Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 88

Documents on military and security issues, which Russian President Vladimir Putin and Uzbek President Islam Karimov signed on May 4, seem to reflect official Tashkent’s growing sense of insecurity, and by the same token to reward Moscow’s pressure tactics. The sides agreed that Russia would resupply Uzbek forces with arms, ammunition and various types of equipment. They created a joint working group, directly subordinated to the two Security Councils, for overseeing those Russian deliveries and Uzbekistan’s compensation for them. According to unofficial reports, Tashkent will pay with cotton and minerals. This form of payment would evidently take a bite from Uzbekistan’s foreign currency earnings.

An agreement on Russian-Uzbek “cooperation for the protection of borders” stipulates joint measures by these two countries which do not share a common border. Presumably, the cooperation concerns the Tajik-Afghan and Uzbek-Afghan borders. One clause envisages immediate consultations between Moscow and Tashkent in the event of destabilization of or threats to the borders. Clauses of this type are common in military and security agreements between Moscow and CIS countries. The vague wording tends to leave interpretation up to the stronger of the two contracting parties. This agreement–superseding a limited one signed in 1997–will be valid for five years and can be automatically renewed for another five, unless renounced by either side with six months’ prenotification. Karimov has entered into this agreement knowing well–as does the Kyrgyz government–that Russian border troops allowed the IMU repeatedly to cross the Afghan-Tajik border on the way to and from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in 1999-2000. Presumably, Karimov feels that a formal document would enable him to hold Russian border troops accountable for their actions if they affect Uzbekistan. Whether this would work in 2001 seems far from certain. If it does, Kyrgyzstan might become an indirect beneficiary of this agreement.

Karimov signed on the dotted line a joint statement with Putin urging the preservation of the 1972 ABM treaty and criticizing the United States antimissile defense plan. The joint statement, furthermore, endorsed Russia’s shibboleth notion of a “multipolar” world order. Last week, the United States criticized Kazakhstan for signing a similar statement as part of a Shanghai-Five meeting of foreign affairs ministers in Moscow.

Uzbekistan currently enjoys a positive trade balance with Russia. During Karimov’s visit, Moscow officials offered three different sets of estimates regarding last year’s bilateral trade turnover, but all showed a substantial Uzbek surplus. Since, however, much of that trade seems to take the form of barter, Tashkent cannot use the surplus for offsetting older arrears to Moscow. Both sides declared that the debts could be repaid by inviting Russian capital to participate in privatizing Uzbek industrial assets. Additionally, Karimov insisted on greater Russian inputs of technology and components for the Ilyushin aircraft assembly plant near Tashkent. The rescue of that Uzbek state-owned plant forms a perennial item in Uzbek-Russian high-level meetings over the years, to little effect thus far. Presumably, Karimov hopes that a political rapprochement with Putin, however reluctant on Tashkent’s part, might yield a side benefit in the form of rescuing that prestige project (RIA, Itar-Tass, Tashkent Radio, May 3-5; see the Monitor, March 12, April 1, 10, 27, May 1; Fortnight in Review, March 16, April 13).