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The Foreign Policy Context

Uzbekistan Gathers Allies

As the international community began to take stock of the events in Andijan, interpretations of what had happened split neatly along Cold War lines. The United States, the European Union, the OSCE, as well as the United Nations, began pressing for an independent international investigation of the violence. Russia and China, on the other hand, unequivocally backed the Uzbek government’s actions as a legitimate response to what these states characterized as an attack by extremists.

Soon after the massacre, President Karimov flew to Beijing where, after being honored with a twenty-one gun salute at Tiananmen Square (site of the 1989 massacre by the Chinese government of peaceful protesters) he signed a $600 million oil deal with Chinese president Hu Jintao. Hu told Karimov he “honor[ed]” Uzbekistan’s “efforts to protect its national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”206 Russia also supported Karimov against mounting pressure for an investigation. Russian officials and media repeatedly stressed that there was no need for an international investigation. On June 10, a group of Russian experts including journalists and political scientists met with Karimov after visiting Andijan. The Uzbek state news service trumpeted their findings that the Uzbek government account of the violence was correct and that Western media were biased.207 In a broadcast on Ekho Moskvy radio, one of the observers claimed there was “no evidence whatsoever” that there had been shooting in Bobur Square.208

In late June, Karimov made a visit to Moscow, where he met with Russian president Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. At their joint press conference, Putin claimed that Russian intelligence knew of infiltration from Afghanistan to Andijan, which appeared to embolden Karimov to suggest that the U.S. was cooperating with terrorists to overthrow his government.209 Ivanov was quoted as saying, “you have to close your eyes and ignore all the facts” to believe that there was a peaceful demonstration in Andijan.210

Russian and Chinese support for the Uzbek government coalesced at the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Astana, Kazakhstan, on July 5-6. The heads of the member states, which include the Central Asian republics as well as Russia and China, signed seven agreements, all of them aimed at the fight against “terrorism, separatism, and extremism.” The theme of the summit framed the events in Andijan as part of a wider threat of destabilization, rather than as an excessive government response to a largely peaceful demonstration. Some of the resolutions even appeared directly to target Uzbek refugees in Kyrgyzstan, including an accord not to extend asylum to persons classified as terrorists or extremists by SCO member states.211 Russia, China, and the SCO echoed the core assertions of the Uzbek government, namely that there was no peaceful demonstration, that the violence was perpetrated by foreign Muslim extremists, and that the bloodshed was an internal matter. The emphasis of SCO statements was on “stability,” with a clear eye to the recent political turmoil in Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, and Ukraine.

The summit’s statement also hinted broadly at support for the withdrawal of U.S. and European forces from Central Asian military bases, which had been used since 2002 to support military operations in Afghanistan.212

No Strategy for an International Investigation

As noted above, the United States and governments of the European Union (E.U.) and its candidate states played an active role in supporting the evacuation of Uzbek refugees from Kyrgyzstan and thus protecting them from being returned to persecution and possible torture in Uzbekistan. They have also greatly supported the community of human rights defenders in Uzbekistan during this most recent crackdown.

These states’ efforts in support of an international investigation into the killings in Andijan have been far weaker, however. In fact, in the face of utter defiance by the Uzbek government, both the U.S. and the European Union appear to have backed off entirely rather than implement a more robust strategy to hold the Uzbek government accountable for the loss of life.

A conclusion adopted by E.U. foreign ministers on June 13 deplored the Uzbek government’s failure to allow an international investigation and threatened a partial suspension of the E.U.’s Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) with the Uzbek government if it did not meet an “end of June” deadline to reconsider its position. A month later, as the Uzbek government continued to defy calls for an international investigation and to crack down severely on civil society, a July 18 meeting of E.U. foreign ministers failed to act on the E.U.’s earlier threat. Instead, it called for the E.U.’s Special Representative for Central Asia to travel to the region “as soon as possible” to “review the matter.”213

On July 30, the Uzbek government notified the U.S. Embassy that the United States had 180 days to withdraw its forces from a military base in southern Uzbekistan that the U.S. and others had used since 2002 to support operations in Afghanistan. This marked a radical shift in the relationship between the two countries. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, the U.S. considered Uzbekistan an important ally in its global campaign against terrorism, and provided aid and training to the Uzbek military as well as counterterrorism assistance.214

The U.S. ignored earlier calls by Human Rights Watch and others to disengage from the base in the wake of Uzbek government intransigence and repression following the May 13 massacre, losing an opportunity to take a principled stance and to distance its own military operations from the abuses committed by Uzbek forces, and to use the political leverage provided by the base to press for an international investigation. As of this writing, the Bush administration has made no moves to back up its rhetorical calls for an international investigation by enacting any diplomatic or economic sanctions against the Uzbek government.

[206] Buckley, Chris, “China ‘Honors’ Uzbek Crackdown,” The International Herald Tribune, May 27, 2005.

[207] “Vstrechi Rossiskoi Delegatsii” [Meeting of the Russian Delegation], National Information Agency of Uzbekistan, June 10, 2005, [online] (retrieved August 25, 2005).

[208] Ekho Moskvyy Radio program, June 11, 2005, English translation in BBC Monitoring June 11, 2005.

[209] Uzbek Television First Channel, June 30, 2005, English translation in BBC Monitoring July 1, 2005.

[210] Ibid.

[211] “Strani ShOS ne budut Predostavlat’ Ubezhishcha Terroristam i Ekstremistam” [The SCO Countries will not Grant Asylum to Terrorists and Extremists], RIA Novosti, July 5, 2005 [online]  (retrieved August 25, 2005).

[212] “Astana Summit Brings New Horizons for SCO,” Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit statement, July 7, 2005.

[213] Council of the European Union, General Affairs and External Relations Council Meeting, Brussels 18 July 2005, “Council conclusions on Uzbekistan.”

[214] One of the Uzbek military units said to have been involved in the massacre, an elite counterterrorism unit called “Bars,” included officers who had received US State Department-sponsored training on crisis response in Louisiana in 2004. Although it is not clear whether the US-trained personnel were personally involved in the massacre, eyewitnesses indicate that their unit was. Chivers, C.J. and Shanker, Thom, “Uzbek Units Linked to Deadly Crackdown got U.S. Training,” International Herald Tribune, June 20, 2005.

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