(by Patrick Goodenough, Oct. 4, 2005, CNSNews.com) – The European Union plans to impose a range of sanctions against Uzbekistan, including an arms embargo and targeted travel ban, over the Central Asian republic’s refusal to allow an independent inquiry into a bloody clampdown against protestors last spring.
The decision comes after the United States, also calling for an inquiry into the events in Andijan, withheld more than $20 million earmarked for Uzbekistan.
Washington’s stance has already cost it use of a strategically-located military base in southern Uzbekistan. A senior U.S. diplomat confirmed after meeting with President Islam Karimov last week that the Pentagon would vacate the Karshi-Khanabad (K-2) base by the end of the year, in line with Uzbek demands.
There have been no public indications yet whether Uzbekistan will react similarly towards the Europeans. Germany has a small military base in Termez, on the Uzbek-Afghan border, deploying 300 personnel and planes and helicopters used to support coalition operations in Afghanistan.
Tashkent says 187 people, mostly “terrorists,” died in an attempted “Islamic uprising” on May 12-13. Human rights groups maintain the death toll was far higher, and that troops fired on unarmed civilians protesting against the trial of local businessmen.
The violence erupted after supporters of the imprisoned men broke into Andijan’s jail and freed them, sparking a large anti-government demonstration.
The first of dozens of Uzbeks accused of involvement in the protests are currently on trial – an exercise human rights campaigners have called part of an official cover-up into what actually happened in May.
E.U. foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg Monday said because of the “excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force” by Uzbek troops the 25-nation bloc would ban the sale of “arms, military equipment and other equipment that might be used for internal repression.”
They also said Uzbek individuals “directly responsible” for the violence would not be allowed entry into the E.U., according to a statement released late Monday. None have yet been named.
The E.U. will cut and redirect aid programs and – in a first for the union – will also suspended meetings under an E.U.-Uzbekistan partnership and cooperation agreement. Instituted in 1999, the agreement governs bilateral relations in a range of areas including trade and transport.
Human Rights Watch welcomed the E.U. decision, and urged it to follow up the step by pushing Russia – during an E.U.-Russia summit scheduled for Tuesday – to back the push for an independent inquiry.
Russia moves in
Russia, unsettled by U.S. inroads into Central Asia in the aftermath of 9/11, has been quick to seize the opportunity created by Karimov’s fallout with the West.
Last month Russian and Uzbek troops held joint exercises in Uzbekistan for the first time since the Soviet Union collapsed, and on Friday Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said his country would supply Uzbekistan with weapons.
“Our relations with Uzbekistan are consistently improving in all areas, including in military-technical [cooperation],” RIA Novosti quoted Ivanov as saying. “There are no restrictions on weapons supplies, expect commonly recognized international regulations and norms.”
The move is part of a broader trend in the region: Ivanov last month signed a deal to sell weaponry to Kyrgyzstan and said Russia would expand the size of its Kant airbase in that country. (The U.S. also has a base in Kyrgyzstan, Manas, which is expected to become a more important element in operations in Afghanistan once U.S. forces leave K-2.)
At a meeting last July of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – a grouping of Russia, China and four Central Asian republics – leaders passed a resolution calling for the U.S. to set a timetable for withdrawing its bases from the region.
Moscow and Beijing also both openly supported Karimov over the Andijan episode.
Last week, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried became the most senior American diplomat to visit Uzbekistan since the dispute over Andijan
After talks with Karimov he conceded relations had gone through a “very difficult period” but said there was no change to the K-2 departure plans.
“The Uzbek government made it clear that we need to leave the base, and we intend to leave it without further discussion,” Fried said. A transcript was made available by the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent.
Human rights groups in recent years have accused the U.S. of being prepared to overlook the Karimov government’ repressive behavior in the interests of strengthening anti-terror cooperation.
The State Department counters that promotion of democracy has played an important role in relations with Uzbekistan throughout.
Spokesman Sean McCormack said Fried had reiterated in his meeting with Karimov “that we view our strategic interests as well as our interests in promoting democracy and human rights in the region as one and the same in the case of Uzbekistan.”
Jamestown Foundation senior fellow Vladimir Socor writes in the institution’s Eurasia Daily Monitor that the U.S. still has an opportunity before the year’s end to restore the relationship.
He argued that calls for an international inquiry into Andijan “tend to suggest a prosecutorial intent toward the authorities, instead of conveying a fact-finding intent.”
A U.S. offer to conduct a professional fact-finding investigation on the ground would be more effective than the proposed international investigation, he argued.
Reprinted here with permission from CNSNews.com. Visit the website at www.cnsnews.com.
1. List the countries that border Uzbekistan. (For a map, click here.)
2. What is the EU? List the countries that are members of the EU.
3. Define sanctions and embargo. Why is the EU going to impose sanctions against Uzbekistan? List the 4 ways they will do so as described in the article. (para. 8-10)
4. How does the Uzbek government describe the events of May 12-13? How does the explanation of human rights groups differ from that of the Uzbek government? (For a detailed explanation from Human Rights Watch, click here.)
5. The U.S. also called on Uzbekistan to allow an independent inquiry into the incident. What did the U.S. do when Uzbekistan refused? (para. 2) What did the U.S. lose as a result of their stand? (para. 3)
6. How is the Russian government reacting to the incident in Uzbekistan?
What do you think is Russia’s motive for their actions? (What did the Shanghai Cooperation Organization call on the U.S. to do?)
7. What criticism have human rights groups made of the U.S. in recent years regarding Uzbekistan? Why is this no longer true today? What do you think is more important: for the U.S. government to put American interests first, or to put human rights of all people worldwide first? Explain your answer.