Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov traveled to Moscow June 28-29, apparently seeking reassurance amid growing international pressure for an independent investigation into last month’s bloody crackdown in Uzbekistan. Karimov reiterated his assertion that the riots in the eastern town of Andijan had been planned from abroad. He told Russian leaders that his country had been targeted by an “information attack,” implying a wider conspiracy. Moscow has declined to condemn Tashkent’s heavy-handed approach and shares Karimov’s claims that his regime had been targeted by an international conspiracy.
Karimov accused the Western media of having advance knowledge of the Andijan riots and even preparing the news coverage ahead of time. “The information attack on Uzbekistan started before the Andijan events,” he claimed. The masterminds behind the Andijan events envisaged civilian casualties and wanted to hold the Uzbek government responsible, Karimov alleged at the meeting with President Vladimir Putin at the Novo-Ogarevo presidential residence outside Moscow. “They knew about the upcoming bloodshed and civilian casualties,” Karimov alleged.
Karimov also likened the Andijan riots to the recent “color revolutions: in other former Soviet republics. “In essence, these events, which should be called operations, are boldly provoked in the CIS and they remain unpunished,” he said (RIA-Novosti, June 28).
Putin revealed that Russian security agencies had information about militants infiltrating Central Asia from Afghanistan and had warned governments in the region before the uprising in Andijan. “We are glad that the situation is stabilizing,” the Russian president told Karimov. Putin said he had discussed the issue with leaders of the countries bordering Uzbekistan at the recent Moscow summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. The issue will also be discussed at the upcoming summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (Itar-Tass, June 28)
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov also reiterated claims that the violence in Andijan was orchestrated from Afghanistan. Partly to counter such interference, preparations are being completed for the first Russian-Uzbek military exercises in post-Soviet history, Ivanov said at a meeting with Karimov. “We are getting ready for the summer joint exercises at a site in central Uzbekistan,” Karimov said, adding that the war games would be of special importance for Uzbekistan in the wake of Andijan. “Our bilateral military ties are gearing up,” Ivanov commented (RIA-Novosti, June 29).
Moscow has also been keen to build stronger economic relations with Karimov’s regime. Russia and Uzbekistan moved to boost bilateral economic cooperation at a summit meeting in Samarkand in August 2003, especially the export of Uzbek cotton and natural gas, and the participation of Russian companies in exploring oil and gas deposits in Uzbekistan. Notably, Russia has been interested in enlisting Uzbekistan into its hydrocarbon game in Central Asia. Russia’s natural gas monopoly, Gazprom, would invest $1 billion in Uzbekistan, Putin announced in June 2004. Gazprom’s investment would eventually raise Russian involvement in Uzbekistan to $2.5 billion.
Gazprom has indicated an interest in acquiring a 44% stake in the Uzbek pipeline monopoly Uzbektransgas. The deal was supposed to facilitate supplies of Turkmen gas to Russia via Uzbek pipelines. However, Gazprom’s acquisition of the Uzbektransgas stake is yet to materialize.
In June 2004, Putin and Karimov met in Tashkent and signed a partnership agreement as well as a $1 billion 35-year production-sharing agreement to develop Uzbek natural gas deposits. Under the agreement, top Russian oil producer Lukoil is to develop the Kandym, Khauzak, and Shady gas fields in the south of the country, which have 280 billion cubic meters of proven reserves. Lukoil will have a 90% share in the project, with Uzbekistan’s Uzbekneftegaz holding the remaining 10%.
In July 2004, Moscow-based Mobile TeleSystems agreed to pay $121 million for 74% of Uzbek provider Uzdunrobita and signed an option to buy the remaining 26% for $38 million in the next three years. It was understood that MTS agreed to pay a hefty premium for the Uzbek firm, which is controlled by Karimov’s daughter Gulnara Karimova, known as the “Uzbek Princess.” MTS was reportedly paying roughly 33 times what the company’s stated value just three years ago. In November 2003, the Russian Foreign Ministry accredited Karimova as a counselor at the Uzbek embassy in Moscow, a move seen as an early sign of Uzbekistan’s drift towards Moscow.
Russian media outlets highlighted the security element of the renewed partnership between Russia and Uzbekistan. Karimov decided to become Moscow’s ally again due to security concerns, Izvestiya commented (June 29). Wary of the growing Western clout in the post-Soviet states, Moscow aims at neutralizing outside influence by creating a troika of Russia-China-Uzbekistan, Kommersant commented. Russia may offer Uzbekistan significant military aid and press Tashkent to return to the Collective Security Treaty grouping, the daily speculated (Kommersant, June 29). The Collective Security Treaty was signed in 1992 in Tashkent but Uzbekistan quit the CST back in 1999.
Russia is trying to take advantage of Uzbek frustration over Western pressure resulting from the Andijan crackdown. Moscow seems to rely on security as well as economic incentives in order to make Uzbekistan move closer to Russia.