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Central Asia Report: April 10, 2008

Tajikistan: Politicians And Their Friends Make Up Much Of '100 Richest' List

By Farangis Najibullah

Hoji-Akbar Turajonzoda says he makes about $200,000 from his private company (file photo)

Cabinet ministers, government officials, and members of parliament dominate an unofficial list of the "100 Richest Tajiks" published recently by the independent news agency Avesta.

Like "Forbes" magazine's famous list of the richest people in the world, the Avesta list gives the names and positions of the wealthy Tajiks, which includes just one woman. But unlike "Forbes," the Tajik rich list does not cite the total fortune that each of the wealthiest Tajiks is said to possess.

Tajikistan is one of the poorest countries in Central Asia, where the average monthly salary is around $35 a month and government ministers officially earn up to $100 monthly.

According to Avesta, rich people in Tajikistan do not officially disclose their assets in order to avoid paying taxes. This makes it impossible to know exactly how big their financial fortunes are. So Tajikistan's list of the 100 richest people is alphabetical.

Avesta news agency wrote in introducing the list that its list of wealthy Tajiks is based on the quantity and prices of the people's houses, cars, businesses and other assets, as well as the frequency with which they appear in expensive restaurants. Avesta said the list does not include wealthy Tajiks living abroad or those who made their fortunes in drug-related activities.

Several former Islamic and democratic opposition figures, including Mahmadruzi Iskandarov and Mirzo Ziyoev, made the list. So did several former commanders of the former People's Front, such as Yakub Salimov and Ghaffor Mirzoev, which fought against the opposition in the Tajik civil war in the 1990s.

The four men rose to their high official positions after the national reconciliation in 1997 that ended the war, after amassing vast fortunes. All of them except Ziyoev eventually ended up in prison after falling out of favor with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon.

'Thank God, I Must Be Rich'

Hoji-Akbar Turajonzoda, a parliamentary deputy and a prominent member of the Islamic opposition, is also on the list. Turajonzoda told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that, unlike many others, he does not hide the fact he has other sources of income beyond his official salary.

"If you're talking about the money, I don't have $1 million in cash," he says. "Well, I own a cotton mill, which is very expensive. I bought this factory for $100,000 a long time ago. I don't know how much would it cost now. I have a nice house in my village. I bought two apartments in Dushanbe during the Soviet times, but I gave them to my sons. If these things are considered huge wealth -- well then, thank God, I must be rich."

Turajonzoda said he makes around $200,000 annually from his private company.

Many other rich Tajiks -- or so-called "New Tajiks" -- are very reluctant to publicly acknowledge their wealth simply because many of them do not officially run or own a private business. Most are supposed to be making ends meet with the modest salaries they earn as government officials, diplomats, and lawmakers.

Tajik Prosecutor-General Bobojon Bobokhonov has also made the list of the richest Tajiks. He once said that all of his "employees live on a humble salary they get from the government and none of them is involved in any other business activities outside of their official jobs."

When asked, Bobokhonov said the many expensive cars parked outside the Prosecutor-General's Office are "gifts my colleagues' received from their relatives."

"It's impossible," he says, "to buy expensive, foreign-made cars with our salaries. We have made it clear that if our employees get involved in other business activities they can no longer work for the Prosecutor-General's Office."

Corruption Endemic

Olim Boboev, the leader of the Economic Reforms Party, said most government officials and their friends and relatives have privatized the majority of government-owned enterprises, paying symbolic prices in acquiring them.

Many ordinary Tajiks are not surprised that government officials, police, and judiciary workers are wealthy because they are notorious for exploiting their official positions and extorting bribes from people in a country where corruption is endemic.

A survey conducted in Tajikistan in 2007 by the United Nations Development Program and the Tajik Strategic Research Center concluded that corruption and bribery are "the key problem for the country, for the national government, for everyday life, and for the human environment." It added that corruption slows reforms and leads to the "moral degradation of the society."

Apart from those who occupy high government posts -- including President Rahmon, Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov, as well as the heads of both chambers of parliament -- there are also a number of former ministers and deputy ministers on the list of richest Tajiks. Friends and relatives of these people are also on the list.

Along with politicians and a few businesspeople, three famous singers are also on the rich list, including the lone woman -- 27-year-old singer Shabnami Surayo.

RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report

Central Asia: EU Sees 'Huge Scope For Cooperation'

By Farruh Yusupov

Benita Ferrero-Waldner (file photo)

As the foreign ministers of the five Central Asian states met with an EU delegation in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner spoke to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service about the EU's goals for human rights and development in the region.

RFE/RL: What is the aim of your visit to Ashgabat, and what is on the agenda of the EU delegation's meetings with Central Asian foreign ministers?

Benita Ferrero-Waldner: Well, first of all it's the third time in one year that the European Union foreign ministers' troika has met with their counterparts from all five Central Asian countries -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. And this of course reflects the strengthening of our relations between the European Union and Central Asia following the adoption in June last year of an EU strategy on Central Asia. That means there is an increased intensity, there is a huge scope for cooperation, and our relations are growing rapidly now.

