Uzbekistan's decision to evict US military personnel from the Karshi-Khanabad airbase effectively marks the start of the Russian-led counter-revolution in Central Asia.
Uzbek officials delivered a diplomatic note July 29 to the US Embassy in Tashkent, in which Uzbekistan renounced an agreement under which approximately 1,000 American military personnel use the Karshi-Khanabad base, known as K-2, to support ongoing military operations in Afghanistan. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Tashkent reportedly gave US military authorities six months to organize the withdrawal from the facility.
The timing of the Uzbek eviction notice came as a surprise, even though a deep chill had descended upon bilateral relations. The strained nature of the strategic alliance was underscored by the fact that US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld did not visit Uzbekistan during his recent tour of Central Asia. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
K-2 served as the centerpiece of the US-Uzbek strategic partnership, which rapidly developed following the September 11 terrorist attacks. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Bilateral relations started to go sour in early 2004, soon after the first in a string of velvet revolutions in the former Soviet Union occurred in Georgia. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Subsequent upheaval that resulted in regime-change in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan caused the Uzbek government to take an increasingly cautious view of cooperation with the United States, which, in Tashkent's opinion, was the chief catalyst of the democratically oriented revolutions. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
The turning point for the US-Uzbek partnership was the so-called Andijan events of May 13-14, when, according to human rights activists, Uzbek security forces opened fire without warning on unarmed demonstrators. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Washington continues to insist on an independent international investigation into the Andijan events, a proposal that Tashkent just as forcefully rejects.
Over the last two months, government-controlled Uzbek media outlets have carried out a propaganda offensive that has painted the United States as a colonial power out to subjugate Uzbekistan. For example, state television recently broadcast a "documentary" on the Andijan events that opened with the narrator saying in "certain Western states, leaders of the anti-terrorist coalition are envious of Uzbekistan's success and riches." As the narrator spoke, the documentary showed images of the White House and of Whitehall, the seat of British authority in London. The documentary then attempted to link Western powers to what Uzbek authorities contend was an Islamic radical uprising in Andijan.
In the words of one Tashkent-based political analyst, the government's main print and broadcast outlets have been "losing their [collective] voice barking at the West and accusing America of imperial ambitions and trying to turn Uzbekistan into its colony."
Russian leaders have not hidden their desire to drive the United States out of Central Asia. Moscow, for instance, was instrumental in getting the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to adopt an early July resolution that called on the United States to set a deadline for withdrawal from air bases in both Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. In making the call, Russian officials contended that Afghanistan is stabilizing, thus eliminating the strategic rationale for the continuing presence of American forces in Central Asia.
During visits to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, Rumsfeld sought to downplay the strategic significance of the K-2. At the same time, the secretary of defense convinced Kyrgyz and Tajik leaders that tenuous political conditions in Afghanistan warranted the continued presence of American military personnel in Central Asia. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Russian leaders, in applauding the Uzbek move to kick the US military out of the K-2 base, hinted that they might now try to bring additional pressure to bear on Kyrgyzstan to evict American forces from the Manas air base outside of Bishkek. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Far from accepting the continued American military presence in Kyrgyzstan, Sergei Mironov, the speaker of Russia's Federation Council, told journalists August 1 that "only time will tell" if Kyrgyz authorities emulate Tashkent's example.
Uzbekistan now stands to be Russia's dedicated ally in any effort to drive the US military out of Central Asia. For instance, a front-page article published July 29 in the newspaper Novosti Uzbekistana proclaimed that "enthusiasm for