: / Central Asia and CIS

Kyrgyzstan Review, 10 years ago

[12.12.2OO2] Uzbek president skeptical of Russias new military moves in Central Asia, decries competition for influence with Washington

Uzbek President Islam Karimov expressed skepticism Thursday about Russia's move to establish a new military base in Central Asia in apparent response to the increased U.S. presence in the region, asking why Moscow didn't help during past incursions by Islamic extremists.
"Why wasn't Russia so active then?" Karimov asked at a news conference on the sides of a meeting of parliament, citing attacks by terrorist groups in 1999, 2000 and 2001 in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan that even neared the Uzbek capital Tashkent.
Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a new security agreement with Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev as Russian warplanes tested facilities at the Kant air base near the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek. The base is to be the future home for aircraft assigned to a rapid-reaction force under a collective security treaty, whose members include Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Moscow's moves are viewed as an answer to the bolstered U.S. presence in the region, with American troops using bases in Uzbekistan and in Kyrgyzstan near the new Russian-led base for anti-terror operations in Afghanistan.
"If they are doing this in a competition the more that arrive in the Central Asian region I think this competition is absolutely unproductive," Karimov said. "There's no need to make any competition on our territory especially when the topic concerned is Americanization."
The Uzbek leader said he had asked for help from Russia in 1999 during attacks by the terrorist group Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, but to no avail.
"I didn't get any support other than general words: 'Yes, we'll be there, yes it's necessary,'" Karimov said. Instead, he said Moscow "attempted to get out of a difficult situation, a very dangerous situation."
Still, Karimov said it was a "positive" development if such bases could help avert future attacks in the region.
"If their goals here are for security, the goals of peace and stability, then there aren't enough" of such bases, he said.
Karimov said he didn't want to discuss a balance of power in the region between Washington and Moscow, for example, by comparing their influence based on how many forces or aircraft they have. But in a nod to top Russian officials who have expressed unease about U.S. moves in the region, he said all troops should leave after the threat in Afghanistan is eliminated.
"If there would be peace in Afghanistan, then I am for a full demilitarization," he said. "If there's no threat, then why do we need these forces on the territory of Central Asia?"
Also Thursday during the parliament session, Karimov gave support for the country's move to a bicameral legislature approved in a January referendum that was internationally criticized as neither free nor fair.
The referendum also extended Karimov's term from five to seven years. Under the new legislature, regions will be represented in a Senate, the upper house, while the lower house, the Oliy Majlis, will form factions based on party membership.
Still, Karimov stressed that the country needed to develop stronger political parties to support the new parliament. Under Karimov's strong-handed rule since the country's 1991 independence, opposition parties have been banned and their leaders forced into exile.

By BURT HERMAN, Associated Press, December 12, 2002


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