We will take concrete and practical steps to develop initiatives in the area of education, but also the rule of law. And our efforts will, indeed, include an intensified dialogue at all levels, and resources from the European Union side to promote cooperation. So, for instance, with regard to education, we want to increase the number of Central Asian students coming [to] the European Union to study. In the area of rule of law, we will increase the support for judicial reform, including for instance the training of judges.

Then, poverty reduction remains of course a key issue. It's evident that the situation in some parts of the region asks for specific measures to guarantee energy supplies in the short term, as well as to deal with increasing food prices. Then, of course, we are also keen to support business development. And therefore we also will discuss the launch of an important new program called EU-Central Asia Invest. This is a 5 million euros aimed at promoting the private sector and small and medium enterprises. On the whole...we have nearly doubled our allocation to the region. Between 2007 and 2010, we have allocated 314 million euros for regional and bilateral cooperation in Central Asia, 70 percent of which will be used for direct bilateral assistance and [the] 30 remaining for the regional aspect.

And then, of course, there are two major issues here too. One is that Central Asia is a key partner in the energy market and has a huge potential. But we are also stepping up our cooperation on renewable energy, which is another important topic between us. And, of course, [we are talking] about diversifying our supply routes and the diversification of export routes. Finally, I would say there is also an environmental dialogue. And this is well-established, and its focus is presently on water issues. An EU-Central Asia water working group meets regularly and has agreed to begin a national water policy dialogue in Central Asia. And I think that will help the national water-management difficulties that are there.

RFE/RL: Regarding energy cooperation, what is the EU seeking from Central Asia?

Ferrero-Waldner: Well, first of all, I think it's important that we really diversify [not only] our energy resources but also the transit routes. I'm just coming back from a very interesting meeting with the president of Turkmenistan, and I must say in principle he is open to supply [energy resources] also to Europe. We talked particularly about gas. It all depends, of course, on the market prices. And it will certainly also help them develop their market, but on the other hand it will give us another supply source.

RFE/RL: What issues are you going to discuss with Uzbek Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov?

Ferrero-Waldner: Well, with Minister Norov there will also be the question of human rights, because as you know, human rights are indeed a very important part of our external relations. And therefore we really want to see an even better commitment. Of course, we are aware of the different historical and cultural context in Central Asia when compared to the European Union, and that reforms in the area of democratization, rule of law, and human rights will take a certain time. But at the same time these are committed members of the OSCE....

For us Uzbekistan is an important country in Central Asia, and, of course, we would like to see strong relations with them, but at the same time there were the Andijon events [in May 2005]. The European Council in October last year agreed to suspend the visa ban in light of the developments [regarding] Andijon, including the intensified dialogue in the human rights area. And that decision will be reviewed later this month. So for me it's not yet possible to say what the decision will be, but what we want to do is to re-engage with Uzbekistan, and part of this re-engagement is indeed a more intensive dialogue on human rights. In fact, Uzbekistan is the first Central Asian country with which we have formalized such a human rights dialogue. The release of a number of human rights defenders in Uzbekistan was a positive sign, and that encourages us for further moves in the future. And we think the next dialogue should be held in May.

RFE/RL: Will the EU's talks with the Uzbek minister affect the European Council's review of the sanctions later this month?

Ferrero-Waldner: No, certainly not. We think it's clear that engagement is the best way for us to encourage positive developments in countries like Uzbekistan, where we have concerns about human rights. We think it will be a very important discussion leading to [broader] discussions in Brussels during the foreign ministers' meeting.

RFE/RL: Turkmenistan is set to hold parliamentary elections at the end of the year. Will the EU put pressure on Turkmen authorities to ensure fair elections and introduce a multiparty system?

Ferrero-Waldner: Well, we are always in favor of free and fair elections. That's clear. At the same time...we know that the developments are progressive and steady. What we have been discussing already is a human rights dialogue that is taking place with Turkmenistan, where the president is also open, and where we can engage more with the Turkmens.... We did negotiate a partnership and cooperation agreement and an interim agreement.

Now, unfortunately, given the political situation over the past years, it has not been possible to move forward. But we hope that Turkmenistan will go on this path of modernization, opening up, and that the European Parliament will also [agree] to use the interim agreement. And by the way, I will be opening tomorrow [April 10] the Europe House here in Ashgabat. That is a clear signal of our interest in engaging more with Turkmenistan, and this will give us a chance to work with the Turkmen civil society on questions like education, health, and Internet access. And this will certainly be another important element in this strategy.

RFE/RL: How do you assess current EU-Kyrgyz relations following the "Tulip Revolution" of March 2005?

Ferrero-Waldner: I think with Kyrgyzstan it is also important that we will be upgrading our offices, and we will be working with them. We want to encourage the Kyrgyz government to reach an agreement with its Central Asian partners, for instance, to organize a water summit in Bishkek. And we will then consider the issue further. There is also a proposal from Kyrgyzstan for this water academy. And, of course, further thinking is needed with regard to this proposal in order to avoid overlapping with existing institutions in the region. But it is highly important that all the issues that I've mentioned are also issues that we will discuss in detail with Kyrgyzstan during the bilateral meetings.

RFE/RL: The International Monetary Fund recently accused Tajikistan of misreporting financial information in order to secure $48 million in loans. Did this scandal alert the EU to possible risks in its financial dealings with Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries?

