10.11.2020 Author: Vladimir Odintsov

What is behind the Strategic Partnership between the US and Uzbekistan?

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Recently, reports in the media can be encountered more frequently about the active measures taken by the United States to develop relations with Uzbekistan. For example, in just the first few days of November, the US Trade Representation (USTR) announced that the process had been completed of verifying Uzbekistan’s compliance with the criteria outlined in the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), to help ensure workers’ rights – something which had been going on since 2008 – and after that it announced that Uzbekistan would keep enjoying the right to deliver goods to the United States exempt from import duties. On November 1, the Joint Statement from the United States and Uzbekistan on Women, Peace, and Security was published.

Is this unusual activity on the part of the US in regard to Uzbekistan random? To answer this question, it is worth recalling how the forecasts for 2019 by the American geopolitical intelligence platform STRATFOR, and a number of other reports, have repeatedly noted that the United States is taking a course to strengthen ties with countries along the former Soviet periphery, where it will deploy its forces against Russia; to use American military terminology, “a multi-domain geopolitical war in the political, economic, energy, and military spheres”. As far as this Central Asian region that is strategic for Washington, is concerned, STRATFOR emphasizes that here the US is most interested in Uzbekistan as “a key player among the entire former Soviet Central Asian five”. STRATFOR experts consider one of the important aspects of the confrontation with Russia to be a qualitative change in the military component inherent in the US relations with this Central Asian state, with a special focus on cooperating in Afghanistan.

Military cooperation between Uzbekistan and the United States reached a particularly high level after the terrorist attacks that were committed on September 11, 2001: then the United States even deployed its own military base in the republic, which was used to support operations in Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan became one of the key US allies in Central Asia. However, after the “Andijan events” in 2005, which elicited criticism from Washington directed toward the Uzbek authorities, the situation changed, relations between the two countries deteriorated, and against this backdrop the Uzbek authorities advocated expelling American forces from the republic.

Nevertheless, after that bilateral relations began to gradually improve, and took on some specific outlines. To a large extent, this was facilitated by increased efforts put forth by the American diplomatic mission in the country, which moved to a new building at #3 Maykurgan Street in Tashkent in February 2006.

Many US government agencies and institutions are represented at the embassy, including the State Department, Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), US Customs and Border Protection, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Several secret US biological laboratories operate in Uzbekistan under the direct supervision of the US Department of Defense and USAID. Educational and professional exchange programs are funded through USAID and its Department of Information, Culture, and Education. The targets that US policy seeks to influence are: all of Uzbek society in general, but the political elite and its entourage, as well as media and the financial and banking sector, which enjoy special attention from American diplomats. Essentially, the line taken by Washington is aimed toward coalescing social groups of agents for US policy geared toward so-called “democratic and economic reforms” in all the main areas of life in Uzbekistan, and other Central Asian states.

According to reports by Uzbek media, the current US embassy in Tashkent is a real miniature home base, which has eclipsed all other regional embassies combined. Located in the Yunusabad residential area in the Uzbek capital, the land plot covers an area of 4.5 hectares, where seven buildings are located. The administrative building alone occupies an area of 11 thousand square meters, with about $60 million spent on building the complex of facilities. While before this building opened more than three hundred employees worked at the US embassy in Uzbekistan, now that number has doubled, and that means there are more opportunities for representatives from various American institutions and agencies to perform activities of interest to Washington.

In 2018, the United States was one of the main direct investors in Uzbekistan, although it does not rank among the country’s top investors. In 2019, for example, those were China, Russia, Turkey, Germany, and Switzerland.

Trade with the United States is negligible: according to the results following the first nine months of 2020, the volume of trade amounted to $213.2 million. The United States occupies 17th place on Uzbekistan’s list of trading partners.

The US is not in the list of most significant lenders for Uzbekistan either. China has occupied first place for several years now, with Japan in second place and South Korea in third place. Russia is in fourth place, and Germany occupies fifth place.

There are now 276 companies in the country with American charter capital. That is fewer than South Korea has (863), but more than Germany (193) and many other countries.

Considering Uzbekistan as a sort of “Central Asian US aircraft carrier”, in recent years Washington has become expeditiously involved in reinforcing the American embassy in this country with high-level professionals. One such appointee was US Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum, who arrived in Tashkent in May 2019. Before arriving in Uzbekistan, he was US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, and for a long time he helped pursue US policy by funding nongovernmental organizations in CIS countries through USAID, including destabilizing some of them as part of Washington’s struggle against Russian influence.

The current activity done by the United States in Uzbekistan is aimed at separating this country from its traditional strategic ally, Russia, driving a wedge not only into Russian-Uzbek relations, but also into the integration processes in Central Asia, which have been occurring recently at a quicker pace. And there is a lot of concrete evidence for this. One of them is the Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act, introduced to the US Congress back in 2017, which includes $2.5 billion for projects for “democracy in Central Asia”. To this end, the United States annually allocates money to do work with the media and various NGOs that is designed to, through disseminating information and policies beneficial to Washington, lead to fulfilling US strategic objectives in this region, and create “governments in its pocket”. One of the agents for this policy is the current publication Caravanserai, funded by the United States Central Command (USCENTCOM). In addition, “democratic values” in Uzbekistan are actively promoted by USAID, the Soros Foundation, the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, the Eurasia Foundation, and others. It is noteworthy that the International Renaissance Foundation, which is funded by businessman George Soros, played a significant role in the coup d’etat in Ukraine in 2014. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is constantly asking for the US Congress to increase funds it allocates “to counter Russian information influence in Central Asian countries”, and these funds are then actively “worked off”.

As for Washington choosing Uzbekistan as a strategic partner – that is by no means something random. Since Uzbekistan is precisely in the center of Central Asia, and borders all of the region’s countries, including Afghanistan, which is of particular interest to the United States – it is a place that it refuses to withdraw from, even despite the failure of its armed intervention that started almost twenty years ago.

At present, two branches of the terrorist group DAESH (banned in the Russian Federation – ed.) have actually formed in Afghanistan: one for the Pashtun regions and another for the non-Pashtun ones. The “Pashtun branch” (the Faruqi group) has a pronounced anti-Shiite and anti-Iranian orientation, while the “northern branch”, whose backbone is made up of immigrants from Central Asian countries, such as militants from the former Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or the Muawiyah group (banned in the Russian Federation – ed.), in its rhetoric mostly incorporates anti-Central Asian (meaning all Central Asian countries) and anti-Russian components. These terrorist groups are just one of many instruments used in American programs to maintain instability in Afghanistan, as well as a good reason to maintain a legitimate military presence in this important region from various points of view to exert pressure on neighboring countries continuously. This confirms that the West is implementing plans not only to surround Russia with hotbeds of instability from its militarily vulnerable southern flank, but also create tension with China and Iran.

In all these strategic geopolitical games, Washington pays special attention to bolstering the work it does in regard to Uzbekistan.

 Vladimir Odintsov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

 


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