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Russia’s Passivity in Central Asia is fraught with consequences for Russia

Monday, January 14, 2013 - 17:33

Recent military and political events make one think about the prospects of cooperation between Russia and the Central Asian countries. One of them was the withdrawal of the Republic of Uzbekistan from the Organization of Collective Security Treaty. Many politicians and experts have had time to assess this event as the victory of the US foreign policy, as one of the main reasons for this step is the possible deployment of the US military base in Uzbekistan, which will provide transatlantic personal and family safety of Karimov’s clan.
Such a course of Tashkent's foreign policy in conjunction with the rapid warming of its relations not only with the USA but with Turkmenistan says that the country's leadership is trying to develop some new strategy that is not entirely understood by the other countries. If it was about a purely pragmatic position in relations with the leading countries of the world, any estimated option is no way deduced for rapprochement with the United States. However, given the closed nature of decision-making process of fundamental foreign policy by Karimov personally, we can assume the presence of other factors that are not always directly related to politics. Time will show the correctness of the selection of Islam by Karimov, but now you can state the fact that Russia and China have suffered a great military and political defeat in tactics on the space of Central Asia.

Everything is obvious, comment is not required
While those who have the power and the politicians of Kyrgyzstan are solving the question of who of them is cooler abruptly, there may be another irreversible error in the security of the country, namely the admission to the military-political space of the fourth player in the person of Uzbekistan, which, in turn, isn’t indifferent towards Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan for a long time. This is despite the fact that in 1999-2000 and in 2010 in the South of the country Kyrgyz people spare no effort to shed their blood to defend the interests of Uzbekistan, killing the militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
The second point, which raises questions in terms of the balance of forces in Central Asia, is a statement of the Chief of General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Army General Nikolai Makarov, that the decision of its development will not be accepted until there the term of Russian troops’ presence in the 201st military base in Tajikistan is extended. The unclear is the behavior of Tajikistan, which still pulls the cat's tail, trading with Russia. Such a form of pressure on the Tajik side points to the uncertainty of Russia in this matter, although the magic number 2014 (the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan) suggests an idea of non-randomness of the problems that occur in Russia and its partners.
The loss of Russia's military presence in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan may adversely affect stability in the Central Asian region, regardless of the number of the US military bases in the area. The USA is the only global player today that is vitally interested in the volatility of the situation in Central Asia, but at the same time the USA are the most active at this stage. The objective response to the activity of Americans may be consolidated actions of Russia and China, whose vital interests are in the area, although Moscow and Beijing still seem to prefer to act independently of each other. And while they are thinking, others are not asleep, no wonder people say – the East is a delicate matter.
An important aspect that requires attention is the possibility of Central Asia to curb armed extremist organizations, in particular the militants based in Pakistan and Afghanistan, especially when the United States resolved the question of the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan in 2014. The presence of armed extremists in the region should not leave Russia indifferent, especially the countries of Central Asia.
A significant concern is the presence of innumerable facts of activation in Central Asia, especially in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, the religious extremist organizations, such as the "Hizb ut-Tahrir", and other non-Islamic movements. Today the time calls for joint fight with them at the international level more than ever, but because of the military-political disagreements the especial law enforcement authorities in these countries are working on their own. It's no secret that Uzbekistan is in a pretty dangerous situation, as the single-handed struggle with the various international radicalized extremist movements of Islamic character is simply impossible.
The authorities of Central Asian countries are in a whole respectful to Islam, cultural and educational activities of Islamic groups, showing interest in the traditions, moral and other values of Islam. However, the democracy and openness of the policy of, in particular, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan attracts various kinds of religious extremist organizations to these countries. Speculating on the religious feelings of the population, using the fact that public institutions did not adequately gain the experience necessary for effective interaction with religious structures, the extremists are going to change the constitutional order, not disdaining any means, including violence. For the implementation of the plans they use (not only in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, but also in other countries of Central Asia) various political parties such as the one of the revival of Islam with the ultimate goal to create a radical Islamic state, especially in Uzbekistan.
There are other concerns not only for the government of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, but also for other neighboring countries, including Russia and Uzbekistan – this is the possibility of the renewal of violent military activities of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, together with the Taliban. To this day, the IMU fighters allied with the Taliban are leading a quite successful war against the current government of Afghanistan and the US troops stationed in its territory, and it is possible that they, using some of the powers of Tajikistan, may continue the suspension activities to realize the ideas of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
