Uzbekistan's new president has signaled that he will continue the country's isolationist foreign policy, promising to not join any military alliances and to not allow any foreign military bases in the country.
Shavkat Mirziyoyev was confirmed on Thursday as Uzbekistan's interim president, following the death of Islam Karimov, who had ruled the country since before the Soviet Union collapsed.
The same day, Mirziyoyev addressed parliament and laid out the broad strokes of the policies he intends to follow. In the military/foreign policy section of the speech there were no surprises, and he explicitly confirmed that he intended to to pursue the isolationism that Karimov developed over the period of his rule.
"The firm position of our country, as before, is to not join any military-political bloc, to not allow the deployment of military bases and objects of any other state on the territory of Uzbekistan, or the deployment of our soldiers outside the borders of the country," Mirziyoyev said.
The reference to the "military-political bloc" would preclude Uzbekistan rejoining the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which it left in 2012. Russia (which leads the group) has held on to hopes that Uzbekistan would rejoin; Uzbekistan's absence -- as the biggest country in Central Asia -- has hampered the CSTO's credibility in the region.
Mirziyoyev did, though, praise the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a group that served the interests of Uzbekistan. The SCO could be called a "military-political bloc," but its military component is secondary (or tertiary) and Uzbekistan has mostly not participated in SCO military activities, anyway.
Uzbekistan has released four citizens of Kyrgyzstan it detained last month during an ongoing border dispute standoff, ratcheting down the tension between the countries.
Kyrgyzstan’s border service said on September 9 that that men were released by the Uzbek police following negotiations.
The four were reportedly in good health.
“Our health is fine. We are experiencing no problems and they looked after us well. Everything is good,” one of the released men, Zhenish Tashmatov, told RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service.
While that takes the sting out of the situation, the dispute that precipitated the men’s detention continues to rumble on.
Kyrgyz border guards have said around 20 Uzbek police officers are still occupying the telecommunications relay tower on Ungar-Too mountain where the four Kyrgyz men were detained. An Mi-8 helicopter carrying seven Uzbek policemen landed on Ungar-Too on August 22.
Ungar-Too is nominally one of the disputed chunks of territory, although the real prize for Tashkent is the Kasan-Sai reservoir, which is operated and de facto controlled by Uzbekistan, despite being several kilometers inside Kyrgyzstan.
Access to Kasan-Sai is currently blocked by Kyrgyz police checkpoints and another line of Uzbek defenses at the facility itself. At the site, there are numerous houses inhabited by Uzbek technicians and their families. Uzbekistan is aggrieved that it is not being given free and unfettered access to the reservoir, to which it holds territorial claims, by Kyrgyzstan.
Other than Uzbekistan, few are eager to see the formation of yet another enclave on the fringes of the Fergana Valley, which is what Tashkent’s desired outcome would entail.
A winner has been declared in Uzbekistan’s succession sweepstakes: a joint session of the Uzbek parliament on September 8 confirmed Shavkat Mirziyoyev as the country’s interim president.
Mirziyoyev, the incumbent prime minister, had been a front runner to take power after it was announced on September 2 that long-time leader Islam Karimov had died from an apparent stroke. Technically, a special presidential election must be held within three months according to Uzbekistan’s constitution, but Mirziyoyev’s victory seems all but assured now that he can wield all the levers of executive authority and tilt the playing field in his favor.
A government statement issued September 8 noted that lawmakers endorsed Mirziyoyev’s succession because he is seen as someone who can ensure “the provision of public security and law and order, and the effective resolution of highly important issues in the ... political and socioeconomic development of the country.”
That the announcement of Mirziyoyev’s appointment came six days after the news of Karimov’s death was released suggests that the political transition was far from smooth, and that there still may be substantial opposition to his rule from within Uzbekistan’s political elites.
The parliamentary endorsement of Mirziyoyev as interim president put an end to the brief tenure of Senate Chairman Nigmatilla Yuldashev as acting chief executive. Although never formally appointed, Yuldashev, in his legislative capacity, was, according to the constitution, the rightful interim president until a special election could determine Karimov’s successor. Yuldashev during the power vacuum fulfilled some formal executive functions.
