Foreign relations

Maneuvering between East and West

Following a pro-Russian orientation in the early 1990s, Uzbekistan turned toward the West in the second half of the decade. In 1999, Uzbekistan withdrew from the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and joined GUAM, a group of post-Soviet states opposed to Russian domination. Uzbekistan remained a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which provides a forum for security cooperation for Russia, China and four Central Asian states.

Uzbekistan returned to a pro-Russian orientation as a result of arguments with the West over human rights, a breakdown in Uzbekistan’s relations with the IMF; and concerns over the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Following 9/11, Uzbekistan turned toward the West again. It allowed the U.S. to use its military facilities for the war in Afghanistan. In 2002, Presidents Bush and Karimov signed a declaration declaring a strategic partnership. In 2004, however, the U.S. sharpened its criticism of Uzbekistan’s human rights practices. In 2005 the U.S. joined with the EU, UN and others in calling for an independent investigation of the events in Andijon.

Reacting negatively to U.S. pressure, Uzbekistan gave the U.S. six months in 2005 to close the Kharshi-Khanabad air base and announced an end to counterterrorism cooperation. The U.S. vacated the base.

Karimov’s constant realignments
A turn to Russia in 2005

Realignment with Russia was spurred by the 2005 regime change in Kyrgyzstan, which heightened President Karimov’s fear that Western states intended to destabilize non-democratic governments in the region. Russian understanding for the crackdown in Andijon also contributed to the strengthening of their relationship. In November, Uzbekistan and Russia signed an “unprecedented” (in Karimov’s words) mutual security pact that allowed for the stationing of Russian military troops in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan also formally left GUAM in 2005. In 2006 Uzbekistan joined the Russian-dominated Eurasian Economic Community, and signed several agreements with Gazprom to develop Uzbekistan’s gas fields. Uzbekistan rejoined the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in 2006.

A 2007 Russian-Turkmen-Kazakh summit agreed to expand gas transport pipelines along the Caspian coast (seemingly excluding participation in the Western-backed Trans-Caspian pipeline). Although not present at the summit, Karimov added to the agreement a declaration of intent to modernize the Uzbek section of the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan gas pipeline bound for Russia.

A turn to the West in 2008

In a sign of improving relations with the West, the Uzbek government announced in 2008 a new agreement that would allow Americans attached to NATO to use the German air-bridge through Termez Air Base to Afghanistan.

Karimov (in his first foreign trip since the 2005 Andijon events) attended the 2008 NATO Bucharest Summit. His address in Bucharest focused on Afghanistan – the key issue at the Summit. He emphasized his country’s strategic importance with regard to the war there, balancing himself between the U.S. and Russia.

Uzbekistan also withdrew from the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Community in 2008, ostensibly due to that organization’s lack of efficiency.

Subsequently, U.S. Central Command Commander General Petraus made a high profile visit to Tashkent in 2009 for meetings with President Karimov and Defense Minister Berdiyev. 

After Kyrgyzstan announced in 2009 the closure of Manas airbase, the Uzbek government agreed to allow the U.S. to ship non-lethal supplies by rail from Russia through its territory  to Afghanistan.  Uzbekistan also announced that NATO non-lethal cargo would be allowed to transit Navoi Airport on the way to Afghanistan. South Korea handled a major renovation of the airport.

In 2011 the U.S. removed restrictions on military aid to Uzbekistan. The restrictions had been in effect for seven years in an effort to press Uzbek authorities to improve their human rights record and implement political reforms.

Multi-vector security policy

Two visits by Secretary of State to Uzbekistan in 2011 and 2012 pointed to a major shift in Tashkent's alignment.  Uzbekistan (again) suspended its membership in the CSTO in 2012.  Tashkent also announced a new foreign policy strategy reinforcing its neutrality by refusing to host foreign bases or to join any military alliance.  Nonetheless, Karimov's meeting in Moscow with Putin in April 2013, which emphasized security discussions and agreements, pointed to a continuing close and continuing bilateral security relationship with Russia, with an eye to the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014.

EU sanctions lifted

The European Union decided in 2007 to lift the remaining travel bans on eight senior Uzbek officials instituted after the 2005 Andijon crackdown. The arms embargo was lifted in 2009, with the EU adding that it would assess the human rights situation in Uzbekistan within a year.

