Author: Egamberdy Kabulov – 0510/2021
On 24 October 2021, elections for the President of Uzbekistan will take place. This will be a significant occasion after the first five years term of current president Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the initiator of substantial economic, political and social reforms in the country. Even if the previous power change took place under force majeure conditions, i.e. the unexpected decease of the “father of the nation” Islam Karimov (on power from 1989), the transition passed calmly. Undoubtedly, the current elections will be held in accordance with democratic procedures accepted by the world community. At the same time, given the strategic importance of Uzbekistan in the new phase of geopolitical completion for Central Asia, the significance of the vote looms far beyond the regional borders. For the Atlantic powers, the current electoral cycle is an ideal moment to attempt a replacement of Uzbekistani ruling elites with pro-Western ones, distant from the genuine national interests.
GLOBAL CONTEXT: ANALYSIS OF CHESS BOARD
With Uzbekistan embroiled in the global confrontation between the main geopolitical players interested in exerting influence over Central Asia, the state is obliged to carve out its own way. The task is to identify an optimal position corresponding to national interests. Traditionally, the head of the State is the figure having the grater influence in the definition of the international posture of the nation. Accordingly, this circumstance determines the whole geopolitical intrigue around the presidential elections in Uzbekistan.
According to one of the leading Uzbekistani political economists, Bakhtiyor Ergashev, head of the «Ма’no» research center: “Central Asia is located at the junction of the three global centers of power of the 21st century, those which will form the basis of the multipolar architecture of international order. The region shares borders with Russia, China and India. Because of this, Central Asia, and hence the Republic of Uzbekistan at its geographical hearth as the only state bordering with all the countries of the region (including Afghanistan), will be relevant to the United States, the countries of the European Union and the United Kingdom. That happens as the Western countries are in a relationship of competition with locally based centers of power.“
In general, the role and importance of Central Asia is only increasing every year. That is due to the fact the region is considered to be an arena for the clash of interests between global centers of power. Just have a look at the growing competition between China and the United States.
Remarkably, both the EU and the US have recently updated their strategies for Central Asia. For instance, the EU declares its interest in regional processes and activates its own leverages of \influence. The central concept of the EU document is “connectivity” (in terms of transport, energy and information). Thus, the region appears as a “bridge” between Europe, the growing China and Southeast Asia.
The United States, on its turn, seeks for opportunities to reduce the influence of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative as well as its trade, investment and political significance for the region. But at the same time Washington brings a limited offer in economic and security terms.
In 2020, Uzbekistan gave to the Americans and Europeans a quite alarming signal about its geopolitical preferences obtaining an observer status in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the main integration initiative sponsored by the Russian Federation in order to mitigate the effects of Western penetration into the former Soviet sphere of influence. This decision was deeply thought out by Tashkent and preceded by thorughtout analytical studies by the relevant government structures, as well as active public discussions.
Accordingly, it is fair to assume the republic will not stop at this point and further steps towards deeper integration into the EAEU will result.
Uzbekistan’s membership in the EAEU is an economically calculated and profitable issue. Undoubtedly, in the event of the “president-reformer” Mr. Mirziyoyev’s victory, the movement will go further.
How so the United States may assess Uzbekistan’s movement towards an economic union with their main geopolitical opponent? Hardly positively. Hence, it is highly probable that Washington will design some maneuver to “shake up” the situation inside the country, using the upcoming elections for this purpose. Expect such US moves it is perfectly logical on the background of the numerous instances of both forceful open and covert US interventions in the elections of the top officials in various states over recent history.
US TOOLKIT OF INFLUENCE AND UZBEKISTAN’s “PRESSURE POINTS”
Even now, in the mist of the election campaign, one can notice an implementation of various political technologies and tools. Many were repeatedly tested and used in other countries, including Uzbekistan. This method is based on the support of Western oriented opposition figures and media. Looking more in detail we can see:
- Cultivation of NGOs and media network in order to spread fake news in the form of journalistic investigations on corruption cases with the aim to discredit the current government (for example, the investigation on the Mr. Mirziyoyev’s “presidential palace” on the radio line “Ozodlik” (Uzbek edition of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty), see: ttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_CkyIrSfPw).
- Promotion of pro-Western politicians who advocate radical methods for the country’s economy liberalization, including governance decentralization and membership in the WTO. There is nothing new in what is in fact the line and ideology of Gorbachev’s “Perestroika”. And Russia in the 1990s became quite a quite vivid example of the outcome of such initiatives.
- We also see politicians who had previously fled from Uzbekistan returning home ready to criticize (probably not free of charge) the current government. The encouragement of the self-proclaimed democratic parties “Erk”, “Birlik” and others fits well in the Western toolkit. For these otherwise marginal subjects, criticism of the ongoing reforms and of the current political course is a chance to get out of oblivion and enter the public processes.
- A classical tool is the undermining of the national cultural foundations. That is reflected in promotion of LGBT activities, juvenile justice, politicization of feminist issues, the policy of Uzbekistan, religious organizations, etc.
- Last but not least, there is the discrediting of the major economic projects started by the current leadership. For Uzbekistan, it is primarily the construction of the first nuclear power plant jointly with Russian corporation “Rosatom”.
What can be recommended to Uzbekistan in this situation?
First of all, the country should move to the chosen direction, no matter what intervenes to divert the line. Political leaders should demonstrate their will to achieve the national goals and their ability to find compromises with foreign players. It is necessary to maintain pace, as well as to show resistance to external influences. Leaders should be guided by the sense of economic feasibility and avoid to dance after someone’s whistle in the interests of other powers. It is crucial to focus on national unity issues and prevent outsiders attempts at destabilization. To this end, it is essential to intensify control over the NGOs operating on the territory of Uzbekistan and Central Asia at the expense of the State Department, the Soros Foundation, etc. Not to liquidate them and prosecute, but to “accompany” their activities so that certain red lines will not be crossed. The civil sector ought to be developed and meet national interests first of all. It should not play into the hands of global players for whom people are only pawns in the game. In this regard, it is useful to pay attention to the experience of the United States itself in establishing control over foreign funded NGOs. Moreover, Uzbekistan’s neighbors, represented by Russia and Kyrgyzstan, have already carried out the corresponding work before own elections, introducing the concept of “inoagent” (foreign agent) into the legal framework.
All in all, the main point is that if Uzbekistan is “knocked down”, the situation will become complicated not only inside the nation but far beyond its borders. This point is especially relevant in connection with the situation in Afghanistan. America is far overseas and pursues its own purely materialistic interests. US troops recent withdrawal from Afghanistan, as well as the creation of the trilateral AUKUS bloc, has revealed one crucial point. Americans do not think much about the fate of not only temporary partners, but also their long-term strategic allies from NATO.
Hence, it is necessary to develop economic projects aimed at the promotion of friendly and partnership relations on the Eurasian continent. That applies to the PRC, the EAEU and the EU equally.
Egamberdy Kabulov – senior geopolitical analyst