4 July 2012Uzbekistan’s decision to renounce its membership of a post-Soviet regional security pact was not the first policy switch of its kind, and reflects an underlying approach based on temporary rather than long-term gain, a leading analyst in Moscow says.
The Uzbek government suspended its membership of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, CSTO, back in 1999, saying the grouping was not proving effective. It reactivated its role in 2006, as part of a switch back to Moscow after Tashkent faced western criticism for the shooting of hundreds of people in Andijan the previous year.
In a letter to the CSTO in June, it announced it was leaving again.
NBCentralAsia asked Andrei Grozin, head of the Central Asia department at the Institute for Countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, to explain this latest move and what it says about Tashkent’s attitude towards Moscow .
NBCentralAsia: Does Uzbekistan’s withdrawal from the CSTO reflect a desire to distance itself from Russia’s growing influence?
Andrei Grozin: Tashkent has always exhibited this caution [about Russia]. But in this instance, that isn’t the main thing. After all, these considerations didn’t stop Tashkent signing a strategic partnership with Russia right after Andijan . So I think it’s less about the Russian factor than that this is standard practice for Uzbekistan.
Its foreign policy changes pretty dramatically every two or three years, on average. When [President Islam] Karimov swore eternal friendship with Moscow after Andijan, it was clear this was only temporary. In the same way, he had earlier told GUUAM members [Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova; Uzbekistan left in 2005] he was dedicated to building democracy and pursuing pro-western policies. These are situational moves which Tashkent makes to gain temporary advantage.
It is fairly easy to explain these zig-zags in foreign policy. Everything in that country, including foreign policy, depends entirely on one man, his mood, his state of health, and his view of matters. In that respect, Uzbekistan resembles Turkmenistan. The other Central Asian states don’t have democratic regimes, either, but foreign policymaking is nevertheless less dependent on one individual in Kazakstan, in Tajikistan and certainly in Kyrgyzstan.
NBCentralAsia: There’s currently talk of a new American base in Uzbekistan, and some analysts see the withdrawal from the CSTO as being connected with the Afghan situation. Do you agree?
Grozin: Because of its geopolitical position, Uzbekistan is clearly counting on being the key transit route out of Afghanistan this year and in 2013-14. It’s an immensely costly operation for the western coalition to withdraw all its troops and equipment.
Uzbekistan wants to free itself of the restrictions imposed by CSTO membership on hosting foreign facilities, whether those are described as military bases or logistical hubs. This decision [leaving the CSTO] places Tashkent in a far better position than other Central Asian states. It can continue developing bilateral cooperation with Moscow, which it’s always done irrespective of CSTO membership, but at the same time it won’t be under any constraints when it comes to establishing whatever transport hubs or bases it sees as necessary and advantageous. That will bring it financial benefits and also political support from Washington and Brussels.
The pendulum has now swung towards the West, just as it swung towards Russia after Andijan. But if things change, for example if the situation deteriorates after western forces leave Afghanistan, Karimov will find it possible to make another volte face. I wouldn’t be surprised if, having extracted the benefits from partnership with the West, he rejoins the CSTO again because of security concerns.
NBCentralAsia: Did Uzbekistan’s withdrawal from the CSTO come as a surprise?
Grozin: After Tashkent suspended its membership of the Eurasian Economic Union last year, there was a lot of talk about it leaving the CSTO as well. Everyone was expecting it. That explains Moscow’s fairly calm reaction.
Whatever the zig-zags and turnarounds in its foreign policy, Uzbekistan is ultimately a sovereign state which can decide for itself what organisations it should be part of. Nor can Russia reproach it for trying to extract money from the western coalition, since it is trying to do pretty much the same thing itself.