Ferrero-Waldner: Well, first of all, we are always very, very meticulous with our financial aid, and we have a lot of auditing and control systems. Secondly, on Tajikistan, where I was yesterday [April 8], we have at length discussed the question of misreporting to the IMF with the president, the foreign minister, the minister of economy, and the special adviser of the president. Indeed, I think the Tajik government now is trying to do -- or ask for -- a special audit in order to know where the misreporting happened, how it happened...and if the right measures are being taken. The whole international community will then discuss this together, and only then we will go on, working with them on budget support. So we are very careful about this, but at the same time I see a constructive, political will of the president to immediately correct this difficult situation.

Central Asia: EU Makes Regional Push With High-Level Talks In Turkmenistan

By Antoine Blua

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov meets with Benita Ferrero-Waldner in Brussels in November

A high-profile European Union delegation is meeting with the foreign ministers of the five Central Asian states in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat. The two-day talks will focus on the implementation of the EU-Central Asia strategy adopted nearly a year ago, but will also discuss important energy issues and human rights.

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner has expressed confidence that the talks with the foreign ministers of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan will boost cooperation between the EU and Central Asia countries.

"There is a huge scope for cooperation, and our relations are growing rapidly now," she said. "We will take concrete and practical steps to develop initiatives in the area of education but also the rule of law."

Speaking to RFE/RL from Ashgabat, Ferrero-Waldner insisted that Central Asia is becoming an increasingly important energy partner for the European bloc.

"Central Asia is a key partner in the energy market and has a huge potential here," she said. "But we are also stepping up our cooperation on the renewable energies, which is another important topic between us. And, of course, [we are talking] about diversifying our supply routes and the diversification of export routes."

Read the full text of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service's interview with EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

The region is key to Europe's ambitions to diversify its energy supplies, which are now dependent on Russia. Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are home to some of the world's biggest oil and gas reserves. But human rights groups are urging the EU to seize the opportunity to press Central Asian governments on human rights.

Anna Matveeva, a researcher with the Crisis States Research Centre at the London School of Economics, believes this week's talks are "significant."

"First, this is the first [such] meeting in [Turkmenistan], which has been an isolated country under the previous president, [Saparmurat] Niyazov," Matveeva says. "This signifies an opening of a new country to the international community in general and to the European Union in particular. Secondly, the level of representation of the Central Asian [governments] at that kind of meetings is growing. So that also shows a growing importance of the European game in the region."

Deepening Engagement

The EU troika is headed by Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel and includes Ferrero-Waldner and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who is representing the EU's next rotating presidency. Pierre Morel, the EU's special representative for Central Asia, is also attending. The talks will focus on the implementation of the EU Strategy Paper for assistance to Central Asia, adopted in June 2007.

The strategy advances goals for deepening EU engagement in a number of policy areas in Central Asia, including economy and trade, energy, education, environmental protection, and security, but also human rights and the rule of law.

Ahead of the Ashgabat meeting, Ferrero-Waldner was in Dushanbe for talks with President Emomali Rahmon and other Tajik officials. At an April 7 press conference following her meetings, she called on Tajikistan to implement reforms so the country can fully benefit from the EU's assistance -- a recommendation that could apply to all five Central Asian states.

"It is crucial that the necessary political and economic reforms are pursued and also are being implemented in order to ensure sufficient impact on the economic development and also on the poverty alleviation throughout the whole country of Tajikistan," she said.

The European Commission says its assistance to Central Asian nations will total 750 million euros ($1.18 billion) between 2007 and 2013, a 90 percent increase over the previous period.

Matveeva says it is difficult to predict to what extent the EU strategy will bear fruit, but she noted that dialogue has already been developing over the past year.

"It is quite positive that the European Union came up with a strategy at all," she says. "Before that, there was very little political thinking on the region. It is too early to really expect there will be major results, but there are some things which have been already developing. One thing is that there is more intense dialogue with Uzbekistan, and there have been some measures taken since the strategy has been adopted."

Positive Steps By Tashkent

In October 2007, EU member states lifted for six months a visa ban on a number of top Uzbek officials accused of complicity in the mass killings in Andijon in 2005. The decision, which is to be reviewed later this month, was conditional on improvement in the human rights situation in the country. EU officials cited a number of positive steps taken by Tashkent -- among them three rounds of talks with the EU on the Andijon violence and human rights, the conditional release of some political prisoners, and the abolition of the death penalty.

Ferrero-Waldner told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that those moves were encouraging and noted that Uzbekistan is the first Central Asian country with which the EU has formalized such a human-rights dialogue.

"Human rights are, indeed, a very important part for us [in] our external relations, and therefore we really want to see an even better commitment," she said. "Of course, we are aware of different historical and cultural contexts in Central Asia when compared to the European Union and that reforms in the area of democratization, rule of law, and human rights will take a certain time."

In a statement issued on April 9, however, Amnesty International urged the EU and the Central Asian governments to start honoring their commitment to implement the human rights component of the strategy. The London-based group said both sides must clearly demonstrate that human rights "are an integral part of these interactions -- and not a fig leaf behind which either side is free to privilege economic cooperation over the promotion and protection of fundamental rights."

