Uzbekistan, isolated from the West since the Andijan massacre in May 2005, clearly regards the European Union as its best hope for rapprochement as a means to promote its interests within Europe. As a result of the German presidency of the Council of the EU, a delegation of EU experts led by Rolf Schulze, head of the Central Asia and Southern Caucasus Division of the German Foreign Ministry, led a working visit to Uzbekistan on March 31-April 4. They discussed questions arising from their last visit in December 2006, focusing on judicial proceedings involving individuals linked to the events in Andijan. Reportedly, both sides expressed their “mutual satisfaction” with the constructive dialogue in an atmosphere described as showing “mutual understanding” (Uzbek National News Agency, April 4).
In late March, the EU opened an information and documentation center in Tashkent, confirming the positive impression given to the EU by official statements. This center has been created in the spirit of the bilateral partnership and cooperation agreement between the EU and Uzbekistan. Located within the University of World Economy and Diplomacy in Tashkent, it is intended to facilitate the spread of information about the EU to lecturers, teachers, students, and government ministries. Although Uzbekistan is still subject to EU-imposed sanctions linked to Andijan, it wants to maximize the potential for improving its relations with the West through the EU.
Berlin remains the keystone for Tashkent’s efforts to eliminate EU opposition to the regime. On March 28 Rashid Qodirov, Uzbekistan’s prosecutor-general, received German Ambassador to Uzbekistan Matthias Meyer, offering briefings on the activities of the prosecutor’s office, its priorities, objectives, and bolstering a positive view of its role in protecting human rights.
They also considered practical aspects of deepening existing cooperation, based on an agreement between the two countries’ law-enforcement agencies signed in 1995, “On Cooperation in Fighting Organized Crimes, Terrorism, and Challenges Posing a Serious Threat to Society” (Huquq, Tashkent, April 5).
Indeed, there are signs of increased Uzbek diplomacy aimed at opening up greater contacts with Western multilateral bodies. Eson Mustafoyev, the head of Uzbekistan’s mission in NATO, presented his credentials to NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on March 30. During the talks that followed, both sides explored the current state of Uzbek-NATO bilateral relations and prospects for the future (Xalq Sozi, Tashkent, April 3).
Since 2005 President Islam Karimov has looked beyond Russia for assistance, rejoined the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and entered a strategic partnership with Russia. He has also opened the largest and most attractive industrial facilities in Uzbekistan to Russian entrepreneurs.
The real winner from the Andijan legacy has been Rustam Inoyatov, head of the National Security Service (NSS). Inoyatov has witnessed a considerable strengthening of the NSS power base within Uzbekistan. The Interior Ministry was stripped of control over its interior troops, which were placed under the command of the NSS and the Ministry of Defense. Consequently, Interior Minister Zohirjon Almatov lost so much political weight that he soon fell ill and is now regarded as an “honorable pensioner.” The new interior minister, Bahodir Matlubov, cannot counterbalance Inoyatov, since the ministry no longer has the power it once had. Ruslan Mirzayev succeeded Qodir Gulomov as minister of defense; significantly, he is a former NSS officer who once worked in the intelligence department of the Ministry of Defense and was later promoted to the post of secretary of the National Security Council. In short, the NSS is now placed in an unprecedented position to supervise and influence the country (Centrasia.ru, March 31).
Although Inoyatov may be a potential successor to Karimov, the main impediment that stands in his way is Moscow’s unfailing support for Karimov. Since the Uzbek-Russia rapprochement, Moscow has based its diplomacy with Tashkent on the premise that as things worsen for Karimov in his relations with the West, he will be compelled to rely even more heavily upon Russia. Recently the Russian media has begun to promote the image of Karimov and his daughter. Karimov ostensibly started his re-election campaign by speaking at the Cabinet of Ministers’ meeting on February 13, but his message about the success of his regime failed to impress anyone, although he made clear his intention to stay in office for the time being.
Inoyatov, in many ways, appears to be a candidate-in-waiting. He represents a viable alternative to Karimov, but Russia is intent on maintaining its grip on Uzbekistan through Karimov. Karimov, recognizing that Kazakhstan has effectively emerged as the dominant power in the region, would like to find some way of restoring Uzbekistan’s relations with the West. This may take some time to achieve, while the Uzbek economy struggles. Inoyatov may have the political will to pursue closer relations with the West and move away from some of the more corrupt practices of the Karimov regime; however, he does not seem ready to throw his hat into the ring despite possessing the capability to undermine the president. In order to succeed Karimov, Inoyatov will have to promote his credentials within Russia. In the meantime, Uzbekistan’s chances for improved relations with the West rest on Karimov. Ironically, the man who has effectively kept Karimov in power may be more interested in promoting Uzbekistan’s long-term cooperation with the West, as well as with Russia.