Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 4

In an address to Russia’s Federation Council on December 22, nine days before his appointment as acting president of Russia, Vladimir Putin surveyed Russia’s relations with what he termed “our former republics”–the countries of the Council of Independent States. Putin mentioned three levels of “integration” between Russia and CIS countries: first, the Russia-Belarus Union; second, the CIS Customs Union, made up of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan; and, third, the growing bilateral relationship between Russia and Uzbekistan (Federal News Service, December 22). Putin’s address thus lent a relatively strong emphasis on Russia’s relations with the Central Asian region. Yet on that occasion, and also in the wake of his appointment as acting president, Putin seemed to pay scant attention to Kazakhstan, focusing instead on Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and–in a negative manner–on Kyrgyzstan.


In his December 22 address to Russia’s Federation Council, Putin made much of the current “turn for the better in our relations with Uzbekistan,” illustrated by the Russo-Uzbek military cooperation agreement. Putin described the signing of that agreement as offsetting Uzbekistan’s earlier decision to withdraw from the CIS Collective Security Treaty and suggested that, “in its scope and in terms of integration processes, the bilateral agreement is more significant than the collective treaty.”

Signed during Putin’s December 11-12 visit to Tashkent, the bilateral treaty reflects the Uzbek leadership’s sense of vulnerability to what it regards as the twin forces of Islam and terrorism. That nervous perception seems to motivate Uzbek President Islam Karimov to accept a partial reassertion of Russian influence in the region. In his discussions with Putin, Karimov not only endorsed Russia’s “antiterrorist operation” in Chechnya, but came out in favor of a more active Russian role in the containment of “extremism and terrorism” in Central Asia. Karimov in turn obtained from Putin a verbal recognition of Uzbekistan’s preeminence as a Central Asian power resisting “international terrorism.” In a congratulatory message to Putin on his appointment as acting president of Russia, Karimov wrote that “many in Russia and abroad are associating you with the predetermined [‘obiektivnyi’] process of Russia’s reemergence as a great power. This, I am deeply convinced, is a fully valid association” (Uzbek Television, Itar-Tass, January 3; Federal News Service, December 22, 1999; see the Monitor, December 16, 1999).


In his December 15 remarks to Russia’s Security Council and his December 22 address to Russia’s Federation Council, Putin severely criticized Kyrgyzstan for having accepted the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and joining it. Kyrgyzstan, according to Putin, “thereby violated the terms of the CIS Customs Union and failed to coordinate its policy with Russia’s policy” (Itar-Tass, December 15). “If one of the five CIS Customs Union member states unilaterally joins the WTO, and I mean Kyrgyzstan, there can be no question of its belonging in a Customs Union with Russia” (Federal News Service, December 22). Putin’s stand hardens Moscow’s view that CIS Customs Union membership is inconsistent with WTO membership or candidacy, and that the Customs Union’s putative benefits are to be withheld from the wayward member countries, Kyrgyzstan and potentially Kazakhstan (see the Fortnight in Review, December 17, 1999).

Against this background, it is hardly surprising that Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev should publicly underscore his regret over Yeltsin’s departure, rather than pleasure with Putin’s succession. In a message to Yeltsin, Akaev admitted from the opening sentence that “people heard with great anxiety about the termination of [Yeltsin’s] presidential powers.” Akaev’s message credited Yeltsin with letting the former Soviet republics go their own way and “join world civilization” (Vecherniy Bishkek, January 4).


President Imomali Rahmonov bestowed his approval on the “civilized form of the transfer of power in Russia.” Rahmonov, who came to power through civil war and was recently reelected by a purported 96 percent majority, voiced his confidence that Putin will lead Russia “further along the path of democracy.” In their telephone conversation, Putin and Rahmonov underscored the “Russian-Tajik strategic partnership and ties of alliance,” citing in this context Putin’s recent visit to Tajikistan as prime minister of Russia. Accompanied by Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, Putin had on that occasion inspected units of the 25,000-strong Russian troops stationed in Tajikistan. He described their presence as ensuring the forward defense of Russia itself along the “CIS border” (Hovar, January 4; Itar-Tass, January 3; see the Monitor, November 9, 1999).

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