Uzbekistan, key to Afghan war drawdown, to ban foreign military bases
Uzbekistan, which is seeking closer ties to the US, may have made the move in a bid to ease concerns of China and Russia, which are both dominant actors in Central Asia.
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The bill still has to be signed by Uzbekistan’s president. But it appears to quash growing rumors that Tashkent may allow the US to open a military base in Uzbekistan to replace the major air base in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, which is due to close in 2014. It also raises questions about Uzbekistan’s support of the NATO-led operation in Afghanistan.
The proposed bill will have an impact on US-Uzbekistan military cooperation, says Joshua Foust, an expert on Central Asia. "Uzbekistan has never been friends with the US per se. And this decision can be explained by Uzbekistan's desire not to be portrayed as an American puppet," he says.
Uzbekistan left the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russia-dominated post-Soviet security alliance, in June. Because CSTO members cannot host a foreign base without consent from the rest of the members many interpreted Uzbekistan’s decision as a step forward to open a US base there. The growing number of visits to Tashkent by US diplomats and high profile state officials seemed to support this view.
Moscow has been expressing concern over Uzbekistan’s rapprochement with the US, and Russian media have been publishing reports about the “New Great Game,” a struggle for the influence in Central Asia.
“Uzbekistan should analyze all repercussions of widening military cooperation with the US,” reported Russia’s popular daily newspaper Kommersant. Regional media reported that the reason for US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake’s visit to Tashkent earlier this month was aimed at securing an agreement on a US base there.
Though Secretary Blake told journalists that the US had no intention of opening a military base in Uzbekistan, his statement didn’t stop speculation.
Uzbekistan hosted an American air base in Karshi Khanabad after 9/11. But when the Bush administration criticized the government after the Andijan massacre in 2005, where Uzbek National Security Service troops fired into a group of protesters killing at least 187 people, the Uzbek government demanded the US vacate the base.