Posts Tagged ‘Blake’

The struggle for influence in Central Asia, similar to an endless tug of war, seems to be approaching its final stage. As 2014 draws near, it is becoming increasingly difficult to pursue a multi-vector policy of wearing several hats at the same time. Recently we guardedly wrote that Kyrgyzstan seems to turn more and more towards Russia, and today this hunch received strong confirmation. At the same time, our concerns about spreading US influence in Uzbekistan have also been confirmed. Thus, as of today, the balance of power is this: Russia is solidifying its power base in Kyrgyzstan, the U.S. must negotiate with Uzbekistan, while Tajikistan remains at a crossroads. What was the cost to us (Russia)?

The Kyrgyzstan accord

Following the recent visit of Kyrgyz Prime Minister Babanov to Moscow, it seemed that the proverbial skies over our relationship have cleared. In order to consolidate this foreign policy success a Russian delegation headed by Mr. Shuvalov arrived on the shores of lake Issyk-Kul.  According to Mr. Shuvalov, he was ordered by Mr. Putin not to come back without positive news. And it is obvious that concrete results of this meeting are more than necessary – the Russo-Kyrgyz talks on the fate of national debt, construction of hydroelectric power plants and purchase of defense companies has been a protracted one. Solutions to these issues will ultimately determine the level of influence Russia would be able to exhort in Kyrgyzstan.

But why did the need to reach agreements on these issues come to head now, and not later? After all, they have been postponed many times in the past, so what happened to make them different this time?

Perhaps the Russian side has been spurred into action by Uzbekistan’s new law “On Approval of the Concept of foreign policy of the Republic of Uzbekistan”. It states, inter alia, that “The Republic of Uzbekistan does not allow placement of foreign military bases and facilities on its territory.”

If so, then the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan acquires even greater significance for the US, and, therefore, the Americans will try to win the republic over even harder. This would explain why the Russians are suddenly in such a hurry to resolve all pending issues, aiming to ensure that in case President Atambayev does not change his mind to expel the U.S. forces from the Manas military base in 2014.

But the Americans were also quick to act. While Russia was busy negotiating, the US showered the republic with unexpected gifts. Just a few days ago the U.S. gave the Kyrgyz border guards a new barracks, dining room and headquarters facilities.

However, these gifts pale in comparison to what the Russians brought to the table. Russia agreed to forgive Kyrgyz debt of almost $ 500 million, get involved in the construction of hydropower plants and promised to aid in reconstruction of the Bishkek heat and power plant. Moreover, if earlier Russia was demanding the transfer of shares of the Dastan torpedo factory in exchange for debt forgiveness, there is no news where such transfer was part of the deal in this latest round of negotiations. We only know that a portion of the factory shares will be offered for sale “to all interested investors.”

One can assume that the situation became aggravated enough to force the Russian government to withdraw from its previous rather stringent demands, in exchange for loyalty of the Kyrgyz leadership. We can only hope that in the long run such concessions will be justified.

Uzbekistan plays games

Uzbekistan’s decision to ban deployment of foreign military bases on its soil introduced more volatility into the Central Asian setup. But Russia was not the only one forced to react. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake urgently postponed all his meetings and went to see President Karimov. Incidentally, he also canceled the planned visit to Alma-Ata and Bishkek, knowing full well that such an insult would not be easily forgotten.

The discussion revolved around economic cooperation and the situation in Afghanistan. Mr. Blake “praised Uzbekistan’s role in ensuring security and sustainable development of the region, peaceful revival of Afghanistan, and reiterated U.S. interests in adding new practical implications to the comprehensive partnership with Uzbekistan.”

We cant help but wonder what Hillary Clinton’s aide is counting on, if Uzbekistan isn’t going to allow foreign military bases on its territory? As it turns out, all is not yet lost. The law was approved by the lower chamber of the Majilis, but the upper chamber deferred consideration until September. This means that there is still time to bargain.

Meanwhile, President Islam Karimov has prepared another surprise for his American partners in the form of increased cost of transit through Uzbekistan. Under the new law, international freight companies whose trucks weigh over 50 tons will be required to pay a toll for using the country’s roads, at a rate of $1 per kilometer. And if the axial load should exceed approved standards, the fee will be raised to $2 per kilometer. So much for “practical implications!”

Of course, one must always exercise caution and reserve final judgment when talking about events and agreements in Central Asia. Loyalties here have a finite value and are traded like fruit at the local bazaar. Nevertheless, it is perhaps for the first time in a very long while that we are able to glimpse the shadow of the future balance of power in this region. Is the situation becoming really so dire?..

Eugene Super