The special attention in this situation is given by Tajikistan with its long border with Afghanistan and both internal and cross-border conflicts. In 2010, Dushanbe had to deal with small groups of militants, suggesting the potential vulnerability of Tajikistan in this regard.
The statement of Uzbekistan about the withdrawal from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) has its negative consequences at the local level. The very next day Tashkent began to tighten border controls in the Uzbek enclave of Sokh, bordering the Batken region of Kyrgyzstan. These exacerbated relations between states are causing pain and suffering to the local border residents of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Plus, the Uzbek authorities continue to impose barriers for 600 kilometers of border in the disputed territories in the Osh and Jalal-Abad. They explain this with the desire to provide security and say that after the delimitation all of them will supposedly be removed.
At the recent negotiations of the intergovernmental commissions of both countries Kyrgyz party gave the Uzbek party a number of documents with claims to all the disputed territory. Two parties considered about 10 problem areas; no official response from Uzbekistan has been received but so far.
Security expert in Kyrgyzstan Toktogul Kakchekeev believes that Uzbekistan's withdrawal from the CSTO could "further inflame" the question of determining the boundaries between the two states. He states that the cause of the aggravation can be the change in the vector of the Uzbekistan’s policy, which would be a "pro-American". A number of foreign media confidently reports that Uzbekistan's withdrawal from the CSTO is associated with the convergence of the USA and Uzbekistan and the placing the US military base on its territory in the near future and the entry of Uzbekistan’s Army in NATO in the future.
As you know, Uzbekistan has already withdrawn the CSTO from 1999 to 2006, but after the massacre in Andijan in 2005, it returned to the military and power unit of the CIS countries. This decision was sensible and far-sighted, but it turned out to be the game unique to the leadership of the country. Legal aspect of the Organization does not provide opportunities for the suspension of the state’s membership unilaterally, but if they decide to withdraw from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the authorities should be notified six months before. Because the "suspension" of membership is not provided by the CSTO’s Charter at all. Only the governing council has the right to make such a decision, as a punishment of one of the participating countries. The guide block said that the decision to suspend the membership of any country in the Collective Security Treaty Organization will only be accepted by the Collective Security Council.
It should be recognized that the government of Uzbekistan has repeatedly been frustrated by many organizational issues and the practical part of the military-political organization, which was established in the 90s by some CIS countries for mutual military assistance. So, Karimov has always opposed the use of the CSTO as a force in the settlement of internal conflicts. But there is no need to comment, why he was against this idea. There were differences in the policies of the military-political bloc on the Afghan problem. Not to mention the CSTO, Uzbekistan was also against the cooperation with the EurAsEC and the OSCE.
Inconsistency in the actions of Uzbekistan is observed not only in the period of its entry into the CSTO, but now in the SCO, because the Uzbek government has recently refused to send its military units to participate in the anti-terrorist exercise "Peace Mission-2012" of Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which was planned to be held in Tajikistan from 7 to 14 June. The press secretary of the Ministry of Defense of the Republic Faridoon Makhmadaliyev said about it. According to him, all the other SCO member states - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Russia and Tajikistan - took part in the exercise.
Exercises were held at the site of "Chorukdayron" located in the Sughd region in northern Tajikistan, and their goal was to improve the common order of the military command in the preparation of the joint anti-terrorism exercises in the mountains. The five commanders of SCO member states and observer countries of the Organization and the diplomatic corps accredited in Tajikistan observed the exercise. Army Chief Major General of Tajikistan Emomali Sobirov led the exercises.
Experts note that Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have developed an extremely strained relationship, although both countries are members of the SCO and the CSTO until the statement of Uzbekistan about the withdrawal from the CSTO. Common border between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan is mined, a visa regime works and there is no passenger air traffic.
There are other versions. After Putin’s coming to power, Russia has a policy of consolidation of the CSTO’s countries and it was well received by other countries of Central Asia, trying to implement a number of major joint projects, including a project of Afghanistan’s direction. But it is only beginning to develop. Perhaps the activity of Russia will inevitably infringe personal plans of Karimov? This is another question.
For Russia, the expansion of the military security behind the territory of Russia should be a natural process. If Moscow does not immediately consider a military and political crisis in the area of Central Asia, the consequences may be irreversible, not only for the countries of Central Asian region, but also for Russia.
On the other hand, one can argue differently and understand the position of Islam Karimov, that the suspension of membership in the CSTO gives him an opportunity to get an extra bonus, setting out the game with Russia, China and the USA. You can also assume that he, reconnoitering by force, ignoring the neighbors around Uzbekistan, is looking for a partner within the cordon, the one who would ensure his personal and family safety in Uzbekistan. But in the conditions of a political crisis in the country, hopefully not Andijan or Batken ones, Karimov leaves no hope to come back to the CSTO. And he will probably be accepted back, but by that time, the CSTO members, learning of this situation, will probably developed specific penalties for such treacherous actions.
