The alliance treaty of Russia and Uzbekistan, signed on November 14 in Moscow, painfully illustrates Washington’s declining plausibility as a buttress of security and stability in Central Asian perceptions, particularly that of the region’s strategic linchpin country Uzbekistan. Those perceptions are traceable to U.S. policy incoherence not only in Uzbekistan, but in Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan as well.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s remarks during his treaty-signing visit in Moscow demonstrated the significance and consequences of that shift in perceptions. Even as he is evicting U.S. forces from the country, Karimov averred in Moscow that Uzbekistan “needs cooperation with a powerful country that would ensure its protection…. [With] this treaty, any evil deeds against Uzbekistan, any attempts to attack our country will mean raising a hand against Russia as well…. Russia was and remains for us the most reliable bulwark and ally.”
By the same token, Karimov underscored the gains accruing to Russia from Uzbekistan’s switch of alliances: “This [treaty] strengthens Russia’s positions in Central Asia, as a reliable guarantee of peace and stability in the region.” Terming Central Asia “Russia’s soft underbelly,” Karimov expressed confidence that “no-one will ever be able to dispute Russia’s presence in this region.” He cast the treaty as a long-term strategic choice by Uzbekistan: “It demonstrates with whose interests our interests coincide and with whom we intend to build our future.”
Playing up to Russian anxieties about security threats from Central Asia (e.g., through the soft-underbelly theory, once a favorite theory borrowed from Churchill by Russian analysts) no longer seems to bring the political returns it formerly did. In his public remarks during Karimov’s visit, Russian President Vladimir Putin barely acknowledged threats to Russia emanating from Central Asia. Putin singled out Afghanistan, urging joint Russian-Uzbek measures to “combat the drug trafficking and terrorist threats emanating from Afghanistan,” as well as to “support peace in Afghanistan and that country’s independence.”
Moscow and Tashkent describe this new stage in relations as an “alliance-type relationship” (soyuznicheskiye otnosheniya), a designation one step short of an outright alliance. However, the treaty itself contains hallmarks of a classical alliance treaty, as well as language familiar from Moscow’s erstwhile treaties with its former satellites.
Thus, “An act of aggression by any state or group of states against one of the parties will be viewed as an act of aggression against both parties. … The other party will render the necessary assistance, including military assistance and will also support it by other means at its disposal.” Furthermore, “In the event of a situation arising that, in view of one of the parties, could pose a threat to peace, break the peace, or affect that party’s security interests, and also in the event of a threat of aggression against one of the parties, the parties will immediately activate consultation procedures with a view to coordinating practical measures to resolve the situation.”
Those provisions cover Uzbekistan against threats from both state and non-state actors; and they also seem worded so as to allow invoking the treaty for preventive and even preemptive actions as well.
Uzbekistan is opening the door to the stationing of Russian forces: “In order to maintain security, peace, and stability, the sides shall grant each other the right to use military installations on their territory, should the need arise, on the basis of additional agreements.” Furthermore, the treaty envisions Russian assistance to Uzbekistan for “modernization of the armed forces, providing them with up-to-date armaments and technical equipment, and raising their combat readiness.” In this area as well, Russia is stepping into a niche unnecessarily forfeited by the United States.
The official agenda of Karimov’s visit did not include specific discussions on creating a Russian military base in Uzbekistan. However, discussions on that subject are under way unofficially in Moscow. The Kremlin-connected analyst Sergei Karaganov predicts, “It will be a small base to symbolize Russia’s military presence and Russia’s willingness to stabilize the situation. …For now, the decision to deploy a base and the prospect of rendering mutual assistance in the event of conflict is [in itself] a deterrent” (Ekho Moskvy, November 14). Statements by some senior Duma members similarly seem to reflect a political decision by the Kremlin to create a Russian base in Uzbekistan.
In parallel with the military track, Moscow is reentering Uzbekistan massively on the economic track as well. During Karimov’s visit, the sides noted recent advances in exploration and development of Uzbekistan’s oil and gas deposits by Lukoil and Gazprom, respectively. The joint communiqué also suggested that Tashkent expects Russian investments in Uzbekistan’s manufacturing industries.
(Interfax, Russian Television Channel One, Uzbek Television Channel One, November 13-15)