In what appears to be an awkward attempt to humor Uzbekistan, the German Ministry of Defense has classified information already in the public domain concerning Berlin’s payments to Uzbekistan for the use of a military base in Termez, near the Afghan border.
The Defense Ministry’s order means that official German websites will be scrubbed of financial data pertaining to the Termez lease. However, media outlets, including EurasiaNet.org, which have already reported on the payments, will not be required to remove the relevant information. Moving forward, German officials will be prohibited from discussing Termez lease terms, and media outlets that report new information about Termez financial arrangements will be considered in violation of German law.
According to data brought to light in April by Viola von Cramon, a member of the Bundestag representing the Green Party, the German government paid Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s regime a total of 88 million euros in lease payments from 2002-2010. Payments averaged at 11 million euros per year, peaking in 2008 at 15.2 million euros. At that time, Uzbekistan was under European Union sanctions for failing to allow an international investigation into a massacre of peaceful protestors in Andijan in 2005.
In 2010, the German Bundestag agreed to hand over an extra 15.95 million euros annually as “financial compensation” to Tashkent, according to the information obtained by von Cramon.
After reports began circulating about the payments, the Uzbek government reportedly exerted “massive pressure” on Berlin to take action to keep the payments from the public view. The German Defense Ministry justified its move to retrospectively classify the data by citing a confidentiality clause that the two countries added to the Termez lease agreement in 2010. An oversight by government bureaucrats was responsible for the release of the payment information to the public in the first place, a Defense Ministry representative explained.
“The German-Uzbek agreement as of April 13, 2010, includes a confidentiality provision,” said Monika Heimburger, the Defense Ministry representative. “This information [on confidentiality] was missed in the answer to an inquiry from a member of the German Bundestag. Because of that, details of the agreement only dedicated for the members of the German Bundestag were accidentally released to the public.”
Von Cramon, the Green MP, described the Defense Ministry’s action as unprecedented, and took a thinly veiled swipe at the Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government for indulging Karimov, who presides over what international watchdog groups say is one of the world’s most repressive states. “It is the first time that something like this has happened and there is no real explanation for it, except for massive pressure from the Uzbek government,” von Cramon told EurasiaNet.org.
“Somebody obviously made a mistake while sharing this information with us,” she continued. “The point is, of course, very bizarre because you could find this ‘classified’ information over many weeks in the official papers and documentation of the German Bundestag.”
Termez is a key air hub for German and other International Security Assistance Force troops transiting in and out of Afghanistan. US personnel have been permitted to use the facility since 2008.
Deirdre Tynan is a Bishkek-based reporter specializing in Central Asian affairs.