Thursday, September 01, 2005

Intelligence Brief: Uzbekistan-C.I.S.

Drafted By: Dr. Michael A. Weinstein

During the week of August 22, Washington and Moscow suffered setbacks in the pursuit of their respective and conflicting geostrategic aims in the contested region of Central Asia.

Registering a decision made by Tashkent on July 29 to evict the U.S. military from its base in Karshi-Khanabad, Uzbekistan's Senate unanimously approved the expulsion on August 26 in a session rife with complaints about Washington's relations with Tashkent. The loss of Karshi-Khanabad throws into question Washington's grand strategy of planting bases throughout an arc from East Africa to East Asia with the purpose of checking Islamic revolution and containing Moscow's and Beijing's regional ambitions.

Signaling the collapse of Moscow's goal of regaining its influence over the successor states of the Soviet Union through the Commonwealth of Independent States (C.I.S.), the August 26 summit meeting of the C.I.S. was the first one to take place without a prior consensus on a statement of principles or even an agenda due to the inroads made by Washington and Brussels in Moscow's "near abroad" in the wake of the pro-Western regime changes in Georgia and Ukraine. As Tbilisi and Kiev shift their allegiances, Moscow has lost any of its hopes that the C.I.S. might eventually evolve into a strong strategic and economic alliance along the lines of N.A.T.O. and the E.U.

The mixed picture presented by the base eviction and the failed C.I.S. summit reveals a new stage in the "great game," in which Washington and Brussels contend for spheres of influence in the Eurasian borderlands. Until recently, the borderland states had pursued dual-track foreign policies, seeking to cultivate positive relations with both sides and to play each off against the other. Now the lines have begun to harden, as the borderland states are constrained to make choices among power centers. The shakeout is far from complete, but it is clearly underway.


Long in the making, the eviction of the U.S. from Karshi-Khanabad is the result of Washington's calculation -- reached after a struggle between the U.S. Defense and State Departments -- that Uzbekistan's authoritarian regime led by President Islam Karimov is not stable in the long run, that it should be pressured on its human rights violations and that opposition to it should be nurtured. In 2004, Washington canceled aid to Tashkent on the basis of its human rights record, precipitating a tilt by Karimov toward Moscow and Beijing.

Washington-Tashkent relations reached a crisis point after the Karimov regime's violent suppression of a rebellion in the city of Andijan on May 13, 2005 when Washington joined Brussels in calling for an independent investigation of the incident, and Moscow and Beijing backed Karimov. Rejecting the demand for an independent investigation, Tashkent retaliated against Washington on June 16 by restricting U.S. flights out of Karshi-Khanabad. At that time, Tashkent denied that the restrictions were actuated by Washington's response to the Andijan incident and said that Washington "knew" the unspecified reasons for them.

Those reasons -- or rationalizations -- were on full display at the August 26 Senate session, where legislators said that the base was responsible for environmental pollution in the surrounding area, that Washington had failed to reimburse Tashkent for the US$168 million it had spent on infrastructure to support the base, that the justification for the base -- support of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan -- was no longer valid, and, most importantly, that Washington is backing regime change in Uzbekistan and that the presence of U.S. military forces in the country encourages Islamic "terrorism" rather than diminishes it. According to Russian analyst Stanislav Oriovsky, Washington's decision in early August to fund "democracy" projects throughout Central Asia was crucial in creating a united front in favor of eviction among Uzbekistan's political class.

With its eviction from Karshi-Khanabad now certain, Washington attempted to regroup by sending General John Abizaid to Turkmenistan and Tajikistan to discuss military cooperation. Those efforts are unlikely to bear significant fruit in the near term, if at all.


Having chosen to abandon its dual-track foreign policy, Tashkent finds itself in the embrace of a Moscow that is reevaluating its approach to its near abroad. The pro-Western Rose Revolution in Georgia and Orange Revolution in Ukraine have so severely divided the C.I.S. that it can no longer function to project a coherent policy, but is, at best, a forum for discussion. In response to the new situation, Moscow pushed for "reform" of the C.I.S., renouncing any efforts to restore a sphere of influence.

Moscow's moderation failed to produce its desired result, as Tbilisi and Kiev refused to sign on to a common program, and Tashkent, which wanted a coherent policy statement, reportedly sought to cancel the meeting altogether. As a result, the only substantive result of the summit was approval of a protocol on cooperation among the C.I.S. states centered on resolving border disputes and curbing illegal migration and "terrorism and extremism." In a confession of failure, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed that the C.I.S. form a working group that would promote integration of member states consistent with their "shared interests and national foreign policy priorities," and would be composed of a "group of sages."

As Tbilisi and Kiev move to form an alternative Commonwealth of Democratic Choice, including Black Sea, Caspian and Baltic states, the future of the C.I.S. as anything more than a shell is in doubt. Moscow is likely to retrench, turn its attention to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization where it is allied with Beijing in a more promising structure, and to concentrate on strengthening bilateral ties with the allies it has left in its near abroad, such as Belarus, Armenia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

The Bottom Line

The eviction of the U.S. from Karshi-Khanabad and the failure of Moscow to "reform" the C.I.S. register shifts in the balance of power that redistribute advantages in the great game and portend a hardening of lines between the contestants.

Washington seems willing to sacrifice its presence in Uzbekistan in favor of a policy of encouraging the kind of regime change that has occurred in Georgia, Ukraine and, to a lesser extent, in Kyrgyzstan, which remains disputed territory. Moscow seems unable to formulate a coherent response to its loss of influence in its near abroad and faces credibility problems even with its remaining allies, who doubt its ability to function as a protector.

At present, Moscow has lost more than Washington and will seek ways to retrench. Washington will gamble on the longer-term weaknesses of the regimes that remain in Moscow's camp, attempting to walk a fine line between undermining them and avoiding their outright hostility.


Post a Comment

<< Home