Tashkent’s Tough Road Ahead: Uzbekistan after Karimov

Aug 30 2016

On Monday, August 29th, news broke that Islam Karimov, the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, suffered a brain hemorrhage and had been hospitalized. Rumors abound that President Karimov has died, but the statements pronouncing him dead are still unconfirmed.

Even if Karimov is not dead, there are serious doubts as to whether he will be able to continue his duties as President.

Islam Karimov rose through the ranks as a member of the Communist Party and ascended to power in the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic by 1989. He has been the President of Uzbekistan since the country became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991, and he has ruled with an iron fist. Freedom House, the well-known American think tank, consistently rates the Central Asian country as one of the most repressive countries in the world.

Uzbekistan is the most populous country in Central Asia and most of its 31 million people are very young, almost half of which being under 25 years old. It is a mostly Sunni Muslim country and its people speak a Turkic language called Uzbek as well as Russian.

Despite its population, Uzbekistan is plagued by an economic rut. China and Russia, its main trading partners, are both coping with economic troubles. Remittances from Uzbeks living in Russia don’t carry the same worth as they once did with the rouble’s collapse. Chinese investment in the country has slowed down considerably.

These problems are not limited to Uzbekistan, either. Central Asia as a whole is struggling to find its place in the world as its five nations are all only a couple decades old.

Of the five countries in the region, only Kazakhstan seems to have mobilized as a regional power as the discovery of oil pushed the Kazakh economy into overdrive, but with Russia’s considerable recession, even Kazakhstan’s economy has slowed down. Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan’s tiny eastern neighbor, is probably the most democratic country in the region, but it has endured multiple violent revolutions and is wracked by corruption. Despite very friendly relations with their much more stable and wealthy cousin Iran, Tajikistan still reels from the effects of a long and bloody civil war. Turkmenistan doesn’t sing unending hymns of praise to Saparmurat “Turkmenbasy” Niyazov anymore, but it is still a rigidly controlled police state.

Islamism is also a cause for concern. All five of the Central Asian countries are predominantly Muslim. Although they are all secular countries which were not so long ago removed from the atheist ideals of the Soviet Union, Islamist groups have played a role in opposition to the dictatorships that replaced communism. It is currently unclear as to whether Islamism will play a role in moving Central Asia away from its status quo, but considering the problems with Islamic fundamentalism that nearby Afghanistan and Pakistan struggle to contain it could destabilize the region.

A transition to a functioning democracy in Uzbekistan is possible but difficult to imagine. Authoritarian government is the status quo in both Central Asia and the regions that surround it. The only real exceptions to this rule is Mongolia, which quietly but effectively transitioned to democracy after its communist regime fell. It’s true that Kyrgyzstan is somewhat democratic, and Iran has some elements of democracy present in its structure of government, but for various and different reasons, to call either of those countries a shining example of democracy is a major exaggeration at best.

There’s also the little-known factor of clan politics. Officially kept under wraps by Tashkent, two political clans control much of the country – the Tashkent clan and Samarkand clan. If the different clans turn against each other, this could hamper stability in the country.

Uzbekistan’s status as a young country must also be considered. While Uzbeks are people with a long history, it hasn’t even been three decades since Uzbekistan became a sovereign nation free from Russian and Soviet control. There may be some opportunity for Turkey to play a role in fostering change in Uzbekistan as both are Turkic peoples, but that may be a long shot as Turkey seems to be largely preoccupied with its recent intervention in Northern Syria and the recently botched military coup.

So what can be done for Uzbekistan to move towards democracy and prosperity? It’s difficult to say. Not only is it corrupt and repressive, Uzbekistan is isolated. It’s never been the primary subject of sanctions like Russia or Iran, but it does not have extensive trade relationships or a particularly strong economy. It does not have the technological muscle that Russia or China does.

For now, Uzbekistan is relatively quiet as Karimov’s fate is still not definite. The picture should come into focus in due time, though, and when it does, the consequences will be substantial.

by Kyle Menyhert, 
columnist of Free Russia Foundation

Even if Karimov is not dead, there are serious doubts as to whether he will be able to continue his duties as President.