Of course, not only the Russian Foreign Ministry, but other CSTO member countries have to give formal legal assessment of the implications of Karimov's statement about the withdrawal from the CSTO. Many Russian experts had two assumptions about the true motivation: firstly, the Uzbekistan’s desire to move closer to the United States that have recently been very careful to Tashkent and very attentive to the issue of human rights in the Central Asian country. Secondly, acute water problems between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan on the basis of Soviet-era construction projects implemented by Dushanbe on the Vakhsh Rogun HPP, which takes part of the flow and will deprive the lion's share of water of Uzbekistan lying downstream. In addition, the same problem exists in the relations between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, which is building Kambarata hydroelectric system on the Naryn River, which, according to Tashkent, would deprive it of Naryn Kyrgyzstan water.
It is possible that Uzbekistan will become an ally of the United States, since the last time Washington was in contact with Tashkent more tightly than Russia. On the eve of the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the USA has become more tolerant of non-democratic methods of government of Islam Karimov. In autumn 2011, the Senate approved the granting of Uzbekistan to buy U.S. military hardware output from Afghanistan. In autumn the American-Uzbek Business Forum passed in the USA in 2011. It was then, when the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said publicly that this Central Asian country is "showing signs of improvement in the human rights situation and expansion of political freedoms." The territory of Uzbekistan, as well as neighboring Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, will be used for the transit of troops. In addition, Washington recognized that Central Asia is important for the USA as the region with the border with Afghanistan, China, Iran and Russia. It must be taken under control of the USA, said Robert Blake, U.S. Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, in 2011. A central role is played by Uzbekistan. Also in 2011 the President Obama announced a reversal in policy toward the Asia-Pacific region. In early June 2012 a Pentagon chief Leon Panetta announced plans to transfer 60% of its warships in the Asia-Pacific region by 2020. He pointed out that these actions are not aimed at controlling China's growth. But this is a good question. The USA will not tolerate rivals. Washington’s activity in the Central Asian front should be considered in this context. From this region you can form a solid base for the control of China to the west, while the control of the east, south and south-east can be considered secure.
However, there are other options that witness the inconsistency in Tashkent. If we consider Uzbekistan's withdrawal from the CSTO as a step taken under the pressure of the USA, despite the fact that it is no secret to Tashkent that Washington's interested in the control of China, the actions of Karimov may be considered surprising. And that's why in June 5, 2012 the presidents of Uzbekistan and Russia visited China together. The agenda of the tripartite talks was a security during and after the withdrawal of coalition troops from Afghanistan. As it was reported by the media, Karimov "has consented to the political integration with Russia in return for its protection from terrorists". The heads of Russia and China agreed on details to ensure the promised protection.
Politicians and analysts do not exude the possibility of the placing of American military base in Uzbekistan. It was not so long ago, when H.Clinton made it clear that the USA is interested in controlling the situation in Afghanistan after 2014. If the assumption about the base is the true one, it would be difficult for Tashkent to do this in the framework of the CSTO. Now it can freely allow its territory to foreign military bases. In terms of short-term domestic policy, the permanent President Karimov is advantageous for such an ally. By some estimates, about one-third of the imports of the US weapons in Afghanistan are planed to be left outside the country, that is, in the territories of the Central Asian countries. Although, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan gave no consent, Uzbekistan, according to analysts, conducts negotiations, but a final decision has not been made. It should be noted that the agreement for the purchase of weapons - if it is made - will lay a solid stick of dynamite under these states. NATO troops will be able to use this weapon at any time, if it is necessary. And then the country that hosts the bases will be targeted for retaliation.
Uzbekistan is constantly torn between the USA and Russia. George Krol recalled two successful visits to Tashkent of the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the return visit of the parliamentary delegation of Uzbekistan to Washington. "And as a result – the US business showed increased attention to Uzbekistan," - he explained. In particular, the country has opened a new plant of General Motors; other US companies get to work. And last month, new Boeing Dreamliner landed at Tashkent airport. According to Krol, this is nothing like a "demonstration of the enormous potential to expand economic and even global air traffic between the USA and Uzbekistan". The USA lacked military cooperation with Uzbekistan for completeness.

Heartfelt greeting from the brother

Playing with fire

Everybody knows that the CSTO’s purpose is a reflection of external threats, the protection of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Member States without the interference into the internal political processes of the country. In case of an external threat to any member the other CSTO members undertake to provide the necessary assistance, including the military one. However, the yield from the CSTO of any key regional actors, such as Uzbekistan, for Russia and all members of the CSTO should be the main topic of discussion on the prospects of the unit and its effectiveness in the Central Asian region. Otherwise Russia’s omission in Central Asia is fraught with serious consequences for Russia.

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