the Disillusioned kid: The New Great Game
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Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The New Great Game

According to the Moscow Times, Uzbek President Islam Karimov and his Kyrgyz counterpart Askar Akayev "vowed on Friday to resist attempts by the West to export a Ukrainian-style revolution to Central Asia":
"Some are dying to see that the way the elites in Georgia and Ukraine changed becomes a model to be emulated by other countries," Karimov, who tolerates no opposition, told parliament in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent.

"To those who still have not understood me, I want to issue a warning that everything should be on the basis of law and we will rein in those who move outside the framework of law," he said. "We have the necessary force for that."
In case anybody hasn't been paying attention, necessary force goes quite a bit further than a slap across the wrist as Samandar Umarov discovered to his cost.

Karimov's criticism of western leaders, with the implicit suggestion that they might seek to remove or destabilise his regime as they did in the Ukraine initially seems strange given his close links with Washington and London. However it is worth noting that Uzbekistan is also "diversifying its security interests" (to borrow a term from this article) and simultaneously moving closer to Russia and China.

This relationship reminds me of that between Saddam and the US during the 1980s, or at least the relationship as described by Kenneth R. Timmerman in The Death Lobby (Bantam Books, London, 1992). In this Timmerman details how the USSR had traditionally been Iraq's main arms supplier, but had put various restrictions on imports. Among these were requirements that only Soviet technicians repaired Russian built equipment in order that Iraqis could not learn how the technology worked. Additionally the Soviet Union had no qualms about cutting off arms shipments to Saddam when it served their interests as they did during a Kurdish uprising in 1974. Angered by these restrictions, Saddam sought arms deals with other powers, notably the US. The latter were only too happy to help, hoping to draw Iraq out of the Soviet orbit and that the country would serve as a counterbalance to Iranian radicalism. Unlike the USSR, the US put few restrictions on its imports. Fearing they would be forced out of this lucrative market and lose a valuable ally, the Russians ultimately reduced the restrictions on imports, giving Saddam more or less what he wanted.

No doubt there are many differences between the situation then and that now, there is no second superpower for a start, but the similarities are worrying. The geo-politics of the region are complex, but it is clear that Russia, China, the US and others wish to increase their influence in this strategically important region (which has, among other things, large oil deposits), while Karimov is perfectly content to play these countries against each other in order to maximise the benefit to his deeply kleptocratic regime. The losers in all of this, of course, are the Uzbek people.

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