European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs visited Tashkent in 2010 and met with top Uzbek officials. The Commissioner's visit demonstrated the strengthening of relations between the EU and Uzbekistan following the 2007 adoption of the EU Strategy on developing a new partnership with Central Asia.

Influence of Iran and Saudi Arabia not welcome

Uzbekistan's relations with the Muslim world are influenced by the conflict between the Karimov regime and its domestic Islamist opposition. The influence of Iran and Saudi Arabia, strongholds of politicized forms of Islam, is not welcome. Turkey offers a relatively more acceptable model of the role of religion.

Anti-IMU operations in neighboring countries

Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan incursions through Tajikistan in 1999 and 2000 were intercepted in Kyrgyzstan with military assistance from Uzbekistan.

Tense relations with Central Asian neighbors

Uzbekistan is the most populous of the central Asian states and has the strongest army. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan view its quest for regional dominance as a threat.

Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are rivals for the leading role in the region. There have been twenty shooting incidents between the two countries' border guards in recent years. The delimitation of the Uzbek-Kazakh border is now complete and in 2004 the first border checkpoint was erected. Uzbekistan tightened its borders with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to prevent smuggling, but this only increased the opportunities for corruption and harassment of shuttle traders. 

Tensions between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan heightened in 2010 following inter-ethnic Uzbek-Kyrgyz violence in Kyrgyzstan and the arrival of thousands of ethnic Uzbek refugees in Uzbekistan  Volence and hostage-taking between enclaves within their respective borders took place in January 2013, and a shooting incident between border guards in Aksay district of Jalabad province left two Uzbeks dead in July 2013.

Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have traded accusations about the harboring of Islamic militants. The two also have differences regarding water and energy issues. Uzbekistan is concerned by Tajik plans to build the world’s highest dam to control the flow of the Amu Darya River, which is essential for irrigation of Uzbekistan’s cotton cultivation. Indeed, during a visit by Russian President Medvedev to Tashkent in 2009, Karimov publicly asked Russia to “influence” Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan on water issues. Both states reportedly will be releasing less water downstream due to their own domestic needs. Uzbekistan stepped up its pressure on Tajikistan in 2009 by withdrawing from the Central Asia Electricity Grid, as well as by periodic stoppages of rail traffic into Tajikistan.

Asia

China expressed full understanding for Uzbekistan’s handling of the Andijon events during Karimov’s visit to meet his Chinese counterpart in Beijing in 2005.

Karimov has also held high-level meetings with the leaders of South Korea, Japan, and India in order to diversify economic ties and increase foreign investment.

OSCE

An OSCE Liaison Office in Central Asia was established in Tashkent in 1995 to link the five central Asian participating states with OSCE activities. The office changed its name to the OSCE Centre in Tashkent following the decision to open OSCE Centres in the other eentral Asian countries.

Participants at an OSCE-supported workshop on women’s leadership in policing, Tashkent, 5 November 2012.

Participants at an OSCE-supported workshop on women’s leadership in policing, Tashkent, 5 November 2012.(OSCE/Ildar Fayzullin)

The Centre in Tashkent promotes OSCE principles and commitments in Uzbekistan. Training courses organized involved policing borders, the treatment of prisoners, promoting tourism within the region, leadership training for women, and training in election monitoring.

(OSCE/Christoph Opferman)

Participants at an OSCE-supported workshop on women’s leadership in policing, Tashkent, 5 November 2012. (OSCE/Christoph Opferman)

In 2006, the OSCE Centre in Tashkent was renamed the OSCE Project Co-ordinator in Uzbekistan. The Office supports the government’s efforts to ensure security and stability, including the fight against terrorism, violent extremism, illegal drug trafficking and other transnational threats and challenges. The Office has also supported projects that foster the development of national human rights institutions, anti-trafficking efforts, capacity-building of national institutions and non-governmental organizations, and legal education.

OSCE CiO visits in 2013

OSCE Chairs-in-Office traditionally make at least one swing through central Asia every year.  Ukrainian Foreign Minister and CiO Kozhara visited the five countries of central Asia in October 2013, meeting with presidents, ministers, parliamentarians, civil society, and OSCE field missions.  Kozhara focused on regional security and OSCE engagement with central Asia.