In a 15-page briefing paper released on April 8, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the EU to establish human rights benchmarks for Central Asian governments and to clearly link progress on the goals with possible future benefits. Speaking to RFE/RL's Tajik Service from Dushanbe, HRW Central Asia researcher Andrea Berg also urged the EU to consult on a regular basis with civil society as it goes forward with the strategy.

"Human Rights Watch called on the European Union to have regular consultations with civil society about the goals and the implementation of this strategy, and also to report in a more transparent way about the implementation of this strategy," Berg said.

Serious Shortcomings Remain

The New York-based group said the past year has seen some improvements, such as the release of several political prisoners in Turkmenistan. But it also said serious shortcomings continue to mar the human rights records of the five Central Asian states.

According to the HRW paper, Turkmenistan remains "one of the most repressive" countries in the world. In Uzbekistan, government repression and harassment have made it "nearly impossible" for most local nongovernmental organizations to function. Kazakhstan has not held a single national election in accordance with Western election norms, while pluralism and freedom of assembly are at risk in Kyrgyzstan. In Tajikistan, the government continues to violate fundamental civic rights and torture is "rife" in the criminal justice system.

Ferrero-Waldner said the April 10 opening of a Europe House in Ashgabat would give the EU a chance to work with Turkmen civil society on issues such as education, health, and access to the Internet.

Ashyrguly Bayriev, an RFE/RL correspondent in Ashgabat, said the new information center will help improve human rights in Turkmenistan, which has signaled that it is seeking closer ties with the West and plans to introduce more reforms.

Matveeva insists, however, that the EU has limited leverage on Central Asian governments.

"Of course, diplomatic resources [can have] some impact, but we cannot really expect miracles," she says. "These countries are not really dependent on the European Union politically, or economically, or in terms of security. And they have other players to turn to in case the relationship with the EU comes to a low point -- like China or Russia."

RFE/RL's Tajik, Turkmen, and Uzbek services contributed to this report

Uzbekistan: Shadowy Group Agitates For 'Free Karakalpakstan'

By Gulnoza Saidazimova

Karakalpakstan has suffered enormously from Aral Sea devastation

They call their group the "Free Karakalpakstan National Revival Party." And they accuse Uzbekistan of genocide against "Karakalpaks as an ethnicity."

Supporters of the group have been vocal on Internet chat boards. One person identifying himself as Yernazar Konyratov wrote on March 5 that "devastation, chaos, poverty, [and] environmental disaster" have gripped Karakalpakstan. He went on to call for a referendum on the autonomous republic's independence from Tashkent.

"We need to unite and not be afraid," Konyratov wrote.

Solijon Abdurahmanov, a human-rights activist in Karakalpakstan's capital, Nukus, and an advocate of independence, tells RFE/RL that many young ethnic Karakalpaks are likely to support separatist sentiments.

"The young men and women born in the 1980s are now nearly 30 years old -- they have traveled abroad extensively," he says, adding that they understand the difficult realities in their homeland.

Abdurahmanov claims those Karakalpaks who have left their beleaguered republic to work in Russia and Kazakhstan have seen the higher living standards in neighboring countries and support independence as a result. They blame the Uzbek government for the lack of development in Karakalpakstan, he says.

But other Karakalpaks interviewed by RFE/RL say they are pro-Tashkent and do not share the views of "Free Karakalpakstan."

One of those with no desire for independence is Qubei Ortiqov, a farmer who lives near Nukus. He has harsh words for those who he says are seeking a scapegoat in Tashkent.

"This organization called the 'National Revival Party' is the work of the scum of our society," he says. "Karakalpaks do not suffer from being a part of Uzbekistan; Karakalpaks live freely everywhere in Uzbekistan. I think this is nothing but a movement aimed at dividing [Uzbekistan]."

Tashkent's Watchful Gaze

Soviet leader Josef Stalin -- who created the Soviet republics of Central Asia in the 1920s -- also drew up the map for Karakalpakstan. Founded as an autonomous region in 1925, its status was changed in 1932 to an autonomous republic. A few years later, in 1936, it became part of Uzbekistan, constituting 37 percent of its territory.

In December 1990, the Supreme Council of the Karakalpak Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR), which was a part of the Uzbek SSR, adopted a "Declaration on State Sovereignty." It included the prospect of independence from the Uzbek SSR and even the Soviet Union if such a move was approved by Karakalpak's citizens in a referendum.

The first constitution of Karakalpakstan was adopted in April 1993 and stipulated a similar possibility. But officials in Tashkent generally prevented Karakalpaks from organizing or holding a referendum.

Since then, Uzbek President Islam Karimov's government has been deliberate in its appointment of official leaders for Karakalpakstan, which is headed by a president. Karakalpakstan leaders have been carefully selected, with all of them either loyal friends or conspicuous supporters of Karimov.

The CIA "World Factbook" lists Karakalpaks as the fifth-largest ethnic group in the country, representing roughly 2.5 percent of Uzbekistan's 28 million people.

Within the autonomous republic itself, official Uzbek statistics indicate that ethnic Karakalpaks make up less than one-third of the total population of 1.2 million people. Ethnic Uzbeks, Kazakhs, and some Turkmen compose the other two-thirds.

