(Eurasianet) Russia’s aggressive actions toward Ukraine are vexing Central Asian states. First, officials in Kazakhstan were chagrined to hear comments by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who, during a recent town-hall-style meeting with university students, appeared to denigrate Kazakhstani statehood. Now, Uzbek leaders are showing signs of displeasure with Moscow.
Insular Uzbekistan has long viewed Russia with a wary eye: it has kept its distance from Moscow-led regional bodies and has shown no interest in joining the Eurasian Economic Union, Putin’s pet project to reassert Kremlin influence across the former Soviet Union. […]
Like other post-Soviet states, Tashkent has struggled to formulate a response to the Ukraine conflict, in large part because the Karimov administration finds neither side appealing. On one hand, Tashkent is leery of Kremlin expansionism; on the other, the dictatorial Karimov is no fan of popular uprisings, such as that embodied in the Euromaidan movement. Ukraine “has raised grave concerns [for Uzbekistan], precisely because each side has given the [Karimov] regime something to fear,” Alexander Cooley, a professor at New York’s Barnard College who specializes in Central Asian affairs, told EurasiaNet.org.
What Karimov is clearly apprehensive about is the Kremlin’s capacity to use soft power to undermine his long rule if he fails to toe Russia’s line, suggested Cooley.
“Tashkent is deeply concerned about the potency of Russian media and disinformation campaigns, as well as the potential political vulnerability of the status of millions of Uzbek [labor] migrants in Russia,” said Cooley. “They could be a lever for Moscow to bring Uzbekistan further in line with its position.”
The Kremlin’s muscle-flexing incentivizes Uzbekistan to boost other alliances, analysts believe. “It will emphasize Uzbekistan's need to diversify security and economic partnerships to the greatest extent possible,” Cooley said, mainly “through growing partnership with China, as well as economic partnerships with emerging Asian powers such as South Korea, Japan and the Gulf States.”
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