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LOOKING AHEAD
25.02.2009

Yaroslav Butakov

EQUATION WITH THREE UNKNOWN QAUNTITIES

After leaving one Central Asian country, the US forces might "settle" in two other states

The decision about the creation of Collective Rapid Reaction Force had been made during the recent summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO is a military-political alliance of Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan). The force will be formed on the basis of Russian military units, which will let them get another status and legitimize their deployment outside the Russian Federation. And of course, they will be mostly financed from Russian budget.

Meanwhile, Uzbekistan announced its peculiar opinion about the creation of CRRF. It disputed the forces including units aimed to launch special operations against international terrorism and trans-national organized crime and cope with the aftermaths of emergency situations. Uzbekistan agrees to take part only in the military part of the CRRF.

This Uzbekistan's position can do nothing but alert the RF government. The republic left the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) at the end of the last year. When in 2006 Uzbekistan joined the organization soon after its creation, Islam Karimov, The President of Uzbekistan, said that was a logical step, which was stipulated by the country's participation in CSTO (actually, Uzbekistan was one of the founder-countries for CSTO in 1992; the treaty was signed in Tashkent; the state left CSTO at the end of 1990s and joined the organization again in 2005). If it's really so, then after Uzbekistan suspended its participation in EurAsEC the next logical step for Karimov to make will be another leaving CSTO. And in that case the country will again get closer to coming back to GUAM (anti-Russian block of Georgian, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova), the member of which Uzbekistan used to be in 2002-2005.

Obviously, this circumstance prompted Moscow to agree to give a $1.7-billion credit to Kirgizia to build Kambaratin hydro-electric power stations. Uzbekistan is distinctly against the project, positioning it as an infringement of its water recourses. Also Moscow is about to renew the deal about the investigations into uncompleted construction project of Rogun hydro-electric power station in Tajikistan, which is also rigidly disapproved by Tashkent.

Of course, these steps do not favour the "warming" of relations with Uzbekistan. But what else could Russia do, if Uzbekistan doesn't want to strengthen the partnership with the Russian Federation? Karimov is again definitely inclining to primary partnership with the West, and the abolition of all the sanctions, which the EU and the USA imposed against Uzbekistan after the Andijan events in 2005, stimulated the process. The President of Uzbekistan came back to nationalistic course in domestic policy after "flirting" with Russian-speaking state citizens he performed when he needed the support from the Russian side. Uzbekistani streets, named in honor of outstanding Russian, Kazakhstani and other non-Uzbekistani historical figures, scientists and men of art, are renamed. The Museum of victims of political repressions, which in reality is the museum of "Russian occupation", is developed; "five-minute meetings of hatred" to "conquerors" are held there. The monument to cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was demolished shortly before Dmitry Medvedev's visit to Uzbekistan and unofficial conversation between two presidents in the town.

This Tashkent's heel obviously can't be overcome by concessions. It means the Russian Federation ought to carry its own logical course with other republics of Central Asia not paying attention to Tashkent's opinion, or maybe even arrange a pro-Russian Central Asian block, aimed against potential US satellites in the region.

The statement about the intention to break off the contract of the USAF leasing the Manas airbase, which was made by Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the President of Kyrgyzstan, is a real Russian foreign policy success. But Russia had to pay a lot for that. Plus to $1.7 billion already mentioned interest-free credit which should be returned in 20 years, the Russian Federation will give a preferential $300-million credit which must be paid off in 2016-2049. Kyrgyz $193.6-million debt to Russia which existed before is now partly paid off by Kyrgyz Dastan defense enterprise's shares ($19.4 million which is 48% of the whole holding of shares) and by the building of Russian trade mission in Bishkek. Thereby the major part of the debt is already returned. Obviously, only those generous financial promises (which are now fixed in the signed documents, already ratified by Kyrgyz parliament) made Bakiyev make statement about closing the US military base.

But this success has been secured by practical acts only some time later. A single Bakiyev's statement was not enough and the question about breaking off the contract had to be approved by Kyrgyz parliament. And the parliament postponed the examination of the question at first, and we doubt it was done without an unpublished direction of the President. Many experts supposed Bakiyev was waiting. He threatened Americans and hoped they will offer new and more profitable terms. That way, the President of Kyrgyzstan aimed to save profits from the presence of the US soldiers on the territory of the state even after he got guaranteed benefits from the Russian Federation. (A bill calling for the closure of the base and the eviction of U.S. forces was passed by the Kyrgyz parliament by a vote of 78 to one on February 19, 2009. The following day, February 20, an official eviction notice was delivered to the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek, according to the Kyrgyzstan Ministry of Foreign Affairs.)