In a surprising shakeup of Kazakhstan’s leadership, prime minister Karimov Masimov was on September 8 moved sideways and appointed head of the security services.
In a decree confirming that appointment, President Nursultan Nazarbayev named the up-and-coming Bakytzhan Sagintayev to head up the government, albeit only in an interim capacity for now.
It is not immediately obvious what motivated the personnel shuffle, but the position of Vladimir Zhumakanov, the outgoing head of the National Security Committee, or KNB, has been in question since a spate of fatal shootings in the western city of Aktobe in June.
This spells the end of Masimov’s second stint as prime minister. He served as head of government in 2007 and fill that post until 2012, after which he headed the presidential administration. He was again named prime minister in April 2014.
His removal as head of the Cabinet has been predicted for months, but that he would be appointed head of the security services is something few can have expected. It has long been rumored, although never officially confirmed, that Masimov had a background in the secret services in the Soviet era, so the transition may not be as surprising as it seems.
Political commentator Marat Shibutov told news and analysis website 365info.kz that he believed the move was only temporary.
“He will remain one of the most influential people in the country and close to the president. So you cannot write him off. This is just a temporary disappearance into the shadows,” Shibutov said.
Shibutov estimated that Masimov would occupy his KNB post for around one year.
The president of Tajikistan this week granted a rare reprieve to a jailed member of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party.
As Zarafo Rahmoni told RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, on September 7, the politician was not released as part of an amnesty but is being pardoned outright.
Rahmoni was one — the only female — among the IRPT leadership jailed in 2015 on charges of involvement in an alleged attempted coup last September.
“A few months ago, I wrote a letter to the president of Tajikistan and I was certain that he would listen to the requests of a woman. And so he has pardoned me, for which I am grateful,” the 44-year old Rahmoni said.
Rahmoni said she was in good health but would need some time to recover from her experience in detention. Her activities in the IRPT focused on legal affairs, and she stood for parliament on three occasions.
She was sentenced to two-and-half years in jail for failure to disclose information to the authorities. But in May, news website Tojnews claimed Rahmoni was the only arrested IRPT member to provide evidence against fellow party members. Rahmoni is reported to have stated that she was forced into becoming an IRPT member through threats of violence and that the party was plotting violent acts of insurgency.
In the absence of concrete evidence underpinning such claims, it is unwise to give them excessive credence. It is however important to note that Tajik police and investigators are widely accused by rights groups of using torture, intimidation tactics and threats against family members as ways of extorting confessions. Female suspects are said to face threats of rape while in custody.
“Before Georgia actually joins NATO, the country has to take care that a U.S. military base is located on the territory of Georgia,” he said, the news website Democracy and Freedom Watch reported. “When they talk about non-bloc status and legalizing Russian military bases in Georgia, our response should be the following: to redirect the policy in another direction, the location of U.S. or any other NATO member states’ military base and we will fight for this.”
The Republicans are part of the current ruling Georgian Dream coalition, but are competing separately in the upcoming elections. It's also worth noting that Usupashvili's wife and fellow party member is Tinatin Khidasheli, the recently departed defense minister.
When students in Uzbekistan returned to school and universities earlier this week, it was to classes devoted to the life and deeds of the late President Islam Karimov.
After reluctantly admitting to Karimov’s demise on September 2, authorities are now laboring to create a virtual demigod aura around the late leader.
In scenes that repeated themselves up and down the country, days began with school assemblies and a ceremonial laying of flowers before portraits of Karimov. Pupils then filed into their respective classes.
Students were given explanations in class about the life and works of the late leader and shown a film titled “The Future is For Us.”
The film, which was dedicated to Karimov, opens with a series of questions: “What is peace?”; “what is freedom?”; and “what is happiness?” Each question was answered with footage of Karimov speaking. The movie ended with the late leader saying: “I fear nobody. Our nation is on the true path. We are moving toward a great future.”