A UNICEF photo from 2003 shows young boys in Karakalpakstan

Karakalpaks are closer ethnically and linguistically to Kazakhs than to Uzbeks, and some claim that the Karakalpak ethnic group was a Soviet invention aimed at dividing up the Kazakh population.

In recent years, some Karakalpakstan residents have moved from Uzbekistan to neighboring Kazakhstan as part of Astana's "Oralman" policy -- which is meant to return people to their ethnic homeland. Kazakhstan is the eighth-largest country in the world but has a relatively small population of some 15 million, and officials there support the immigration of ethnic Kazakhs. Most "Oralmans" are ethnic Kazakhs from Mongolia, China, or Karakalpakstan.

Some sources suggest that 200,000 people have left Karakalpakstan in recent years.

Separatist sentiments were first voiced in Karakalpakstan in the mid-1980s, as calls for sovereignty and independence spread throughout the Soviet republics.

Sea Of Adversity

Human-rights activist Abdurahmanov says that a Nukus-based economist, Marat Aralbaev, is seen as the founding father of the first Karakalpak separatist movement.

"At the time, a nationalist movement called 'Halk Mapi,' or 'People's Interests,' led by Marat Aralbaev started this [separatist movement]," he says. "But environmental disaster -- caused by the Aral Sea problem in Karakalpakstan -- to a certain extent overshadowed talks about independence."

The problems are severe. The remote republic has high rates of tuberculosis and other diseases whose outbreaks are ascribed at least in part to environmental problems related to the disappearance of the Aral Sea -- which has shrunk by two-thirds in the last 60 years as agriculture and other projects divert the precious Amu Darya River. The sea was also used for biological-weapons testing during the Soviet era. A nearly fivefold increase in salinity has killed most of the region's natural flora and fauna.

As poverty and unemployment have risen across Uzbekistan, Karakalpakstan's people have been badly affected.

But there have also been discoveries of fossil-fuel reserves. The independent website reported on February 20 that recent estimates suggest Karakalpakstan has some 1.7 trillion cubic meters of natural gas and 1.7 million tons of liquid hydrocarbon resources. The report also suggested that officials in Tashkent were unlikely to share the revenues from sales of Karakalpakstan's gas and oil.

Abdurahmanov says such developments are behind a recent revival of separatist sentiments among Karakalpaks. Abdurahmanov insists that Karakalpakstan could survive as a sovereign state on the strength of its natural-resources wealth.

Karakalpakstan's independence nevertheless appears unlikely, since the Uzbek parliament must consent to the holding of any referendum. The legislature, under the tight control of President Karimov, is unlikely to give a green light to any secessionist aspirations in Uzbekistan -- which is a patchwork of regions with separatist sentiments that cite deep historical roots.

Before the 1920s, Uzbekistan did not exist. Prior to Bolshevik/Communist rule, ethnic Uzbeks identified themselves as Muslims and with the khans (kings) who ruled them. Neither Uzbek ethnic identity nor the term "Uzbeks" was in wide use.

Even now, Uzbeks often identify themselves based on regional origin. Those from the Ferghana Valley in the east tend to distinguish themselves from those in the southern Surkhandaryo and Qashqadaryo regions or from those in the western Khorazm area.

Toshpulat Yuldoshev, a Tashkent-based independent political analyst, says officials in the capital are well aware of the risks that any separatist sentiments, if unleashed, may create.

He says separatists in Karakalpakstan are unlikely to succeed because they will always face strong opposition in Tashkent and lack full support inside Karakalpakstan.

"I don't think those [separatist] forces are strong enough, and they don't have the means to achieve their goal," Yuldoshev says. "But they are definitely able to contribute to the destabilization of the situation in the country."

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service correspondent Sadriddin Ashurov contributed to this report

Analysis: Who 'Won' The NATO Summit?

By Brian Whitmore

U.S. President George W. Bush, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (left to right) chat at the summit on April 3

BUCHAREST -- The initial post mortems on this week's NATO's summit in Bucharest are reminiscent of the old fable about a group of blindfolded men trying to identify the elephant in their midst. Touching just the tusks leads to one conclusion, the trunk another, and the tail yet another.

As the various delegations issued their final assessments before packing up to leave the Romanian capital on April 4, everybody was claiming victory. And in a way, everybody was right -- it just depended on which issue each side chose to highlight.

For Albania and Croatia, who received membership invitations, the summit was a clear triumph.

Russia pointed to the fact that Georgia and Ukraine were not granted their coveted Membership Action Plans (MAP), a key step before full membership, as evidence that the Kremlin had averted the alliance's further expansion into the post-Soviet space.

Washington, meanwhile, touted NATO's endorsement of a U.S.-backed missile-defense system in Europe, which Moscow staunchly opposes, as one key U.S. diplomatic victory.

Speaking to reporters prior to a meeting of the Russia-NATO Council on April 4, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer acknowledged that the summit had illuminated the growing complexity of Moscow's relations with the trans-Atlantic alliance.

"Today our relations are truly multifaceted, influenced both by political realities and issues on which we differ, as well as by practical and very pragmatic common interests," de Hoop Scheffer said. "At our meeting here this morning, we'll take stock of our commonalities but also seek ways to intensify the process of finding political common denominators on the issues on which we do not agree."

