UZBEKISTAN DRIFTING INTO MILITARY DEPENDENCE ON RUSSIA.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 127

Uzbekistan’s new defense minister, Lieutenant-General Yuri Agzamov, signed a wide-ranging agreement on bilateral military cooperation with his Russian counterpart Igor Sergeev last week in Moscow. As with other agreements of this type within the CIS, “cooperation” is a euphemism for the signatory country’s military dependence on Russia. The Moscow agreement caps the documents of intent on bilateral military and security cooperation, signed by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin with his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov in Tashkent earlier this year (see the Monitor, January 6, March 14, May 22; Fortnight in Review, May 26). While parts of the Moscow agreement are being kept confidential, its published stipulations do mention: (1) that Uzbekistan’s military hardware in Russian plants are upgraded and maintained; (2) that a joint Russian-Uzbek factory be built in Navoi, Uzbekistan to supply the Uzbek forces with ammunition; (3) that Russia upgrade Uzbekistan’s air defense systems; (4) that Russia and Uzbekistan jointly monitor and patrol Uzbekistan’s air space; (5) that Uzbekistan participate in air defense exercises at the Ashuluk training range in Russia; and (6) that Uzbek officers and cadets are trained at Russian military academies, where seventy-five Uzbeks are to be enrolled this year.

In parallel with these bilateral arrangements, Uzbekistan is rejoining some of the multilateral CIS military activities it had long shunned or even boycotted. Uzbekistan is now regularly attending CIS Defense Ministers’ meetings and has participated in the latest two Commonwealth Southern Shield military exercises, held at Russian initiative and under overall Russian command with the participation of four Central Asian countries (see the Monitor, March 30, April 6; Fortnight in Review, April 14). President Islam Karimov currently takes the position that his military cooperation with Russia constitutes a bilateral matter, outside the CIS framework, and not implying a return to the CIS Collective Security Treaty which Uzbekistan abandoned last year. Karimov’s insistence on bilateralism, however, is broadly consistent with the Kremlin’s recent emphasis on selective functional cooperation with CIS member countries on a bilateral and subregional basis–an overdue recognition of the dysfunctional nature of the CIS.

As a token reward for his reorientation, Karimov hopes that Moscow will select the aircraft plant near Tashkent for a joint project to build the modern IL-76MF medium-range military transport plane–a prestige project in the post-Soviet world. Colonel-General Anatoly Sitnov, the Armaments chief of Russia’s armed forces, publicly supports the selection of Uzbekistan for that joint project. Putin for his part made some noncommittal promises on his visit to Tashkent.

By selecting Agzamov for the defense minister’s post, Karimov seems to be underscoring the reorientation underway in Uzbekistan’s security policies. Agzamov’s predecessor as minister until February 2000, Colonel-General Hikmatulla Tursunov, was identified with the preceding phase of Karimov’s security policies, which sought complete independence from Moscow, close relations with the West, and cooperation with the most independent-minded CIS countries in the framework of GUUAM (Georgia-Ukraine-Uzbekistan-Azerbaijan-Moldova). Agzamov, born in 1949 in Tashkent, part Russian and part Uzbek, and trained as a tank officer, is now executing Karimov’s new marching orders.

Those orders, dictated by the president’s inordinate and indiscriminate fear of Islam and of the Afghan Talibs, seem to be pushing Uzbekistan back into Moscow’s military orbit. That is an outcome that Karimov undoubtedly wants to avoid, but one that may materialize if alternative options continue to be denied. Uzbekistan does seek those options, as indicated by its continued participation in the annual CentrasBat exercises led by the U.S. Defense Department. But when U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Uzbekistan in April, a disappointed Karimov publicly implied that his request for American assistance to modernize Uzbekistan’s air defenses was turned down in deference to Moscow, leaving him no choice but to turn in that very direction (Itar-Tass, RIA, June 21, 22, 23; Krasnaya Zvezda, June 24; WPS Military Analysis, June 26; see the Monitor, April 20, 25, May 4, 31; the Fortnight in Review, April 28).

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