Islam Karimov rose through the ranks as a member of the Communist Party and ascended to power in the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic by 1989. He has been the President of Uzbekistan since the country became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991, and he has ruled with an iron fist. Freedom House, the well-known American think tank, consistently rates the Central Asian country as one of the most repressive countries in the world.

Uzbekistan is the most populous country in Central Asia and most of its 31 million people are very young, almost half of which being under 25 years old. It is a mostly Sunni Muslim country and its people speak a Turkic language called Uzbek as well as Russian.

Despite its population, Uzbekistan is plagued by an economic rut. China and Russia, its main trading partners, are both coping with economic troubles. Remittances from Uzbeks living in Russia don’t carry the same worth as they once did with the rouble’s collapse. Chinese investment in the country has slowed down considerably.

These problems are not limited to Uzbekistan, either. Central Asia as a whole is struggling to find its place in the world as its five nations are all only a couple decades old.

Of the five countries in the region, only Kazakhstan seems to have mobilized as a regional power as the discovery of oil pushed the Kazakh economy into overdrive, but with Russia’s considerable recession, even Kazakhstan’s economy has slowed down. Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan’s tiny eastern neighbor, is probably the most democratic country in the region, but it has endured multiple violent revolutions and is wracked by corruption. Despite very friendly relations with their much more stable and wealthy cousin Iran, Tajikistan still reels from the effects of a long and bloody civil war. Turkmenistan doesn’t sing unending hymns of praise to Saparmurat “Turkmenbasy” Niyazov anymore, but it is still a rigidly controlled police state.

Islamism is also a cause for concern. All five of the Central Asian countries are predominantly Muslim. Although they are all secular countries which were not so long ago removed from the atheist ideals of the Soviet Union, Islamist groups have played a role in opposition to the dictatorships that replaced communism. It is currently unclear as to whether Islamism will play a role in moving Central Asia away from its status quo, but considering the problems with Islamic fundamentalism that nearby Afghanistan and Pakistan struggle to contain it could destabilize the region.

A transition to a functioning democracy in Uzbekistan is possible but difficult to imagine. Authoritarian government is the status quo in both Central Asia and the regions that surround it. The only real exceptions to this rule is Mongolia, which quietly but effectively transitioned to democracy after its communist regime fell. It’s true that Kyrgyzstan is somewhat democratic, and Iran has some elements of democracy present in its structure of government, but for various and different reasons, to call either of those countries a shining example of democracy is a major exaggeration at best.

There’s also the little-known factor of clan politics. Officially kept under wraps by Tashkent, two political clans control much of the country – the Tashkent clan and Samarkand clan. If the different clans turn against each other, this could hamper stability in the country.

Uzbekistan’s status as a young country must also be considered. While Uzbeks are people with a long history, it hasn’t even been three decades since Uzbekistan became a sovereign nation free from Russian and Soviet control. There may be some opportunity for Turkey to play a role in fostering change in Uzbekistan as both are Turkic peoples, but that may be a long shot as Turkey seems to be largely preoccupied with its recent intervention in Northern Syria and the recently botched military coup.

So what can be done for Uzbekistan to move towards democracy and prosperity? It’s difficult to say. Not only is it corrupt and repressive, Uzbekistan is isolated. It’s never been the primary subject of sanctions like Russia or Iran, but it does not have extensive trade relationships or a particularly strong economy. It does not have the technological muscle that Russia or China does.

For now, Uzbekistan is relatively quiet as Karimov’s fate is still not definite. The picture should come into focus in due time, though, and when it does, the consequences will be substantial.

by Kyle Menyhert, 
columnist of Free Russia Foundation

Lukashenka’s Ryanair Hijacking Proves Human Rights is a Global Security Issue

May 24 2021

The forced diversion and landing in Minsk of a May 23, 2021 Ryanair flight en route from Greece to Lithuania, and the subsequent arrest of dissident Roman Protasevich who was aboard the flight, by the illegitimate Lukashenka regime pose an overt political and military challenge to Europe, NATO and the broad global community.  NATO members must respond forcefully by demanding (1) the immediate release of Protasevich and other political prisoners in Belarus, and (2) a prompt transition to a government that represents the will of the people of Belarus. 

