Islamic extremists have broken through to Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. But the leaders of these republics are not in a hurry to ask Russia for help; they are counting on China.
Reports about the break-through of guerrillas of the Uzbek Islamic Movement (UIM) to Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan testify that the situation in Central Asia will continue to worsen. This fact was also confirmed by the Russian Defense Ministry. Commenting on the recent events in the south of the CIS, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev stated that according to the Russian military, the UIM detachments against which the Uzbek and Kyrgyz Armed Forces are currently fighting, include more than 5,000 guerrillas. He noted that the situation “requires additional improvements of the control system based on a joint command of the counter-terrorist structures that are already in place.”
Joint command structures of the Armed Forces of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan have already been created. These forces along with representatives from Tajikistan command the activities aimed at stopping guerrillas who try to invade the Ferghana valley and the Surkhandarya and Tashkent regions. The Russian Federation, however, is not represented within these command structures. It is interesting to consider what additional control systems Sergeev might have in mind. Isn’t it possible that Sergeev’s statements concerning “additional improvements” testify that Moscow intends to take control of the fight against religious terrorists in the Central Asia? Sergeev made his statements in Ashuluk after the international exercise Battle Cooperation 2000. The majority of the CIS defense ministers, excluding representatives of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, supported the Russian defense minister’s position.
Moscow’s intention to gain leadership in the region is evident. Russian generals and politicians do not hide that Russia is pursuing long-term interests in Central Asia. Thus, Igor Sergeev’s statements are understandable. At the same time, the interests of the Russian defense minister do not coincide with the plans of the Central Asian countries. Tajikistan, which has suffered a civilian war and is in a poor economic position, is ready to accept Moscow’s help. The Tajik leadership supports the deployment of Russian forces in the region. Kyrgyzstan acts in a similar way. But Uzbekistan, which is interested in receiving supplies of Russian weapons, does not intend to develop other forms of integration within the CIS. There are no foreign forces on its territory. It remains aloof from the collective military control bodies of the CIS and intends to solve military issues and questions of military-technical cooperation on a bilateral basis.
It is possible that Tashkent thinks that the situation in the republic is under control and that the Uzbek Army will be able to cope with the terrorists using its own forces. This conclusion is supported by the Uzbek leadership’s denial on August 29 of an Interfax report that claimed Uzbekistan had asked Moscow for military-technical aid in the destruction of the extremists who had invaded Uzbek territory.
This report was circulated when it turned out that on Monday Deputy Foreign Minister Abdusamat Khaidarov held consultations in Moscow with his Russian counterpart Alexander Losyukov and first Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnokov, former Chief of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service. This meeting might have started media rumors that Uzbekistan had asked Russia for help. However, this report was denied by both Russian and Uzbek sources.
Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, Chief of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Main Department for International Military Cooperation, stated that neither Kyrgyzstan nor Uzbekistan had appealed to Russia for urgent military aid in connection with the invasion of Islamic guerrillas on the territory of these republics.
In the meantime, military observers note that the battle-worthiness of the Uzbek Army leaves much to be desired. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, as of August 30, “after the break-up of the USSR the Russian-Uzbek relations were frozen. The Uzbek Army once performed active battle training and military hardware was repaired using reserve stocks.” It is, however, common knowledge that reserve stocks are not fathomless.
By 1997-1998, tanks, planes and armored troop carriers began to break due to lacking spare parts, accumulators and other military equipment without which efficient functioning of military hardware is impossible.
Thus, the Uzbek Army is interested in increasing the supply of weapons to the republic. Uzbek Defense Minister Yury Agzamov’s recent visit to China confirms this. He planned to attend an international shooting test on the Ashuluk polygon on August 25-26, but did not make it to the event. His assistants explained his absence referring to the difficult situation in the republic. The situation truly is very complicated. But the republic’s present state did not prevent the Uzbek minister from visiting China and reaching an agreement about Chinese weapons deliveries.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov stated on August 29, that a few hundred sniper rifles, flak jackets and other military hardware have already been delivered to Uzbekistan. Karimov noted, “Though the aid is not considerable, we appreciate the fact that China sympathizes with us and has decided to help us.”
Why did Uzbekistan appeal to China? Observers note that for one, Chinese military hardware is cheaper than Russian hardware. It is possible that the pragmatic Uzbek leaders thought that they would be able to buy more due to lower prices. Second, it is not out of the question that the weapons were not even sold to Uzbekistan. It is possible that Uzbekistan received these weapons on credit. Above all, since September 1, Uzbekistan and China have established transport connections, and an increase in economic contacts is underway.
On the eve of the republic’s Independence Day, the first phase of the creation of the route Tashkent (Uzbekistan) – Osh (Kyrgyzstan) – Sary-Tash (Kyrgyzstan) – Cashgar (China) was finished. This road plays a strategic role for the region. According to Uzbek President Islam Karimov, the creation of this transport route has made it possible to gain access “to international motor roads and shipping lanes and to strengthen economic relations with foreign countries.”
Thus, the necessary foundations for making China an important economic partner of Uzbekistan have been laid.
But the plans of the Uzbek leadership may remain on paper if Tashkent does not successfully deal with the terrorists who are trying to overthrow the present government. On September 1, tunnels on the Kamchik and Rezak passes were opened. The route that passes these tunnels is the only link with the Ferghana valley.
Guerrillas tried to block this route on the Kamchik pass. The situation may get worse after the lead-in of an 11-kilometer tunnel. The terrorists have already promised to blow up the tunnel and block the route to the Ferghana valley.
Meanwhile the activities of saboteurs could make the situation in the republic deteriorate. In such circumstances, Tashkent will have to ask for urgent military aid. Which partner will it choose? Russia or China? Russia is closer. But it is evident that Beijing is getting nearer to Tashkent thanks to the development of economic relations. The necessary prerequisites for close Uzbek-Chinese relations have been arranged.