Following his sidelining of several key ministers — Elyor G’aniev first among them — by creating alternative advisory and supervisory bodies, interim President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has been actively seeking new allies to support his fledging government. Mr. Mirziyoyev has recently alienated a number of key players in Uzbekistani politics and has had trouble finding supporters outside of the Senate and his Deputy Prime Ministers. He has secured the right to the nomination for the O’zbekiston Liberal Demokratik Partiyasi, but this is not secure and he will need more supporters than Mr. Azimov and Mr. Yo’ldashev if Mr. Mirziyoyev genuinely intents to win the Presidential elections. Facing a lack of new supporters at home — most ministers and the security organs appear prepared to wait it out for another few weeks before backing a candidate for the Presidency— Mr. Mizriyoyev has turned to the leadership of other post‐Soviet states to endorse his succession to the Uzbekistani presidency.
Within days of his election as interim President, Mr. Mirziyoyev announced his foreign policy intentions in a speech before the Oliy Majlis. This speech, the companion to a statement on the domestic policy of his interim administration, primarily focused on continuity with the policies and goals of Karimov government; repeating verbatim a number of foreign policy positions and ideas developed by Mr. Karimov and Mr. Kalimov. At the same time, however, the speech emphasized the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) as the priority area of Uzbekistani foreign policy, whereas it had not been so under President Karimov. In specifically promising to focus on the CIS, Mr. Mirziyoyev is making overtures to Russian interests in Central Asia. This statement of intent could be empty words, but it follows several meetings between Mr. Mirziyoyev and high ranking Russian officials — including Prime Minister Medvedev, and President Putin — and a new memorandum of cooperation between Gazprom and Uzbekneftegaz, indicating that Mr. Mirziyoyev at least intents to try and court confidence from other leaders in the post‐Soviet sphere.
Mr. Mirziyoyev has also attempted to patch up Uzbekistan’s fractured relationship with the Kyrgyz Republic, which has reached another period of particular tension beginning with Uzbekistani incursions into disputed reservoirs in late August and continuing through the term of Mr. Karimov’s illness with the occupation of the disputed Ungar‐Too hilltop and radio facility in the Farg’ona Valley by Uzbekistani security forces. In an apparent vow to avoid such jingoistic and pointless seizure of territory in the future, Mr. Mirziyoyev promised on 15 September to “restart” relations with the Kyrgyz Republic, the terms of which were apparently flushed out during the telephone call between the leaders on 17 September. This promise was realized on 19 September, when Uzbekistani border troops withdrew from the Ungar‐Too hilltop and reopened borders with neighboring countries. Interesting, announcements regarding the deal were only released on the 19th, indicating that there was at least some resentment of the decision among the MXX and likely from the intensely nationalist Commander of the border guards, Maj. Gen. Rustam Eminjanov. This delay again hints towards the suspicion that Mr. Mirziyoyev is not in full command of the country and will require more time and experience in leadership before being able to act without consensus.
Whether Mr. Mirziyoyev’s overtures of a new leaf in Uzbekistan’s often tense relationship with its neighbors come to fruition remains to be seen, but both Russia and the Kyrgyz Republic have shown signs of being receptive to a friendlier Uzbekistan. Despite nationalist rhetorical from activists and politicians at home, President Atambayev has managed to avoid the mistake of trying to capitalize on President Karimov’s death by trying seize disputed territories, emphasizing continued friendship with Mr. Mirziyoyev. It is still too early to tell, however, if Kyrgyz or Russian support for Mr. Mirziyoyev will be strong enough to replace absent domestic support. Both Mr. Atambayev and Mr. Putin may prove to be fair weather friends should his domestic position be challenged, as they are likely more interested in good relations with the Republic of Uzbekistan, than with one amongst four men who might end up running the country.
Islom Karimov’s prestige in Uzbekistan was largely based on his ability to successfully direct foreign policy, which was a field essentially dominated by the Presidency. Accordingly, to fulfill his campaign promise of continuity of the Karimov government, Mr. Mirziyoyev must demonstrate that he is equally capable of orchestrating the conditions for Uzbekistan’s future great position in the world. Compared to other candidates, therefore, foreign policy issues are of premier importance to the interim President, as a major setback or foreign policy failure could cripple his popularity among voters and potentially cost him the election. Mr. Mirziyoyev, therefore, has to play a two level game of the utmost difficulty, balancing between an obligation to to advance Uzbekistani interests abroad —which will antagonize almost of Uzbekistan’s neighbors and may cause them to support a rival candidate to the presidency — and a need to appease regional powers —which will be seen as weak domestically and potentially mark Mr. Mirziyoyev as unworthy of carrying on Islom Karimov’s legacy of a strong Uzbekistan.
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