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Uzbeks Still Wary of Regional Security Bloc

By News Briefing Central Asia
Uzbekistan’s leadership continues to keep its distance from regional groupings that it fears might want to intervene it its affairs, NBCentralAsia analysts say.

Ahead of a July 14 summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, CSTO, a Russian-led security bloc within the Commonwealth of Independent States, CIS, media reports suggest that objections from Uzbekistan will prevent members signing an agreement to set up a joint rapid-reaction force.

Apart from Uzbekistan, the CSTO members are Belarus, Armenia, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

The news site said Tashkent would veto the agreement unless certain conditions were met, such as preventing CSTO troops being deployed in conflicts between member states if this would contravene local legislation.

NBCentral Asia observers say President Islam Karimov wants to head off any possibility that troops from other CSTO states might one day be deployed in Uzbekistan.

The recent attacks on security buildings in the eastern Andijan region, which the Uzbek leaders were carried out by armed insurgents who crossed over from neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, illustrate the kind of scenario Karimov might have in mind.

“In the event of a conflict, the CSTO’s rapid-reaction forces might get involved,” said Orozbek Moldaliev, the head of Bishkek-based Politics, Religion and Security Centre. “Uzbekistan is concerned about this possibility, especially if it followed the Georgian, Abkhazian or South Ossetian models.”

Russian peacekeepers acting on behalf of the CIS are deployed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia, which continues to claim sovereignty over both entities, regards the Russian presence as a way of propping up the leaderships of these self-declared republics.

Moldaliev thinks Karimov’s insistence on defining the terms under which collective forces operate is pragmatic.

The CSTO has had a Collective Rapid Deployment Force since 2000, made up of Russian, Kazak, Kyrgyz and Tajik contingents.

In February 2009, CSTO members agreed to a proposal from Moscow to create a more powerful military formation, the Collective Rapid Reaction Force, which would be made up of 20,000 soldiers from Russia, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and now also Uzbekistan, with armoured units, artillery, and naval forces in the Caspian Sea.

Resistance from Uzbekistan is likely to block progress on creating the new force.

Kamoliddin Rabbimov, an Uzbek political analyst based in France, says there are many questions about how the joint force would be used, and how individual states would respond in case of deployment. For instance, Kazakstan and Uzbekistan would never support the use of CSTO forces in a manner that appeared to favour the Armenians over the Azerbaijanis in the Karabakh dispute.

Tashpulat Yoldashev, an Uzbek political analyst based abroad, notes that this would not be the first time Karimov had blocked CIS agreements by refusing to sign.

In his view, the Uzbek authorities want to retain a free hand to resolve domestic problems on their own terms, without external intervention, and to call in military assistance only when they need it.

Yoldashev summed up Uzbekistan’s position as implying, “You can come here, but only when we ask you.”

(NBCentralAsia is an IWPR-funded project to create a multilingual news analysis and comment service for Central Asia, drawing on the expertise of a broad range of political observers across the region. The project ran from August 2006 to September 2007, covering all five regional states. With new funding, the service has resumed, covering Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.)