Some classes were attended by district heads and city government officials, at the instruction of the presidential administration in Tashkent.
The classes were really interesting. Teachers cried when they talked about the death of President Islam Karimov. And the film … was moving too. It was a kind of instruction from the leader of the nation,” Iroda, a teacher in the Ferghana Valley area, told EurasiaNet.org. Iroda’s surname has been withheld.
A student quoted in Uzbek language newspaper 21 Asr (“21st Century”), Mohigul Abdusalomova, said she would use Karimov’s words as an example in life.
An image of the alleged suicide bomber who attacked the Chinese embassy in Bishkek last week, as he entered Kyrgyzstan on August 20 on an Istanbul-Osh flight. (photo: GKNB Kyrgyzstan)
Kyrgyzstan's authorities have released details of several people it accuses of organizing last week's attack on the Chinese embassy in Bishkek, describing an international plot involving Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Uighurs with connections to Turkey and Syria.
The State Committee on National Security (GKNB) identified the suicide bomber as a Uighur holding a Tajikistan passport who was a member of the Islamic Movement of East Turkestan. It wasn't clear of which country the man was a citizen or resident, or if the authorities knew the man's real identity.
The GKNB said that the attack was organized by "Uighur terrorist groups" based in Syria and allied with Tawhid wal-Jihod, an Uzbek-led group aligned with the al-Nusra Front.
The suicide bomber attacked the Chinese embassy on August 30 using a car bomb, killing himself and injuring three embassy employees. If it was in fact organized by Uighur groups, it would represent an expansion of the insurgency that some Uighurs have been carrying out in Xinjiang, the Chinese province across the border from Kyrgyzstan, in protest against the Chinese authorities repression against them.
Russian President Vladimir Putin with his Uzbekistan counterpart Islam Karimov this April at the Kremlin. (photo: Kremlin)
Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to visit Uzbekistan on Tuesday, inserting himself into an ongoing presidential succession after the death of President Islam Karimov, the only president Uzbekistan has known.
Putin will stop over in Samarkand on his way back from China, where he attended the G20 summit (and as a result missed Karimov's funeral; Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev represented Russia). "I think I have to stop over tomorrow to pay my respects," Putin said. Putin's spokesman later emphasized that Putin's visit would be personal, but there will certainly be more to it than that. A report on the Uzbekistan news site anhor.uz initially said that Putin would also meet there with "possible successors," though that was subsequently edited to say he would meet with "the leadership of the country."
Most analysts, and this blog, are skeptical that whoever succeeds Karimov will do much to change Uzbekistan's foreign policy, which was characterized by isolationism bolstered by playing various powers off of one another. So it's unlikely Putin believes he can tip the scales on the ongoing succession process.
"Putin's visit is symbolic, to show that Russia will be highly involved in Uzbekistan's future, but also an attempt to reset relations," said Erica Marat, , an assistant professor at the National Defense University and Central Asia expert, in an email interview with The Bug Pit. "I don't think the Kremlin is able to influence the succession process itself, but this is an opening for Russia nevertheless."
It was Tajikistan’s presidential press service, of all people, that provided some of the most interesting glimpses into the funeral of Uzbekistan late President Islam Karimov.
Predictably, most photos featured the Tajik leader front and center. Quite literally. In one of the many photos published on the presidential press Facebook account, Emomali Rahmon is seen striding purposefully in between Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who is touted as the likely future president, and deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov, another potential contender to the throne.
Azimov’s presence at the funeral, as confirmed in the photos, would appear to put paid to rumors that emerged shortly after initial reports of Karimov’s death that he has been placed under house arrest. Far from being arrested, Azimov was one of the pall-bearers leading from the front of Karimov’s coffin, along with a weeping Mirziyoyev.
This is where it is necessary to indulge in some old-fashioned Kremlinology.
The presence of the entire current Karimov elite at the funeral would suggest that a zero-sum bout of infighting, as some have expected, is not in the offing for the immediate future.
Perhaps that much should have been clear from the list of the names underneath an early post mortem encomium.