Beyond A 'Shimmer Of A Doubt'

Spin aside, a close look at the summit's results shows that Washington and its allies in former-Communist "new Europe" actually walked away with a lot more than most had expected.

Take the issue of enlargement, for example -- an issue that initially looked like an embarrassing diplomatic blow to the United States. Washington -- backed by Poland, the Czech Republic, and the Baltic States -- pushed hard for the NATO allies to give Georgia and Ukraine their MAPs in Bucharest. Germany and France, reluctant to provoke Russia, prevented that from happening.

But Tbilisi and Kyiv didn't walk away empty handed. In fact, they got something that both the Georgian and Ukrainian presidents claim is even better than a MAP: a firm commitment from NATO that they would eventually become full members.

In case there was any doubt about that seriousness of that commitment, de Hoop Scheffer meticulously spelled it out for everyone at a joint press conference with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on April 4. "If the sentence, 'We agreed today that these countries...' in the text -- read Ukraine and Georgia -- '...will become members of NATO' leaves a shimmer of a doubt," he posited, "not in my opinion."

Robin Shepherd, head of the Europe Program at the London-based Chatham House think tank, described the result as a face-saving compromise whereby no side got everything it wanted, but no one was completely disappointed.

"This was the inevitable compromise that had to happen," Shepherd said. "Everybody, therefore, can walk away with something from this. The Americans have saved face because they've got a strong commitment to bring these countries into NATO, and the Europeans can save face because it didn't actually happen at this summit."

Exceeding Expectations

To hear Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yushchenko, tell it, both walked away with smashing victories.

Saakashvili was reportedly furious on the evening of April 2, when it became clear that no MAPs would be granted. But by the afternoon of April 3, when the compromise solution emerged, Saakashvili could barely contain his delight in remarks to reporters.

"I think we should be very happy. We were pleasantly surprised because this morning I still thought we wouldn't get anything," Saakashvili said. "What we were offered before was an action plan for membership...guidelines how to get to MAP -- so it was all something like a preceding technical stage for eventual, possible, theoretic membership. And suddenly we jumped over the technical stage and they decided to accept Georgia and Ukraine as members."

Speaking the same day, Yushchenko also said the NATO commitment to full membership was better than he dared hope.

"This can only be seen as a victory, and I will explain why. It is because in today's document, for the first time, the 26 NATO members states formulated the basic principle that these countries (Ukraine and Georgia) will become members of NATO. I would say this even exceeded our expectations regarding this document."

Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg told RFE/RL in an interview that the former Communist countries of "new Europe" -- most notaby Poland -- were instrumental in getting the reluctant French and Germans to agree to a firm commitment for eventual Georgian and Ukrainian membership.

Washington Wish List

While enlargement dominated much of the summit, the United States could also claim victory on several other fronts.

In addition to winning a NATO endorsement for its controversial European missile-defense project -- which would place a radar station in the Czech Republic and a missile inteceptor base in Poland -- the United States also got key concessions from Russia and France that will help the Western alliance's troubled mission in Afghanistan.

France agreed to send a battalion to Afghanistan to relieve overstretched U.S. and Canadian forces.

Speaking at a press conference with Romanian President Traian Basescu on April 2, Bush expressed gratitude to his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy.

"I was very pleased to listen to the comments of President Sarkozy, where he indicated his willingness to increase troop presence," Bush said. "Other nations have agreed to step up, including Romania, and so we'll see how it goes. That's what summits are for. Summits are opportunities for people to make clear their intentions about how they intend to support this very important mission."

Russian President Vladimir Putin himself handed the United States a diplomatic victory by agreeing to allow for the transport of nonlethal military equipment across its territory to Afghanistan.

Stay Tuned

There are still some diplomatic conflicts on the horizon, both among NATO members and between the Western alliance and Russia.

NATO foreign ministers will revisit Ukraine and Georgia's bid for MAPs in December, and the two countries bids will certainly be on the table when the allies meet for NATO's 60th anniversary summit next spring.

Despite Putin's generally conciliatory tone in his press conference on April 4, the Russian leader also issued a stern warning to the trans-Atlantic alliance.

"The appearance on our borders of a powerful military bloc, whose members' actions are regulated, among other [documents], by Article 5 of the Washington [North Atlantic] Treaty, will be taken in Russia as a direct threat to the security of our country," Putin said. "And we cannot be satisfied with statements that this process is not aimed against Russia."

NATO: Uzbek, Turkmen Presidents Offer Cooperation

By Bruce Pannier

Presidents Berdymukhammedov (left) and Karimov

The presidents of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have sought to make their historical appearances at the NATO summit in Bucharest productive despite their being overshadowed by events surrounding Ukraine, Georgia, Russia, and Afghanistan.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov indicated a willingness to increase his country's cooperation with NATO to aid efforts in Afghanistan.

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov spoke about Afghanistan and met with the Afghan and U.S. presidents, with whom energy was a major topic of discussion.

Berdymukhammedov and Karimov could play significant roles in NATO plans for Afghanistan -- which shares borders with both their countries -- and both Central Asian leaders hammered home this point during their speeches in Bucharest.

