TASHKENT -- Uzbekistan is staying out of the Russian-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), a top official said, even as Moscow seeks to expand its influence by exaggerating security threats.
Uzbek presidential spokesman Sherzod Asadov made the country's position clear at a July 12 briefing ahead of a high-level international conference that brought US and regional officials to Tashkent on July 15 and 16.
"Uzbekistan is not reviewing the question of rejoining the CSTO," he said, according to UzDaily.
During the "Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity, Challenges and Opportunities" conference, participants agreed to form a new quadrilateral diplomatic platform focused on enhancing regional connectivity.
The co-operation is the latest sign that Uzbekistan is turning towards the West.
Uzbekistan has had a difficult relationship with the CSTO, a Russian-led military bloc that includes six former Soviet republics: Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Belarus and Armenia.
It joined the CSTO in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union but withdrew in 1999. It returned in 2006 but left again in 2012.
The relationship was strained from the start, the BBC's Russian service reported in 2012, around the time Uzbekistan wanted to withdraw its membership. Even that process was difficult, with the bloc requiring a six-month notice.
For many years, Tashkent refused to participate in CSTO military exercises and objected to using collective forces to regulate the situation in Afghanistan, preferring to rely on bilateral agreements.
No need for CSTO membership
Uzbekistan's decision to withdraw from the CSTO was related to Tashkent's foreign policy guidelines, Tajik Foreign Ministry then-spokesman Vafo Niyatbekov told the BBC's Russian service at the time.
Uzbek authorities saw no reason to expect domestic instability, he said, and upon exiting the CSTO figured they could try to cultivate rapprochement with the West.
Uzbekistan has sufficient military capabilities and absent the CSTO copes well with security threats, including those emanating from Afghanistan, said Farhad Tolipov, director of the Tashkent-based research institute Caravan of Knowledge.
"The past 30 years have shown that Central Asia has no special need for the CSTO," he said. "It's time for Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to leave this military bloc as well, as Uzbekistan did."
The CSTO is more about self-interested Russian posturing and geopolitical intrigues than about actually protecting its members from external threats, Tolipov said.
Even though in theory the CSTO is an organisation of equal partners, he said, Moscow makes unilateral decisions within the bloc.
Tolipov pointed to popular protests last summer in Belarus, during which Russian President Vladimir Putin offered for the CSTO "to help resolve problems" for his authoritarian Belarusian counterpart Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
"Why does Putin decide for the entire CSTO? Did the other members of the military bloc also express their 'readiness'?" Tolipov said.
Russia's regional ambitions
Russian authorities have continued to push for a strengthening of the CSTO.
In a July editorial on the website of the Moscow-based Institute of International Political and Economic Strategies (RUSSTRAT), Russian State Duma member and RUSSTRAT director Elena Panina pointed to threats emerging from Afghanistan.
"Even if the Taliban (an organisation banned in Russia) really fulfil their promises to confine their activities strictly to within their country's borders, the process of consolidating power at home will still inevitably produce a large number of refugees, not all of whom will turn out to be simple, peaceful farmers," she said.
To ensure regional security, the armed forces of CSTO member states should be "strictly subordinated to the Russian general staff", she said, with "draconian measures to raise the level of their combat and tactical training".
Panina's editorial drew sharp criticism among stakeholders in CSTO member states.
"Russia wants to 'strictly subordinate' our army to itself," said Bishkek resident Altynbek Kaparov. "This is more of a threat to our national security than even the Taliban are."
Moscow is pursuing its geopolitical interests in the region, which aim to limit the sovereignty of the region's states and make them dependent on Russia, turning them into its satellites, say analysts.
Russia is trying to use convenient pretexts, such as this year's Kyrgyz-Tajik border conflict or the perennial Afghan threat, to create additional military bases in the region, according to Yuri Poyta, head of the Asia-Pacific Section of the Centre for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Such an effort could yield big dividends for Russia, he said.
A base in Batken province, Kyrgyzstan, for example, could help Russia establish control over smuggling and drug trafficking in Central Asia, he said, noting that the Kremlin obviously has bigger goals.
