Uzbekistan has taken the rare step of commenting publicly to deny reports that it plans to allow the United States to set up a military base in the country.
The rumors arose after the recent visit to Uzbekistan by the head of U.S. Central Command, General Lloyd Austin, and the report on a website with good sources in Uzbekistan's government saying that the Austin was discussing setting up a base in Termez, on the Afghanistan border.
The report was implausible in many ways -- it said the U.S. was going to pay $1 billion a year in rent -- but Uzbekistan's government nevertheless saw fit to deny it. "Uzbekistan's laws do not allow to host any foreign military bases on its territory," Adilbek Kaipbergenov, spokesman for Uzbekistan's foreign ministry, told AFP.
The U.S. also denied it: “Gen. Austin has no knowledge of any plans for a possible U.S. base in Uzbekistan,” a CENTCOM spokesman told the Army Times. “He did not discuss any such options with the Uzbeks during his trip.”
The Uzbekistan opposition website uznews suggests that it was Russia's negative reaction to the rumors that may have spooked Tashkent.
Speaking on Russian radio station Govorit Moskva, Ilya Drozdov, a member of the Russian parliament and a CIS and Eurasian integration committee member, stated that if Uzbekistan really did allow the U.S. to re-open a military base, then Russia should throw out all Uzbek migrant workers from Russia. “I think then we need to take strong action at the highest level of government.” says Drozdov,
“If we discover that Uzbekistan is no longer our partner – and certainly allowing not just a theoretical but an actual opponent to open a military base is an unfriendly move – then one month would allow sufficient time to remove every single Uzbek citizen from Russia. They can all work at this U.S. base.”
However, that's not to say that something is in fact in the works. There were real discussions between Washington and Tashkent over the last couple of years about the possibility of an American special forces base in Uzbekistan, though the idea seems to have been dropped. The Pentagon was making contingency plans earlier this year to set up a drone base in Central Asia in case Afghanistan were to kick the U.S. military out; Uzbekistan was probably the most likely host. And as uznews points out, Tashkent's denial isn't that convincing: Uzbekistan's laws haven't prevented it from allowing Germany to maintain its base in Termez. So don't be surprised if something, not necessarily a full-fledged base, does eventually pop up.