NATO is hoping to establish a land corridor that would run from Russia through Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to deliver nonmilitary materiel to Afghanistan. Karimov said he is interested in his country participating in the land route, mentioning an agreement signed in February with Germany, which has troops stationed at a small military base in Termez, Uzbekistan, concerning the railway transit of German cargo via Uzbekistan.

Matthew Clements, the Eurasia editor at the London-based Jane's Information Group, says the route makes sense. "What should be pointed out is that while it may be a risky route politically, the other overland route is through Pakistan and through the Northwest Frontier Province, and this is obviously not completely desirable from a NATO or U.S. perspective because of the security issues," Clements says. "Just recently, a number of oil tankers were blown up at a border crossing point in an ambush by Pakistani militants."

Tashkent's Tack

Depending on Uzbekistan might be regarded as risky by some NATO members, given that U.S. troops were ordered to leave an Uzbek military base in 2005 after official U.S. criticism of the Uzbek government's deadly crackdown against protesters in the eastern city of Andijon earlier that year.

But Clements suggests that such concerns might be overblown.

"We've seen the removal of the U.S. air base there previously, following [Western] criticism after Andijon, and it's very difficult to see how that could happen again," Clements says. "There does seem to be an effort in certain factions of the West to re-engage Uzbekistan and to almost overlook its human rights situation. It looks like now, because of the strategic interest in getting this overland route, the U.S. is willing to talk to them again."

Karimov has put forward his own proposal to help establish stability in Afghanistan: resurrecting the "6+2" idea of a decade ago. The group involved Afghanistan's neighbors -- Pakistan, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Iran -- with Russia and the United States attempting to get Afghanistan's Taliban movement and the United Front (aka Northern Alliance) to agree to a peace deal. The group was never able to broker a successful cease-fire, however, and disbanded after U.S. forces chased the Taliban from power in late 2001. Karimov proposed reforming the group as the "6+3" to include NATO in future talks.

Clements says any new group would probably fare no better than the previous group but that such a format could at least give the Central Asian states a greater voice in Afghan events.

"The viability of it would still be in question because exactly how much the Central Asian states can achieve in their policy towards Afghanistan is always going to be questionable," Clements says. "I think there is a desire from the Central Asian countries to have some sort of say, some sort of influence on Afghanistan. I think there is a growing realization between [the Central Asian states] and Russia that the insecurity in Afghanistan is actually no good for them, especially in terms of opium trafficking, which is a big problem for the Central Asian countries and Russia."

Berdymukhammedov pointed out that his country is already helping Afghanistan by supplying electricity to northern areas and sending humanitarian aid that includes diesel fuel and flour. But the Turkmen president ventured beyond the boundaries set for Turkmenistan's foreign policy by his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, who died in late 2006.

Ashgabat's Departure

In comments appearing in Turkmen state media on April 4, Berdymukhammedov noted the importance of the NATO summit, which he said Turkmenistan viewed as a "good opportunity for an exchange of opinions about the problems of international security."

Clements says Berdymukhammedov's statements on international security are "pretty significant" and represent a marked departure from those of the late President Niyazov, who repeatedly said Turkmenistan was only interested in trade and economic partnerships with other countries.

"Actually the fact that he was at a NATO summit is also extremely significant considering the highly isolationist policy of Niyazov before this," Clements says, "and the talk about security certainly is another departure from Niyazov's previous policies. So yes, it's very significant and I think it really illustrates Berdymukhammedov's desire to become more fully involved in the international community."

Once in Bucharest, of course, Berdymukhammedov used the NATO summit as a platform to promote his country's energy resources. He spoke about the long-proposed Turkmen-Afghan-Pakistan-India natural-gas pipeline and met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to discuss the export route.

Talks between NATO and both Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are still needed to firm up the details of this new cooperation, but it appears both the alliance and the two presidents will come away from this summit with the feeling of having improved relations.

Turkmen-U.S. Meeting

Berdymukhammedov met with U.S. President George W. Bush on the sidelines of the summit. The two men discussed Turkmen energy exports, and Berdymukhammedov reportedly told his U.S. counterpart that Turkmenistan was interested in multiple export routes for its energy resources.

Turkmenistan is rich in natural gas and, to a lesser extent, oil; but it has limited possibilities to ship it to markets. Currently the only pipelines out of Turkmenistan pass through Russia, with the exception of a small pipeline leading to Iran and a gas pipeline to China that will become operational next year. European states in particular are trying to get Turkmenistan to join pipeline projects to export gas to Europe but have been outmaneuvered recently by Russia's Gazprom.

Clements says Berdymukhammedov's talk with Bush brings new hope that projects like the proposed Nabucco pipeline might still be possible, if Turkmen officials believe they are getting "a good deal." He says that the Bucharest meeting could at least help maintain some pressure to prevent those plans from disappearing altogether.

"Directly stating this to Bush certainly is more significant than these low-level talks, and could suggest more impetus for them to boost the Nabucco project," Clements says. "[But] I think that unless we see genuine details on what the deal could be, it still would be hard to suggest that Turkmenistan isn't focused much more on Russia and China at the moment in terms of its energy exports. I think what he's doing here is keeping alive the possibility that it could happen in the future."