The West’s passivity in the face of massive, continuous and growing oppression of the Belarusian people since summer 2020 has emboldened Lukashenka to commit what some European leaders have appropriately termed an act of “state terrorism.”

The West has shown a manifest disposition to appease Putin’s regime —Lukashenka’s sole security guarantor. It has made inappropriate overtures for a Putin-Biden summit and waived  Nord Stream 2 sanctions mandated by Congress. These actions and signals have come against the backdrop of the 2020 Russian constitutional coup, the assassination attempt against Navalny and his subsequent imprisonment on patently bogus charges, the arrests of close to 13,000 Russian activists, and the outlawing of all opposition movements and activities. All this has led Putin and Lukashenka to conclude that they eliminate their political opponents with impunity.  

Today’s state-ordered hijacking of an international passenger airplane—employing intelligence agents aboard the flight,  and accomplished via an advanced fighter-interceptor—to apprehend an exiled activist, underscores that violation of human rights is not only a domestic issue, but a matter of international safety and security.  Western governments unwilling to stand up for the victims of Putin’s and Lukashenka’s regimes are inviting future crimes against their own citizens. 

Absent a meaningful and swift response, the escalation of violence and intensity of international crimes committed  by Lukashenka’s and Putin’s regime will continue, destabilizing the world and discrediting the Western democratic institutions. 

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS – THE KREMLIN’S INFLUENCE QUARTERLY

May 20 2021

The Free Russia Foundation invites submissions to The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly, a journal that explores and analyzes manifestations of the malign influence of Putin’s Russia in Europe.

We understand malign influence in the European context as a specific type of influence that directly or indirectly subverts and undermines European values and democratic institutions. We follow the Treaty on European Union in understanding European values that are the following: human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Democratic institutions are guardians of European values, and among them, we highlight representative political parties; free and fair elections; an impartial justice system; free, independent and pluralistic media; and civil society.

Your contribution to The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly would focus on one European country from the EU, Eastern Partnership or Western Balkans, and on one particular area where you want to explore Russian malign influence: politics, diplomacy, military domain, business, media, civil society, academia, religion, crime, or law.

Each chapter in The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly should be around 5 thousand words including footnotes. The Free Russia Foundation offers an honorarium for contributions accepted for publication in the journal.

If you are interested in submitting a chapter, please send us a brief description of your chapter and its title (250 words) to the following e-mail address: info@4freerussia.org. Please put The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly as a subject line of your message.

Criminal operations by Russia’s GRU worldwide: expert discussion

May 06 2021

Please join Free Russia Foundation for an expert brief and discussion on latest criminal operations conducted by Russia’s GRU worldwide with:

  • Christo Grozev, Bellingcat— the legendary investigator who uncovered the Kremlin’s involvement, perpetrators and timeline of Navalny’s assassination attempt. 
  • Jakub Janda, Director of the European Values Think Tank (the Czech Republic) where he researches Russia’s hostile influence operations in the West
  • Michael Weiss, Director of Special Investigations at Free Russia Foundation where he leads the Lubyanka Files project, which consists of translating and curating KGB training manuals still used in modern Russia for the purposes of educating Vladimir Putin’s spies.

The event will take place on Tuesday, May 11 from 11 am to 12:30pm New York Time (17:00 in Brussels) and include an extensive Q&A with the audience moderated by Ilya Zaslavskiy, Senior Fellow at Free Russia Foundation and head of Underminers.info, a research project on post-Soviet kleptocracy

The event will be broadcast live at: https://www.facebook.com/events/223365735790798/

  • The discussion will cover Russia’s most recent and ongoing covert violent operations, direct political interference, oligarchic penetration with money and influence; 
  • GRU’s structure and approach to conducting operations in Europe
  • Trends and forecasts on how data availability will impact both, the Kremlin’s operations and their investigation by governments and activists; 
  • EU and national European government response and facilitation of operations on their soil; 
  • Recommendations for effective counter to the security and political threats posed by Russian security services. 

