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Uzbek President Flies Oligarch Airways To UN General Assembly


Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev (left) and Uzbek-born Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov (composite file photo)

When Shavkat Mirziyoev flew to New York to address the UN General Assembly, he didn't take Uzbekistan's official presidential plane. Instead, he flew on the private Airbus A340-313 of Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov.

Okay, who wouldn't want to fly on a reportedly $350 million personal plane of a mega tycoon?

But the trip adds to the number of incidents where Mirziyoev has shirked convention when it comes to his presidency.

First, a presidential plane generally has an abundance of specialized systems, among them a secure communications system to keep in contact with key government officials back home.

Presumably the jet airliner of Usmanov does not have a secure line to Tashkent.

I'll admit that I have no way of knowing that for sure and considering Usmanov's greatly increased connections to Uzbekistan in recent months, I'm *really* not sure.

More about that later.

Presidential 'Inheritance'

Mirziyoev's trip to New York aboard Usmanov's plane is also interesting because it's not the first time Mirziyoev has passed on using the presidential "inheritance."

Mirziyoev's decision to turn the presidential palace of his predecessor, Islam Karimov, into a museum for Karimov made some sense, but Mirziyoev's accompanying announcement that he would be living in a new presidential palace, still under construction, made less sense considering he has promised to jump-start Uzbekistan's lethargic economy. Before he can do that, apparently, he needs to spend tens of millions of dollars on a new home.

Far stranger is Mirziyoev's decision to dispense with using the Uzbek presidential security service and apparently put his son-in-law Atabek Shakhanov in charge of presidential security.

Strange, that is, if you don't believe the rumors there is something wrong between Mirziyoev and the head of Uzbekistan's National Security Service (SNB), Rustam Inoyatov.

This would be a good time to mention that the Uzbek presidential plane is under the control of the SNB.

Back to Usmanov's plane. Usmanov, in an indirect way, is related to Mirziyoev.

Mirziyoev's niece, Diyora, was married to Usmanov's nephew. The nephew, Babur Usmanov, died in a car crash in Tashkent in 2013.

Probably not a close enough familial connection to earn a trip on a $350-million plane normally, but Alisher Usmanov, after many years, is stepping up his presence in his homeland.

Usmanov was born in the town of Chust, in Uzbekistan's eastern Namangan Province in 1953. But after the Soviet Union collapsed in late 1991, Usmanov chose to live in Russia, where he was amassing a fortune.

After Karimov died and Mirziyoev took power in September 2016, Usmanov took a new interest in Uzbekistan.

Usmanov's plane was seen at Tashkent airport several times in the weeks after Karimov's death.

Russian Influence

There has been speculation that not only Usmanov's interests brought him back to Uzbekistan; perhaps Russia's interests were at work here as well.

Usmanov would be an excellent channel of communications between Moscow and Tashkent.

Karimov was always suspicious of Russia and tried to the best of his ability to limit Russian influence in Uzbekistan.

Mirziyoev (center) meets with Usmanov in the presence of Russian President Vladimir Putin (right).
Mirziyoev (center) meets with Usmanov in the presence of Russian President Vladimir Putin (right).

During Karimov's 25 years as Uzbekistan's leader, Usmanov did not exhibit much interest in playing any role there.

So, it is interesting that once Mirziyoev became Uzbekistan's leader, Usmanov reappeared in Uzbekistan.

For example, Usmanov vowed in May to pay for development of the ancient Silk Road city of Bukhara to help boost tourism in Uzbekistan, a project that will cost at least tens of millions of dollars.

Why now and not years ago?

Maybe just coincidence.

And maybe there is nothing unusual about a billionaire living in Russia loaning his multimillion-dollar jet plane to his niece-in-law's uncle-by-marriage (Diyora is from Mirziyoev's wife's side of the family) to fly to address the UN.

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service Director Alisher Sidikov and Khurmat Babadjanov of the Uzbek Service contributed to this report.
The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change. Content will draw on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad. The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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