Central Asia: Odd Couple Crashes NATO Summit

By Bruce Pannier

Presidents Berdymukhammedov and Karimov (left to right, in separate photos)

NATO's Bucharest summit opens this week with two unlikely guests: the presidents of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov is making his second appearance at a NATO summit; but it's the first time that a Turkmen president has attended such a gathering. Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov and Karimov will sit beside NATO leaders long critical of their authoritarian governments' lack of human rights and democracy.

Which begs the question: What do the trans-Atlantic alliance and these iron-fisted leaders have to talk about? The answer is more than meets the eye, including Afghanistan and the war on terror.

Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, both of which border Afghanistan, have a big stake in what happens in that South Asian state -- and a potentially major role to play in NATO's efforts there. Russia is also seen as an emerging noncombat contributor to NATO's Afghan operations.

U.S. President George W. Bush has already signaled that he will call for greater NATO participation in the ongoing battle against Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan. Some countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) are also considering helping, but their support looks set to be purely logistical.

"The Russians, I think, are offering some kind of a land route for logistical supplies to forces in Afghanistan, which would go over their territory, I think, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan," says John MacLeod, a senior editor at the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting. "So there's a degree of coordinated planning going into this sort of second round of Uzbek participation."

According to a report in the Russian daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on April 1, that land route would traverse Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan. It would also involve railway routes, some of which would need to be built, to carry supplies to the CIS-Afghan border.

Russia, however, has already suggested that NATO's access to such a land route might depend on other key issues to be discussed at the summit, such as the Ukrainian and Georgian bids to join the alliance. "The key thing is that Russia is attending, that Russia is giving the lead, and again it's about politics in general, security, and economics," McLeod says. "It's not an uncoordinated engagement."

Regional Interests

What do Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan want from NATO, besides listening to proposals to increase security in Afghanistan?

Karimov is interested in security and Afghanistan. Since 1999, there have been several terrorist attacks in Uzbekistan, and most of the groups involved in those attacks had links to Afghanistan's Taliban and the Al-Qaeda terrorist network.

After September 11, 2001, Uzbekistan let U.S. forces use the Khanabad base for operations in Afghanistan but later ordered them out in response to U.S. criticism over Uzbek troops' use of deadly force against protesters in Andijon in May 2005.

Another base at Termez, used by German forces as part of NATO's Afghan efforts, remained opened and just last week the U.S. ambassador to Uzbekistan revealed that U.S. troops are also using the Termez base "on a case-by-case basis."

Uzbekistan appears to be courting better ties with the West again, particularly with the United States. The reasons are fairly clear.

Karimov's regime is tenacious in its pursuit of Islamic militants, casting a wide net that rights groups say often catches more innocents than militants. Some neighboring countries have even accused Uzbek security forces of hunting militants on their territory. This seemingly relentless pursuit has made Karimov's regime the main target of many Central Asian extremist groups.

Common Goals?

There are limits to how far Uzbek security can roam. It's in this sense that NATO -- and the United States, in particular -- is useful to Tashkent.

Most remnants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the leading militant group seeking to overthrow Karimov, are now in Pakistan's tribal areas. That has put them out of reach of Uzbek forces -- but not of unmanned U.S. Predator drones.

Several Uzbek militants in the Pakistani tribal area of Waziristan have been killed this year alone in strikes by Predator drones.

Coincidentally or not, the first such strike came on January 29, less than a week after Admiral William Fallon, then head of U.S. Central Command, met with Karimov in Tashkent. That strike, which killed senior Al-Qaeda commander Abu Laith al-Libi, came two days before the first U.S. troops reportedly used the Termez base.

Neither NATO nor Uzbekistan views the other as an ideal partner, but Tashkent cannot deny that the alliance is working against some of the same militants that want to attack the Uzbek regime. Likewise, NATO clearly sees Central Asia as a potential boon for its Afghan operations.

And while the Uzbek government has been reestablishing military ties with Russia, including recently rejoining the Russian-led CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization, policymakers in Tashkent remember that when the IMU first appeared in 1999, it was Russian border guards in Tajikistan who carried them by helicopter into Taliban-held Afghanistan as part of a quick-fix deal to stop fighting.

Talking Turkmenistan

As for Turkmenistan, MacLeod suggests that part of the reason Berdymukhammedov will attend the summit is as part of his bid to lift Ashgabat from the isolation left by his late predecessor, former Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov.

Part of that isolation was founded on the principle of Turkmenistan's never being a member of a military alliance, though ironically Ashgabat in 1994 became the first Central Asian state to sign on to NATO's Partnership for Peace program.

Several days before the summit, Berdymukhammedov said he wants Ashgabat included in NATO peacekeeping efforts. He recalled that Turkmenistan has UN-recognized status as a neutral country, which makes it well suited to host peace talks in a region where conflicts are on the rise. That would clearly boost the Turkmen president's bid to improve Ashgabat's international image and reduce its isolation.

Berdymukhammedov has also been listening to offers for alternative export routes for Turkmen natural gas. While the NATO summit will focus on security, it’s reasonable to think the Turkmen leader may also discuss pipeline deals with European leaders on the sidelines of the Bucharest gathering.