On May 18-19, President Vladimir Putin visited the Central Asian republics of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan for the first time. Putin did not hide that his visit was aimed at the strengthening of Russia’s position in the region. Observers also noticed that Putin visited only two of the five Central Asian countries. This was taken as an argument in favor of the assumption that Moscow was making advances to some obstinate CIS partners. However, the real reason is different and the visit to only two Central Asian republics was conditioned by the fact that on May 23-24 at the summit of the members of the Collective Security Treaty, Putin met later with presidents of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. Meanwhile, during his trip to Central Asia, especially to Uzbekistan, Putin was solving very important problems associated with the provision of security in the former Soviet Union. At the briefing in Tashkent on May 19, dedicated to the visit of Russian President, President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan confirmed this. He added that Uzbekistan was facing a serious threat on its southern borders. Last year’s events in southern Kyrgyzstan have shown that “a certain stringent plan is being implemented.” According to Karimov, “this was only a reconnaissance. The border was trespassed in early August 1999 and at the same time, the events in Dagestan took place.”
He added, “I see certain synchronized actions in this, coming from the same center. When we sense danger, we naturally seek protection.”
Karimov also said, “The international community should not doubt that international extremist centers, which possess large resources and capabilities, are responsible for the terrorism and religious extremism and the attempts to destabilize the situation in the North Caucasus, Central Asia and other regions. These centers are pursuing far-sighted plans.” Karimov noted that “Our position coincides with that of Russia, as well as the view of the nature of these threats. Uzbekistan has found protection in this respect in Russia. This is only one of the fields where our positions coincide.”
Putin spoke in the same tone. He emphasized that his visit to Uzbekistan after the inauguration “was not a coincidence.” Putin stressed the importance of the work, which Uzbek authorities were doing on protection of their security. He noted, “Our contacts with Uzbekistan in regards to combating international terrorism will be developed and coordinated up to taking certain preventive measures aimed at the prevention of any acts of aggression against Russia and Uzbekistan.” Thus, President Putin has confirmed the possibility of bombing Afghan territory, where the terrorists’ camps are located. A few days after the trip of Putin to Uzbekistan, Kremlin spokesperson, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, voiced the intentions of Moscow to deliver preventive blows on the places where “terrorist number one” Bin Laden probably resides. According to military sources, the blows will possibly be delivered from Uzbek airfields. This information shows that Uzbekistan has actually agreed to the presence of foreign forces on its territory. Tashkent also activated its military cooperation with Russia. During the December 10-11 visit of Putin to Uzbekistan while he was in the capacity of Prime Minister, Putin signed with Karimov an agreement on the further development of comprehensive cooperation in the military and military-technical fields. The leaders also signed the documents on collaboration of the Russian FAGLI with the Uzbek National Security Service. On March 29, Deputy Prime Minister, Ilya Klebanov and Security Council Secretary of Uzbekistan, Miragbar Rakhmanpulov met in Moscow and discussed the prospects for military-technical cooperation, the foundation of the Russian-Uzbek joint venture for upgrading of combat equipment and the training of Uzbek aviation and armor specialists in Russia. Agreement between Russia and Uzbekistan on the joint patrolling within the framework of the Integrated Air Defense System of CIS was another serious step towards development of military cooperation between the countries.
This agreement was signed in Tashkent during the visit of Russian Air Force Commander General of the Army, Anatoly Kornukov, on March 9-10. Moscow and Tashkent are currently exchanging information about the airspace situation, coordinating their combat training, and operating and upgrading armament in collaboration.
During the visit of Putin to Tashkent in May, this cooperation received a new momentum. Leonid Ivashov, the director of the main international cooperation department of the Defense Ministry, emphasized that the military-technical and technical cooperation between Russia and Uzbekistan was developing on a regular basis. He added, “I cannot name a single planned measure, which has not been taken. Everything is progressing in accordance with the plan. The agreement signed by Vladimir Putin and Islam Karimov is the legal basis, on which were are building our cooperation. We have progress in all directions without exception. This is true for the expansion of contacts and the exchange of military buildup expertise and the combating of international terrorism and religious fanaticism.”
Ivashov also told journalists, “Issues dealing with armament supply to Uzbekistan are also being settled.” According to military sources, in 2000, Russia will supply 50 BTR-80A armored personnel carriers to Russia. The vehicles will be produced by the Arzamas-based machine building plant. Promexport company is also actively working with Uzbekistan in the aircraft supply sphere. Moscow and Tashkent are organizing the interstate aviation complex (MAK) Ilyushin. On May 6, 1998, when Karimov visited Moscow, the presidents of the two countries signed an agreement, “On the further collaboration in joint designing, serial production and fielding of the IL-76M and IL-76TF airplanes and support of operation and upgrading of the IL-76 and IL-78 airplanes and their versions.” Despite that, the Tashkent aviation plant has been manufacturing the IL-76 for over 20 years, it still has no rivals in the world. This airplane is used both by the civil and military transport aviation. Upgrading of the IL-76, which will strengthen the positions of Russia and Uzbekistan on the market of cargo airplanes, is impossible without documentation, which belongs to the Moscow-based Ilyushin Design Bureau and assistance of Russian designers. The IL-76MF was designed by Russian and Uzbek designers together. The designers took into account the forecasts for the development of the international aviation market. From the basic model, the new version differs by the fuselage elongated almost by 7 meters, which increases the cargo capacity of the airplane by 50%. The airplane is also outfitted with the new PS-90 engines, which cut the fuel consumption 30% in comparison to the engines of the basic model. The IL-76TF is an upgraded version of the well-known IL-76TD transport airplane, and the IL-78 as a dedicated tanker designed according to specifications of the Air Force.
Thus, Russian-Uzbek relations are dynamically developing, which cannot be said about relations with Turkmenistan. Ashkhabad has prohibited the presence of Russian border guards on the Turkmen-Afghan border and there is the single official checkpoint from Afghanistan to the CIS in Turkmen Kushka. This circumstance creates a threat to security, because terrorists arrive in the CIS under the disguise of civilians. According to the Foreign Ministry, Putin failed to solve the problem of counteracting the Talibs during his visit to Ashkhabad. This means that the problems of terrorism exports remain.