Vienna, November 12 – Uzbekistan plans to withdraw from the Eurasian Economic Community (EEC), a move some say is the result of the European Union’s decision to lift the sanctions it imposed after Andijan but one that others suggest is more symbolic than real and represents another move in President Islam Karimov’s diplomatic game.
Yesterday and today, the Moscow media have featured numerous reports about Uzbekistan’s decision to leave the EEC, a Russian-backed organization that nonetheless has been relatively stillborn even in comparison to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), of which Uzbekistan remains a member.
But both because of Georgia’s recent withdrawal from the latter and because of Tashkent’s earlier decision to pull out of what is now GUAM, an organization that links Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova in an alliance Moscow views as hostile, many commentators view Uzbekistan’s decision as a bellwether of the balance of power in Eurasia.
When the Eurasian Economic Community was created to promote common foreign tariff borders for its members, Uzbekistan did not join because at that time it was a member of the pro-Western GUUAM group. But after the Europeans imposed sanctions following Karimov’s suppression of what he called the Andijan rebellion, Tashkent changed course.
On the one hand, it decided to leave GUUAM to show its displeasure with the West over its reaction. And on the other, it joined the EEC – and more importantly from Moscow’s perspective, it returned to active involvement in the CIS collective security organization. Tashkent has given no indication that it plans to withdraw from that grouping now.
At its summit meeting on September 1, the EU decided to attempt to diversify its access to natural gas and other energy supplies and to that end it called for the completion of Nabucco, a gas pipelines project that would link Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries with Europe via a route that would bypass Russia.
Then on October 13, apparently to sweeten the deal, the EU foreign ministers decided to lift all the sanctions they had imposed on Tashkent after Andijan. Three days later, Moscow officials say, the Uzbekistan government filed a statement with the Russian foreign ministry indicating that Tashkent will withdraw from the EEC.
Some commentaries have treated this in almost apocalyptic terms, suggesting among other that the recent economic crisis is leading all the countries of the region to seek to save themselves first regardless of their ties and that the West via the EU is seeking to detach Central Asia from Russia’s sphere of influence.
But Andrey Grozin, a specialist on Central Asia and Kazakhstan at the Moscow Institute of CIS Countries, suggests that such conclusions are not justified by the facts. Instead, he says, just as it has done in the past, Tashkent has made this announcement in order to see what Russia will offer it not to leave (www.rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=729129).
In fact, Grozin continues, what is on view is “’multi-vector’” foreign policy “Uzbek-style.” That country’s approach to international relations is not steady but rather consists of “crude jumps” and reflects its lack of “talented managers for the realization of a more carefully calibrated multi-vector policy by the government.”
And he suggested that Tashkent’s supporters in the EU should not assume that Uzbekistan has made a final choice to link its fate with them. Its past actions and especially its current involvement with groups Moscow cares more about suggest that this latest action is just one more move rather than the endgame some suggest.