This was confirmed by a calm reaction of Pentagon, representatives of which said they still intended to use the base in Kyrgyzstan to undertake "anti-terrorist" operations. But they admitted that that time they had to discuss the question with Moscow, but not with Bishkek. Actually, that was why NATO general secretary had addressed a request about saving the base in Kyrgyzstan to the Russian Federation.

The first round of such unofficial negotiations apparently begun on the annual (45th) conference on security in Munich, which the second and the third persons of great powers take part in. The question about the military base in Kyrgyzstan will be connected with other aspects of RF-USA relations, and firstly about the placement of the US missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic. Andrew Grosin, the Head of the Middle Asian department of the CIS countries institution, said Moscow could agree to save the Manas base in case Washington rejected its plans of placing missile defense in Eastern Europe. So, Bakiyev's "waiting policy" is quite clear.

What we can add from ourselves is that while all the promises the NATO made (beginning from the promise to abstain from widening the NATO block to the East from German borders) in reality turn to be quite the contrary. That's why we can assure, that if that kind of "barter" between Moscow and Washington takes place, sooner or later some objects of the US missile defense will anyway appear near our western border, and the US military presence in the Central Asia will remain on the same level.

And more – it might even increase. Pentagon's plans about multiple amplification of the contingent in Manas (now there are a bit more than thousand military men there) are already announced. Plus, under the pretext of leaving Manas, the USA is exploring contacts with the heads of other Central Asian republics about placing forces. It's acknowledged, that proposals like that have already been made to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

According to some information, Karimov would prefer to deal with the Americans. The US Hanabad military base existed in Uzbekistan till 2005, when Karimov, after the US reaction to what happened in Andijan, broke off the agreement and demanded withdrawal of the US troops. But now, against the backdrop of "warming" in relations between the West and Uzbekistani leader we can't exclude the possibility of the US troops coming back to Uzbekistan.

Since 2001 – the beginning of "anti-terrorist" operation in Afghanistan – there are various military objects placed on the territory of Tajikistan where German, French and some other European countries' military men serve: an airdrome in Dushanbe and other military-training camps. And now, after the negotiations between Emomali Rahmon, the President of the country, and T. A. Jacobson, the US ambassador, took place in Dushanbe, we got to know that the USA will create a military-training camp in Tajikistan, where local soldiers will be taught by their American colleagues. The USA will build the second wideband bridge on the border with Afghanistan with their own money, which will provide the supply of the US troops in Afghanistan (the first one was built two years ago also on the US money). Tajikistan takes responsibility of transiting non-military US goods to Afghanistan.

By the way, Sergey Lavrov, the Foreign Minister of Russia, has recently stated Russia could also be involved in transiting civilian goods to Afghanistan. But the USA might not need that for simple geographical reason. The way through Georgia, Azerbaijan, Caspian Sea, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan is considerably shorter. And the main reason is that all these countries are potential or already established satellites of the USA. And it means they can also agree to transit military cargo. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are already close to joining the "orbit" of the US politics; so the only thing left is to convince Tajikistan.

But the present policy of Uzbekistani, Tajikistani and Kyrgyz officials is hardly related with their mutual obligations according to CSTO. Following the logic of last 20 years, according to which only the worst scenario for the Russian Federation realizes, we have all the reasons to suppose that if the US base n Kyrgyzstan stays, the US forces will soon appear in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as well (and maybe even in Turkmenistan also, as the country is Iran's "rear"), and the number of troops on the region will increase manifold.

Thus, if to examine the situation attentively, one can see that even generous financial investments can't guarantee the loyalty of the countries of the region to Russia. And that's easy to understand, because reach United States of America can easily outbid the ruling elites of these countries.

It's obvious that strong intergovernmental associations can only be created with the help of common system of values, but they can never be simply based on mercantile interests. And only Russian elites' inability to propose such a universal system of values, which would attract the countries of the near abroad, connected with Russia by a common historical destiny, is the reason of chronic crisis and idling of integration processes on post-Soviet territory.


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