Colonel Kadyr Gulamov, newly appointed Defense Minister of Uzbekistan, recently completed his first visit to the United States in his new capacity. This visit may be part of a pattern of new Uzbek-US contacts–before his trip to the US Gulamov notably ignored the late October meeting of CIS defense ministers in Tashkent.
Pragmatic Uzbek leaders are most likely irritated by the drawn out and so far fruitless talks about collective defense. They have clearly decided to reorient themselves towards the West, in particular the US. Gulamov’s meeting with William S. Cohen culminated in the signing of an agreement on further cooperation in the military-technical field. Sources in Tashkent note that the agreement has an intergovernmental status, which means the document was signed following instructions issued by the US and Uzbek presidents. The agreement envisions not only the supply of arms and combat material to Uzbekistan, but also the creation of production facilities and technologies for arms manufacture in Uzbekistan.
Of course, the detailed contents of the agreement are being kept secret, but observers do not rule out that the agreement probably deals primarily with the production of various kinds of ammunition, small arms, and heavy armored jeeps of the Hammer type. Uzbekistan possesses the necessary raw materials and industrial base for arms production. The republic holds large reserves of guza-paya (dry cotton stems), which the USSR used to produce pyroxylin powder for fuses of hand grenades and for primers of cartridges and projectiles. Uzbekistan also produces saltpeter (at the Chirchik chemical enterprise), which is used as a raw material in the production of explosives. The Almalalyk mining-enrichment enterprise and the Chirchik plant of infusible and heat-resistant metals can manufacture armor for patrol vehicles.
The final assembly of these patrol vehicles could take place at the Tashkent tractor plant, Tashselmash, and UzDAEWOO. Several companies, including the Chkalov aircraft building company and Tashtextilmash, could make small arms.
It is also reported that the US will supply a series of armored Hammer jeeps to Uzbekistan to reinforce the country’s special forces. Ten such vehicles, given to Uzbekistan as US military aid, performed well during the antiterrorist operation against militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Equipping the Uzbek Armed Forces with special armored vehicles is a strategic task in the military-technical rearmament program. Gulamov told the author of this analysis that Uzbekistan was not going to conduct all-out combat operations and organize large-scale tank column offensives. According to Gulamov, the country has no suitable terrain for such offensives and there is no military-political necessity. Small terrorist groups represent the main threat to Uzbekistan. Special forces on automotive vehicles or on light helicopters will be sufficient to combat them.
We therefore cannot rule out that in the near future Uzbekistan will either melt down the majority of tanks, combat infantry vehicles, and armored personnel carriers inherited from the USSR or sell the outdated equipment to third countries. Uzbekistan is the first former Soviet republic to have actively started preparing its industrial base for the production of indigenous small arms, armored vehicles, and ammunition. It is possible that these industries will be designed in compliance with NATO standards.
The reasoning behind these developments is clear. The Russian-Uzbek agreement, which Vladimir Putin and Islam Karimov signed in December 1999, has, to put it mildly, been unsuccessful. Russia committed to supplying a broad range of arms and combat material to Uzbekistan, but only items which could be taken from the emergency warehouses of the Defense Ministry (automatic rifles, machine guns, ammunition, spare parts, and so on) were delivered quickly. The supply of modern armaments (new sniper rifles, machine guns, radio sets) has not been started. The Russian Armed Forces do not have enough modern weapons to spare and their production requires time, contracts with military industrial enterprises, and advance payment. Moreover, the traditional Russian bureaucratic routine draws out the process of arms sales for years. This was one of the major reasons given for disbanding Rosvooruzhenie. Incidentally, Rosvooruzhenie’s competitor Promexport has been more active in Uzbekistan. Within a few weeks Promexport had delivered a significant amount of military hardware to Uzbekistan from the Defense Ministry’s warehouses. The Uzbek president had asked Putin for these weapons in a personal conversation during Putin’s visit to Tashkent last spring.
Russian authorities were also impressed with the speed of delivery of sniper rifles to Uzbekistan from China. Former Defense Minister Yury Agzamov flew to Beijing, signed an agreement on military-technical cooperation, and brought the rifles to Uzbekistan in his own airplane. The entire operation took just two days!
Thus, it is possible to conclude that Uzbekistan is deviating from its close contacts with Russia, which were established in spring 1999. Uzbekistan is now looking to other countries, primarily China, the US, and other Western nations. The recent signing of an agreement with China on military-technical cooperation is only one example of this shift in orientation. Between September 26 and 27 a two-day Uzbek-German seminar “Crisis situations management and conflicts prevention” was held in Tashkent at the Defense Minstry’s Academy of Armed Forces. The ministry’s PR service reported that the seminar took place in accordance with intergovernmental agreements on Uzbek-German bilateral military collaboration. A group of leading experts from the German Bundeswehr, Uzbek security agencies, and other interested institutes and agencies took part in the seminar.
During the seminar German experts emphasized that the prevention of crises and conflict situations requires political legitimacy and efficient use of available security systems, as demonstrated by European Union countries. German experts added that the armed forces should also serve as an instrument for international management of crisis situations. The Uzbek military evidently understood this thesis of the German counterparts correctly. However, Uzbekistan deviates too far from international military cooperation within the framework of the CIS Collective Security Treaty.
During the seminar Uzbek experts spoke about initiatives taken by the republic to prevent crisis situations and about the military-political situation in Central Asia and its likely development in the near future. They also discussed problems the country is having monitoring crisis situations and the operations of border guards under difficult circumstances. We should add that so far these border skirmishes have been conducted without the collaboration of military units from other countries. Uzbekistan has even demonstrated a certain amount of hostility towards the armed forces in Tajikistan, although Uzbekistan country cooperates with Taliban leaders.
Military leaders of the West and US obviously noticed this fact, but they evidently prefer not to dwell on Uzbekistan’s loyalty to the Taliban. For example, in September Colonel General Tommy R. Franks of the US Central Command (USCENTCOM) paid a two-day visit to Uzbekistan. The general met with President Islam Karimov and former Defense Minister Yury Agzamov. Franks told journalists that his consultations embraced a broad area of bilateral military cooperation and regional security.
The parties also discussed the situation in Afghanistan. Since the US Department of State considers the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan to be a terrorist group, the parties discussed means of combating that organization. Meanwhile, Franks did not comment on Uzbek’s new policy towards the Taliban, but said that the situation in Afghanistan raised concern. The general added that the US was worried about the export of terrorism, extremism, and drugs from Afghanistan. He emphasized that US interests in the region will not contradict Russian aims to strengthen regional security. According to Franks, Karimov and other leaders of neighboring countries decide for themselves to what extent they need to cooperate with other countries. He concluded that the US would do its best to continue cooperating with Uzbekistan.
Thus, Uzbekistan is trying to pursue its own military policy by demonstrating its independence from the CIS and especially from Russia. However, Tashkent will have to take Moscow’s opinion into account. Uzbek authorities will make a final decision about reforming the country’s military organization in December, reports a source in the Uzbek Defense Ministry. The source adds that this decision has been delayed because the nature of military reform underway in Russia has not yet been determined. This is why Uzbekistan is not in a hurry to finalize the issue even though the division of functions between the Defense Ministry and the General Staff has already been announced. The General Staff has been renamed the United Staff of Security Agencies.
Meanwhile, the Uzbek Defense Ministry plans to focus on high-quality training of military personnel abroad. This year 50 young men were sent to study in the US; seventy were sent to Russia. It has been reported that not a single ethnic Slav was among them, although ethnic Slavs account for about 10% of the country’s population. The quota of Slavic officers in the Uzbek Armed Forces also varies between 10 and 15%.