The CSTO has been Russia's main vehicle over the past twenty years to rebuild a sphere of influence over the geography of the former Soviet Union. It is primarily a political alliance with an added military component, aimed at protecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of its members, while withholding judgement on "internal affairs." Its current membership roll, however, is looking haggard. Russia is joined by Belarus and Armenia as well as the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgzstan, and, until now, Uzbekistan. Not quite even coalition of the willing, to put it bluntly. And without Uzbekistan, the CSTO will lack a physical border with Afghanistan, where Moscow hopes to build significant post-war influence through the CSTO.
However, this is not the first time in Uzebkistan's 20 years of independence that dictatorial president Islam Karimov has decided to remove himself from the belly of the Russian bear, as he first did this in 1999. The main similarity between then and now? A period of intense courtship with Washington D.C. In the 1990's, Uzbekistan took part in NATO's "Partnership for Peace" (PFP) military training program, which was joined by nearly all of the newly independent states of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The PFP, which was formally created in the fall of 1993, was part of a larger Washington and London scheme to turn NATO from a defensive collective security alliance into a expanding, globetrotting political alliance, a scheme that begun immediately after the collapse of the USSR. It is clear that there was never to be a peace dividend planned for on the Potomac.
In July 1990, NATO leaders met it London, where they began the project of transforming themselves from a military alliance "into a political alliance building East-West structures of peace," according to diplomats quoted by the New York Times (NYT, 7/5/90). Following the meeting, NATO released what is known as the "London Declaration" a document celebrated as "historic" and "the Birth of a New NATO" by Brussels. It read:
Our Alliance must be even more an agent of change. It can help build the structures of a more united continent, supporting security and stability with the strength of our shared faith in democracy, the rights of the individual, and the peaceful resolution of disputes...The Atlantic Community must reach out to the countries of the East which were our adversaries in the Cold War, and extend to them the hand of friendship.It took barely a year for a new political group to be proposed by NATO, the "North Atlantic Co-operation Council," designed to include the states of the Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union (Economist, 10/12/91). In November 1991, NATO ministers assembled for an historic meeting in Rome, where they released for the first time ever a public document, a new "Strategic Concept." Within its dry and exhaustive prose is confirmation that NATO had already begun moving eastward:
The new situation in Europe has multiplied the opportunities for dialogue on the part of the Alliance with the Soviet Union and the other countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The Alliance has established regular diplomatic liaison and military contacts with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe as provided for in the London Declaration. The Alliance will further promote dialogue through regular diplomatic liaison, including an intensified exchange of views and information on security policy issues. (Paragraph 28)By the middle of the 1990's, an "intensified exchange of views and information" had transformed into large scale military exercises with former Soviet states. The first major exercise was Cooperative Nugget 95, held in August 1995 at Fort Polk, Louisiana, where 1,100 soldiers from 14 different countries came for a month of training from U.S. and British officers. Uzebekistan participated in these exercises, as did their fellow Central Asian Republic Kyrgyzstan and a slew of Eastern European states. Within months of these exercises, Kyrgystan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan formed a "Central Asian Battalion" at the behest of NATO.
|The 82nd Airborne Drops into Kazakhstan (Source: DoD, more pics at link)|
In 1997, the Central Asian Battalion held their largest NATO exercises yet, this time in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Known as Centrazbat 97, the exercises begun with the longest flight in human history, a potent expression of the hinterlands U.S. foreign policy was now engaged in. 500 pararoopers from the 82nd airborne packed their bags in Fort Bragg N.C. and flew 8,000 miles (with two in-air refueling hook ups) to the deserts of Kazakhstan, eventually leaping out of the plane for the assembled Central Asian soldiers and press. They then led a week of training exercises alongside Turkish and Russian troops, both air exercises in Kazakhstan and ground and logistic exercises in Uzebekistan. When Kazakh President Nazerbayev and his defense minister visited Washington two months later, he signed an official Defense Cooperation Agreement with the Pentagon, calling for over 40 similar exercises and drills to take place over the following year.
This was the context in which Uzbekistan first broke with Moscow's CSTO in 1999. President Karimov had read the geopolitical tea-leaves and decided that Washington was a better security partner than Moscow, and accordingly signed on full tilt to the Pentagon consensus. After the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan, Uzbekistan allowed the U.S. to base its soldiers there, heavily upgrading the old Soviet Khanabad-Karshi airbase, known as K2 in Pentagon parlance. The U.S. maintained this base, as well as a tenuous alliance with Uzbek President Karimov for five years, until Karimov's human-rights conduct became too extreme even for the State Department. And accordingly, Karimov moved back towards cooperation with Moscow, and rejoined the CSTO.
But now, Washington D.C. has once again been courting Uzbekistan hard, throwing all sorts of political concessions to Tashkent in the hopes of bettering their position in Afghanistan and the rest of Central Asia. The galvanizing development is the Northern Distribution Network, the logistical supply chain that has come into vogue as U.S.-Pakistan relations have deteriorated. The NDN consists of two routes--one running through Russia, and one through the Caucasus--both meeting in Termez, Uzbekistan, which shares a border with Afghanistan across the great Amu Darya river, also known as the Oxus. This has made Uzbekistan (along with the rest of Central Asia) the key to the Pentagon's Afghan strategy, and as such Washington has spent the last three years establishing more ties with the area. Most recently, U.S. officials have promised Uzbekistan, Kyrgzstan, and Tajikistan a wide swath of U.S. military armaments used in the Afghan War. Leaks describing these secret negotiations have been ongoing for half a year. Most recently a leading Russian newspaper, Kommersant:
Cited “well informed sources” as saying the three Central Asian states – all of them members of the Kremlin-led Collective Security Treaty Organization – would be given armored vehicles, tank transporters, prime movers, tank trucks, special-purpose graders, bulldozers and water trucks after US and NATO forces pull out of Afghanistan in 2014. Some of this equipment would reportedly be stored at local installations. In addition, the Pentagon plans to provide Afghanistan’s neighbors with medical equipment, communications systems, fire extinguishing equipment and even mobile gyms and other housing-related facilities.
The World Bank has also just guaranteed its first ever loan for Uzbekistan energy developments, especially important at a time when many Western multinational corporations are leaving Uzbekistan due to the repressive, centralized government. In a tellingly hypocritical move, Uzbekistan has also managed to stay off of the State Department's tier three category for human trafficking, a major problem in the Uzbek cotton industry, staying on the tier two watchlist for a fifth consecutive year. As the Central Asia expert Nathan Hamm wrote at his website Registan.net:
In 2011, Uzbekistan declared its intent to police itself to reduce forced child labor. In 2012, Uzbekistan has declared its intent to police itself to reduce forced child labor. It is hard to identify anything in State’s narrative for Uzbekistan that illustrates how Tashkent is devoting “sufficient” resources to implementing its written plan. Sure, UNICEF poked around, but even they say Uzbekistan’s government will not change. And some say they are going to probably be worse this year.Perhaps hoping to extort as many concessions like this as possible from the NATO capitals, Tashkent has once again formally removed itself from Moscow's orbit, as well as distancing itself from the military aspects of the Chinese led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), of which it is a member. Uzbekistan did not participate in the SCO's 2012 "Peace Mission" military exercises, held in Tajikistan. This itself was not that surprising, as Uzbekistan has only taken part in the annual exercise once, in 2007, however this year Karimov went as far as to prohibit Kazakh troops from transiting through Uzbekistan on their way to the exercise.