Spy trial in Uzbekistan reflects country’s growing distance from Russia

By Sara Ishonova


President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is getting rid of 'Russian lobbyists' in the government and military, say Uzbek analysts. Uzbek troops are shown in an undated photo. [Uzbek Defence Ministry]

TASHKENT -- The ongoing trial of a political analyst and a number of military personnel on charges of spying for Moscow marks an effort by the Uzbek government to rid itself of Russian influence, say observers.

The Yunusabad District Criminal Court in Tashkent February 10 conducted the second session of the closed trial of Rafik Saifulin, 61, a political analyst and former director of Institute for Strategic and Interregional Studies under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan (ISISPRU), a Tashkent think-tank, and of 10 military personnel, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported.

As part of their alleged treason, the defendants spied for Moscow, disclosed state secrets and committed other crimes, say prosecutors.

The identities of three of the military defendants are known. They are Akbar Yarbabayev, administrative director of the military Joint Staff; his wife, Yelena; and Vladimir Kaloshin, a retired lieutenant colonel and a correspondent for the Defence Ministry newspaper, "Vatanparvar" ("Patriot").

The government is withholding the names of the other defendants because the trial is closed and relates to state secrets.

The date of the next session of the trial was not disclosed.

Pro-Russian views

Saifulin worked in the KGB in Soviet times. After Uzbekistan gained independence, he worked at the Uzbek State Committee for Forecasting and Statistics.

He later headed ISISPRU.

He often advocated for the rapprochement of Uzbekistan with Russia in his analyses, confirmed sources close to Siafulin.

Kamoliddin Rabbimov, an Uzbek political analyst who previously worked at ISISPRU, said he personally knew Saifulin when he led the think-tank.

"Saifulin was a very strong specialist, but he had pro-Russian views," said Rabbimov.

Rabbimov himself fled to France in 2007 after being surveilled by Uzbek secret service agents.

During the past 15 years, Saifulin positioned himself as an independent analyst, and he was often sought out as a consultant by both Western and Eastern embassies, said another source, a friend of Saifulin who wished to stay anonymous.

However, for the past seven years he had been working closely with Aleksandr Knyazyev, an independent political analyst in Russia who propagates anti-Western rhetoric, the source said.

Saifulin had significant clout in Uzbekistan and would not have been arrested without compelling evidence, the source added.

The source noted that espionage is the transmission of secret information to another state, adding he suspects that Yarbabayev provided information to Saifulin, who acted as a liaison to Russian intelligence agencies.

Distance from Russia

As a former officer of the Soviet KGB, Saifulin was a product of the Soviet system and Soviet ideology, Alisher Taksanov, former Uzbek diplomat and economist, told Current Time.

During the rule of Islam Karimov, who was either Communist leader or president from 1989 to 2016, observers like Saifulin regularly recommended that Uzbekistan involve itself in different projects with the Russian regime, helping Uzbekistan's integration into Kremlin-led organisations and at the same time weakening Uzbek independence, he said.

"It is possible that our president has realised the danger these people can cause to the country and decided to get rid of Russian lobbyists," Taksanov said.

Uzbekistan's guiding principle is to preserve its independence, said Farhad Tolipov, director of the Tashkent-based think tank Caravan of Knowledge.

He made his remarks after Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev on January 20 announced that Uzbekistan would not sign on to the Russia-dominated Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).

Most global think tanks and leading analysts of Central Asia underscore the importance of maintaining and bolstering the independence of the region's countries so they can develop actively, he said.

"Analysts highlight the fact that Russia is setting its sights on bringing the post-Soviet region back into its sphere of dominance and influence, which undermines the independence of the Central Asian countries," Tolipov said.

Do you like this article?

23 Comment(s)

Comment Policy * Denotes Required Field 1500 / 1500

You Uzbeks are a made-up ethnicity invented by the Russian communists in 1925; you have to kiss Putin's ... [butt] He gives you jobs in Russia. All Uzbek guest workers - thieves, thugs, extremists and drug dealers - should be kicked out of Russia. Let them go home, enjoy their independence and die of starvation in their impoverished country. Boycott all Uzbek products in Russia. Uzbek goods aren't competitive outside of Uzbekistan; kick out all Uzbek students studying in Russia. Uzbeks are begging the West for a pittance with the "Spy case" and their Arab masters from Mecca (S. Arabia), too - that's what dictator I. Karimov used to do every so often; now it's the new one... He is following the same path thinking he's gonna get a load of money for that


Russia won't teach anyone to do anything bad. How many villages do you have? 10,000? There's nothing to talk about; we have destroyed 18,000 villages here in Russia. Beautiful! State-owned plants and factories? Sell them out abroad right away and destroy everything that nobody buys! We have 85,000 of those lying around in shambles, but that's okay! Do you have aircraft registered in Uzbekistan? Ah, come on! The Bahamas - that's where we register our planes. You need to fix that immediately!


Such people who bite the feeding hand and who are enimy of the nation must be shot to death.


Independence means a government that defends only the interests of its own state and a people who understands the word 'motherland' and feels a connection to it. All other problems can be solved.


In any case, no one should interfere with internal affairs of Uzbekistan; punishment for spies is inevitable


Feel sorry for the Uzbeks. It is starting all over again! Had Uzbekistan joined the EEU under Karimov, petroleum and energy products would have gone up to Kazakhstan's level, plus fruits and vegetables. Russia is the best market. Plus the job market. Uzbekistan's army won't be happy without Russia if the Americans pull out of Afghanistan.




By decreasing cooperation with a maligned country like Russia the Uzbek leadership is acting wisely and sagaciously. They most likely understood what that country is like in real life.


You should see a doctor, although it's likely not going to do you any good


Everyone realizes what kind of country Russia is, so go get your head treated


Uzbekistan's economic independence benefits business monopolists instead of the country itself. In real life, speculation about going down an independent path have one common purpose - maintaining those businesses at a super-profitable level, partly due to the imports monopolized by certain families as well as the local "giants" seizing the niche of "local production." That's why Uzbekistan never joins common markets, because that would let those same Russian manufacturers, for instance, into the local market and lead to at least a 50% drop in import prices, which would mean significant losses for the ruling business families. Generally speaking, that about covers all the secrets in Uzbekistan secrets, which are now leading to spooky criminal case fabrications against Safiulin and his friends.


It's no secret that the EEU is another option of the "U-s" and other routines that Ruthenia is trying to push to get dollars they need for bribery abroad.


Russia is getting weaker and weaker


.......and more and more dangerous.


On TV.


Are there many Russian spies in Uzbekistan?


There are already a few less spies


It depends on the purchasing power that Ruthenia has. There are now no dollar or gold limits on that


With whom can we cooperate, Russia is bad, Kazakhstan is bad, Kyrgyzstan is bad, Tajikistan is bad, so please tell us dear sirs with whom??? Do countries around us think same about us? Are you any good? Cut yourself first and then the others!!!


Spies should do twenty-five-year sentences. He knew what he was signing up for! So do your time!


They are also entitled to dollar-denominated and other allowances. Before they go to jail.


Uzbek citizenship should be revoked for all pro-Russian agents, and they should be kicked out of the country


Then they will start playing dirty tricks from underneath the Throne