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Uzbek, Russian Presidents Call For Political Stability In Kyrgyzstan


Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (right) exchanges documents with Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov in Moscow.
(RFE/RL) -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has met with his Uzbek counterpart, Islam Karimov, in Moscow for talks seen as an attempt to boost bilateral ties.

But recent developments in Kyrgyzstan appear to have taken a great part in the discussions.

Karimov, who has ruled Uzbekistan since the Soviet era, is the first Central Asian leader to visit Moscow since an uprising in Kyrgyzstan ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiev earlier this month.

Speaking today at a joint news conference at the Kremlin, Medvedev called for "political stability" in Kyrgyzstan and expressed hope that the country’s interim leadership will take all the necessary measures to restore governance.

"Anarchy in this case will deal a heavy blow to the interests of the people of Kyrgyzstan and the interests of their neighbors," Medvedev said.

Medvedev called for elections in Kyrgyzstan in order to "replace the de facto rule" and allow the development of "full-fledged economic cooperation" with Russia.

Bakiev rose to power in the aftermath of nationwide demonstrations in 2005 that forced his predecessor Askar Akaev into exile. He was forced out in the wake of deadly antigovernment protests in Bishkek.

Karimov, who has ruled Uzbekistan since Soviet times, condemned the deposition of any legitimate leadership.

"Everything that is taking place in Kyrgyzstan today -- there is a real danger that these processes may become permanent," Karimov said

"In 2005, when it all happened, that created a precedent, which is in fact contagious, and there is an illusion that it is very easy to depose any leadership or government that is perfectly legitimate."

Both Russia and the United States have offered support to the new Kyrgyz leadership, while the Uzbek state-controlled media were largely silent as the revolt unfolded in Kyrgyzstan.

Karimov's Moscow trip was scheduled before Bakiev's ouster.

Sanobar Shermatova, a Moscow-based expert on Central Asia, tells RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that Karimov came to Moscow to improve the level of bilateral relations following cracks in this relationship.

"Over the past one or two years, the balance of the relationship was disrupted. As proof of that, the relations worsened and in some instances were even frozen," Shermatova says.

"For instance, there has been a great number of publications in the Russian press criticizing Uzbekistan and the Uzbek leadership. I think the time has come to increase the level of relations and settle issues and problems that have arisen between the two countries."

Balancing East, West

Following a storm of Western criticism that erupted after a deadly government crackdown on protesters in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon in 2005, Uzbekistan turned toward Russia for international partnership.

An air base at Karshi-Khanabad in southeastern Uzbekistan, which had been leased to the U.S. military to ensure supplies for its operations in Afghanistan, was closed.

And Tashkent began entering Russian-led regional groups that it had previous shunned, including the Eurasian Economic Community (Eurasec) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

But Tashkent has since suspended its membership in Eurasec and scaled back its participation in the CSTO, voicing objections to putting its troops under CSTO command.

Meanwhile, ties with Washington have improved, with U.S. military dignitaries regularly visiting the Uzbek capital, Tashkent. The latest to do so was the head of U.S. Central Command, General David Petraeus, who met with Karimov earlier this month.

Artyom Ulunyan, a professor at the Universal History Institute of the Russian Academy of Science, says the uprising in Kyrgyzstan created an opportunity for Russia to warn Tashkent against a worsening of ties.

Ulunyan says that the Russian and Uzbek leaders were expected to discuss military cooperation, adding that Russia wants to make sure Tashkent does not increase cooperation with the West.

"The problems of energy and water supplies are of course very important. But right now, all the attention is on Kyrgyzstan and on the policies that its new leadership will follow, including on issues of military-technical cooperation with the United States and Russia and on the presence of the U.S. military base [near Bishkek]," Ulunyan says.

"It's not a secret that this is one of the biggest concerns that Moscow regularly brings up. This concerns Uzbekistan too. Will Uzbekistan agree to more cooperation with the Euro-Atlantic community or not?”

Finding Common Ground

Meanwhile, Andrei Grozin, the head of the Central Asia department at the Institute of CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) Countries in Moscow, says that Karimov will try to gain Russian support in its disputes with its Tajik and Kyrgyz neighbors.

Moscow has angered Tashkent by promising financial aid to help Kyrgyzstan complete the Kambarata hydropower plant. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan also are at odds over the construction of the massive Roghun hydroelectric power plant.

Tashkent complains that the additional hydropower plants will reduce the amount of water Uzbekistan receives from its neighbors for agricultural irrigation.

On April 19, about 20 protesters gathered at Moscow's Novokuznyetskaya subway station and held signs reading slogan such as: "Bakiev today, Karimov tomorrow." According to Shermatova, the Russian authorities wanted to send a message by allowing the rally.

"It is not common for Russia to allow a protest during a visit by a leader of a friendly country. But it's very symbolic; it shows that there are problems between the two countries," Shermatova says.

"And Russia wants to show that problems exist, [and that] it is waiting for concessions from Islam Karimov."

written by Antoine Blua, with contributions from RFE/RL's Uzbek Service and agency reports

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