the dictator's heir apparent. "Of course, we hope that everything Islam Abduganiyevich [Karimov] had started will be continued," Putin was quoted telling Mirziyoyev, after laying flowers on Karimov's grave in the city of Samarkand. An unsubtly ironic signal that Moscow hopes authoritarian rule will continue, with controlled pseudo-elections, supression of the opposition, and torture of dissidents. Mirziyoyev seems poised to become the new dictator-for-life.

As we have had plenty of reason to complain before, another Western-backed—and in this case also Russian-backed—political criminal has died a free man.