"The deployment of an additional Russian military unit in Central Asia could become a lever for strengthening Moscow's influence on the governments of these republics, as well as on neighbouring Uzbekistan," Poyta said.
Nobody invites him thereReply
Long live Uzbekistan, we must unite with our Turkish speaking brothers! TURON!Reply
You fools! When push comes to shove, it's going to be too late to run to PutinReply
We, Uzbek sons will protect Uzbekistan, we do not need Russia. We will DIE FOR OUR MOTHERLAND.Reply
Heh, people, you're so naïve :) Time will tell. May Allah make you never need the CSTO.Reply
We don't need this type of organization at all.Reply
Uzbekistan has enough strength and military power to deal with all the Taliban militants in Afghanistan. This state has more capabilities than other neighboring countries. That's why I can lightheartedly say that this country can easily defeat the Taliban and other biological waste. These words are my personal opinion and reaction to your comment.Reply
It's a waste of moneyReply
We don't need this type of scammer organization.Reply
In reality, the CSTO has existed only on paper all these years; its work focuses on various meaningless summits and meetings that add nothing new to the CSTO. At the same time, the CSTO has a deterrent effect in light of the permanently existing idea of unification, making the united Turkic world, under the auspices of Turkey, strive to lead in this sphere. The vision will expeditiously materialise if the CSTO is abolished. Along with Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries, Uzbekistan will be in the hostile camp, not friends with Russia. As a result, figures such as Farhad Tolipov, director of the Tashkent-based research institute Caravan of Knowledge, are emerging in the political arena. He believes offering help from the CSTO was a unilateral decision. But he fails to mention that only the collective body approves the final decision. In the Belarusian case, there's a major conflict between dishing out Belarus to the West, as it happened with Ukraine, or keeping it in the Slavic world. It's essential for the development of the Slavic world and, generally, Eastern civilisation. No doubt, Uzbekistan will turn to Russia when in real peril. But as a possible result of the final post-Soviet collapse, there could be a period when Russia doesn't give a damn for Uzbekistan and other former Soviet republics.Reply
Let every party decide for itself. Don't frighten people using external adversaries. You look after the Slavic world just as we look after the Turkic world!Reply
We must not let Russia in... We will fight with enemies until our last drop of blood... Enough that Russians were controlling us for such a long time...Reply
Russia is planning to move on the same platform as former Soviet era, USSR, and wants to do this slowly. Joining CSTO will cost us a lot. I think that our Uzbekistan will not become dependent either in military nor in political fields. We have everything set in order.Reply
You nailed itReply
Uzbekistan has a very good army, it can protect itselfReply
[Uzbekistan] has everything it needs to fight its enemiesReply
Uzbekistan needs the CSTO like a hole in the head.Reply
All right, folks. Good luck, everyoneReply
God willing, everything will be okay. Otherwise, I don't care franklyReply
That is the worst thing. Indifference.Reply
How many external adversaries does Uzbekistan have, and how many Russia has? Do these statistics mean anything?Reply
We need to reduce the influence of RussiaReply
In other words, Moscow is trying to expand its influence by exaggerating security threats in the region ;)Reply
Russia is not the country that did good to Uzbekistan. History is proof to thisReply
We must study history much betterReply
The CSTO is a structure that only protects Russia. Its main purpose is to protect Russia's interests to the detriment those held by other CSTO countries.Reply
Get as far away from Putin's Russia as you can.Reply
The CSTO guarantees stability in Central AsiaReply
I support Uzbekistan! It's time for Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to steer clear from the Russian influence and pursue independent policies.Reply
Where Russia is, there is always war and poverty.Reply
The chickens have come home to roostReply
Get as far away from Russia as you can. Nothing good will come out of that. They are flirting with the Taliban to influence Uzbekistan and its neighbours instead.Reply
Steer clear of Russia. Where Russia is, there is always hunger, poverty, and bloodshed.Reply
Why do we need this useless CSTO? Cooperation with the USA is better.Reply
Russia is an aggressor, and it will remain one as long as Putin is in control. Uzbekistan cannot be a satellite. Uzbekistan must be the leader of Central Asia.Reply
Of course we have absolute right for itReply