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.
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.
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.