Lukashenko To Karimov: Are You With Us or Against Us?
Uzbekistan has been keeping the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russia-dominated security bloc of post-Soviet countries, at arm's length: formally, it's a member, but it hasn't lately participated in any CSTO events, like the recent large-scale military exercises the group held. And now Belarus's president Alexander Lukashenko says it's time for Tashkent to decide -- and that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agrees:
“Even Uzbekistan that today has a specific stance will eventually understand that it will find it hard to preserve independence without the CSTO,” the President of Belarus said. He emphasized that the accession is a domestic matter of Uzbekistan and “we are not interfering”. “Although I have recently shared my thoughts with the President of Russia. We need to make a decision on Uzbekistan. Because Uzbekistan cannot join the CSTO as long as it is playing this triple game,” Alexander Lukashenko is convinced. After all, Uzbekistan has not ratified a single significant document of the CSTO yet, it only formally stated that it is allegedly returning to the CSTO."
There's a lot to unpack in that statement. How would the CSTO help Uzbekistan "preserve independence," exactly? Tashkent's coolness to the CSTO has to do more than anything with its fear that Russia would use it as an instrument to pressure the Uzbeks. So to Tashkent, its stance is precisely what preserves independence. Presumably Lukashenko is talking about the U.S., which has been deepening its relationship with Uzbekistan. A political analyst in Tajikistan, Rustam Haydarov, told Asia-Plus (in Russian) that Lukashenko was referring to the possibility of the U.S. stationing troops in Uzbekistan:
Uzbekistan is the only country in the region on which the USA can count on the issue of deploying its armed forces. I am sure that the political leadership of the neighboring country has already made a positive decision regarding the issue of deploying US forces in Uzbekistan. It means that completion of the Roghun hydroelectric power station in Tajikistan will be stopped in the near future by a conclusion of experts of the World Bank that is controlled by the USA," Haydarov added.
That may be going a bit far, but who knows. When she was visiting Tajikistan last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did make some intriguingly anti-Roghun remarks at a "town hall" meeting when she was asked about the dam project:
I don’t know how the studies are going to come out by the World Bank. I am not, by any means, an expert in dam building or hydro power. But I will say this: That what we have seen in the last several years is that a lot of major dam projects around the world that have been in blueprints and not yet built for many years are not being built. Why? Because what was an efficient way to produce power in the 1970s or ‘80s is no longer so efficient. And therefore, looking at different ways of producing power, more decentralized, diversified power sources, is what many countries are now doing....
We’ll wait to see what the World Bank has to say, because I think they’re the – they’re doing a very thorough study, from what I’m told. But I think you should separate out the opposition to the project from Uzbekistan. Sometimes people do things just because your neighbor doesn’t want you to do it. (Laughter.) Your neighbor says, “Don’t cut down that tree.” You go and cut down the tree because you don’t like your neighbor. And then you wake up the next morning thinking, you know, I liked that tree, I’m sorry it’s gone.
So I would just urge you not to make a decision because somebody you don’t like doesn’t like it. I would make a decision based on what’s best for Tajikistan. And that’s the smartest way to don’t get mad, get even. Right? So I would hope that’s what your country does.
And will the U.S. be basing troops in Uzbekistan? Who knows; it's happened before. But anyway, the point is that Uzbekistan's ties with the U.S. are being scrutinized for evidence that Tashkent is now on Washington's team against Moscow, in which case I would understand Lukashenko accusing Karimov of playing a double game. But a "triple game"? Who's the third?
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.