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Uzbekistan: Minister Announces Plans To Quit CIS Defense Pact

Prague, 4 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Uzbek Foreign Minister Adbulaziz Kamilov says Tashkent plans to end its participation in the CIS collective-security arrangement when the treaty expires in April.

The Associated Press quotes Kamilov as saying yesterday that Uzbekistan opposes Russia's attempts at closer integration within the Commonwealth of Independent States and the deployment of Russian troops in several former Soviet republics.

Kamilov said Uzbek President Islam Karimov has warned that closer integration restricts the sovereignty of CIS members. Kamilov also said Uzbekistan objects to Russia's military presence in Tajikistan, where Moscow has 25,000 troops. The troops propped up the government during the five-year civil war there and now guard the border against an influx of drugs and weapons from Afghanistan. Kamilov said the end of the Tajik conflict has made the Russian troops unnecessary.

In Moscow, a senior Defense Ministry official said Russia regretted Uzbekistan's decision to withdraw from the treaty. Interfax quotes Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, the chief of the ministry's international relations department, as saying Moscow rejects Uzbekistan's accusations that Russia is seeking military domination. Ivashov said Russia is pursuing a "restrained policy and is curbing military activity, particularly in the CIS countries."

The collective security agreement was signed in Tashkent in May 1992 and ratified by all members in 1994. It includes a provision allowing participants to leave the pact after a five-year period, which expires this spring.

The decision to withdraw from the treaty is hardly unexpected given the foreign policy Karimov has pursued in recent years. Karimov has frequently criticized CIS countries that allow Russia to station troops on their territories as being in a state more like, in his words, "slavery" than independence.

Karimov says Moscow uses the CIS treaty as a cover for promoting its own national agenda. He also says the security arrangements limit Tashkent's ability to play a larger role in Central Asia.

An example of this is Uzbekistan's interest in developments in Tajikistan. Uzbekistan played an important role there during the civil war, but with the signing of the Tajik peace accords, which Russia and Iran mediated, Uzbek influence in Tajikistan has decreased

When Uzbekistan pulled its battalion out of the CIS peacekeeping force in Tajikistan last November, Russian troops were sent in to fill the void. The move was hardly what Tashkent wanted. Since then, Uzbek officials, led by President Karimov, have questioned the need for the force, originally designed to safeguard the Tajik-Afghan border from Islamic rebels. Those rebels are now part of the Tajik government under the terms of the peace treaty.

Some suggest Uzbekistan's withdrawal of its battalion from the peacekeeping force was the first step in withdrawing from the CIS security treaty. Relations between Tashkent and Dushanbe are now at a low point.

The Uzbek government also worries that when Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov visits Moscow in April, an arrangement similar to Moscow's military deal with Armenia may be concluded. Russia has supplied Armenia with modern fighter aircraft and the S-300 anti-aircraft defense complex. Because both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are close to Russia, and Turkmenistan jealously guards its U.N.-recognized neutrality, Tashkent has fewer opportunities to exert its influence than it would like.

Another aspect of Uzbekistan's decision to withdraw from the treaty is Russia's position on issues like NATO expansion, the bombing of Iraq and the conflict in Kosovo, all of which contradict the interests of the U.S. Uzbekistan has repeatedly demonstrated its strong desire to be friends with the U.S., even siding with Washington in the UN vote on the embargo against Cuba.

More recently, Tashkent criticized Iraq rather than the U.S. and Britain for the U.S.-British air strikes on Iraq in December. Uzbekistan has been participating in NATO's Partnership for Peace Program and has sent troops to be trained in the U.S.

By moving away from the CIS, Tashkent clearly hopes to solidify these Western ties. But only the upcoming talks about a new CIS collective security arrangement will show whether other countries in the region share the Uzbek government's assessment of the situation.

(Zamira Echanova of the Uzbek Service contributed to this report.)