YouTube Against Navalny’s Smart Voting

May 06 2021

On May 6, 2020, at least five YouTube channels belonging to key Russian opposition leaders and platforms received notifications from YouTube that some of their content had been removed due to its being qualified as “spam, deceptive practices and scams”. 

They included: 

Ilya Yashin (343k YouTube subscribers)

Vladimir Milov (218k YouTube subscribers) 

Leonid Volkov (117k YouTube subscribers)

Novaya Gazeta (277k YouTube Subscribers) 

Sota Vision (248k YouTube Subscribers)

Most likely, there are other Russian pro-democracy channels that have received similar notifications at the same time, and we are putting together the list of all affected by this censorship campaign. 

The identical letters received from YouTube by the five account holders stated:

“Our team has reviewed your content, and, unfortunately, we think it violates our spam, deceptive practices and scams policy. We’ve removed the following content from YouTube:

URL: https://votesmart.appspot.com/

YouTube has removed urls from descriptions of videos posted on these accounts that linked to Alexey Navalny’s Smart Voting website (votesmart.appspot.com).

By doing this, and to our great shock and disbelief, YouTube has acted to enforce the Kremlin’s policies by qualifying Alexey Navalny’s Smart Voting system and its website as “spam, deceptive practices and scams”. 

This action has not only technically disrupted communication for the Russian civil society which is now under a deadly siege by Putin’s regime, but it has rendered a serious and lasting damage to its reputation and legitimacy of Smart Voting approach. 

In reality, Smart Voting system is not a spam, scam or a “deceptive practice”, but instead it’s a fully legitimate system of choosing and supporting candidates in Russian elections who have a chance of winning against the ruling “United Russia” party candidates. There’s absolutely nothing illegal, deceptive or fraudulent about the Smart Voting or any materials on its website.

We don’t know the reasons behind such YouTube actions, but they are an unacceptable suppression of a constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the Russian people and help the Kremlin’s suppression of civil rights and freedoms by banning the Smart Voting system and not allowing free political competition with the ruling “United Russia” party. 

This is an extremely dangerous precedent in an environment where opposition activities in Russia are being literally outlawed;  key opposition figures are jailed, exiled, arrested and attacked with criminal investigations; independent election campaigning is prohibited; and social media networks remain among the very few channels still available to the Russian opposition to communicate with the ordinary Russians.

We demand a  swift and decisive action on this matter from the international community, to make sure that YouTube corrects its stance toward Russian opposition channels, and ensures that such suppression of peaceful, legal  pro-democracy voices does not happen again. 

FRF Lauds New US Sanctions Targeting the Kremlin’s Perpetrators in Crimea, Calls for Their Expansion

Apr 15 2021

On April 15, 2021,  President Biden signed new sanctions against a number of officials and agents of the Russian Federation in connection with malign international activities conducted by the Russian government.

The list of individuals sanctioned by the new law includes Leonid Mikhalyuk, director of the Federal Security Service in the Russian-occupied Crimea.

A report issued by Free Russia Foundation, Media Initiative for Human Rights and Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union in December 202, identified 16 officials from Russian law enforcement and security agencies as well as the judiciary operating on the territory of the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula currently occupied by the Russian Federation. These individuals have been either directly involved or have overseen political persecution of three prominent Crimean human rights defenders – Emir-Usein Kuku, Sever Mustafayev and Emil Kurbedinov.

Leonid Mikhailiuk is one of these officials. He has been directly involved and directed the repressive campaign in the occupied Crimea, including persecution of innocent people on terrorism charges and massive illegal searches. The persecution of Server Mustafayev was conducted under his supervision. As the head of the FSB branch in Crimea, he is in charge of its operation and all operatives working on politically motivated cases are his subordinates. 

Within the extremely centralized system of the Russian security services, Mikhailiuk is clearly at the top rank of organized political persecution and human rights violations.

Free Russia Foundation welcomes the new sanctions and hopes that all other individuals identified in the report will also be held accountable.