Uzbekistan — Buyuk kelajak bo'lgan Davlat!

This blog is dedicated to providing rigorous analysis of current events in Uzbekistan. Debate and criticism are welcome, please inform me if you would like to offer a correction.


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Islamic Extremism and the Uzbeks

Uzbekistan has both a long and uncomfortable relationship with political Islam, recognizing to some degree the importance and political value of Islam in the creation of an Uzbek state separate from Russia, yet avowedly resisting Islamist strains of thought in contemporary politics. Most resistance to Russian conquest, beginning in the 1850s, was at least partially Islamist in nature: almost all groups fighting Russian influence justified their use of violence at least partially through Islamic jihadincorporated Islamic symbolism and motif into their rhetoric and propaganda, and depended on religious orders — most famously the Naqshbandi brotherhood — for logistics, support, and new recruits. These forms of semi-nationalist, semi-religious conflict — continuing throughout the period of Russian colonialism until the power of Sufi brotherhoods and rural landed elites was finally broken by the Toshkent Soviet and the radical reorganization of rural life — bear little resemblance to the modern internationalist forms of Islamic radicalism. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), Al-Qaeda, and others follow variations of an ideology broadly understood as takfiri Islam, which focuses on the responsibility of the faithful to convert or kill heretics and the sinful, referred to broadly as kuffar; this approach justifies the extreme violence of these groups towards those they view as kuffar. This form of Islamic radicalism, compared to that common during the 19th Century, is avowedly anti-nationalist and actively encourages the displacement of the borders and traditional government institutions which more traditionalist extremist groups might try to preserve or restore.

I write about Uzbek jihadists now, not out of idle interest, but because increasing numbers of Uzbeks are traveling to Iraq and Syria to join other misguided youths in jihad. Some international observers and media pundits have claimed that this demonstrates a failure on the part of the Uzbekistani government to prevent its youth from being radicalized, and in particular blamed the tight control of Islamic practice by the State Committee on Religious Issues for the surprising numbers of Uzbeks joining ISIS and Al-Qaeda. These statements are utterly misplaced and constitute a fundamental misunderstanding of the demographics of Uzbek radicalization. Almost all Uzbeks are radicalized while living abroad, and those who travel to engage in jihad almost always move through third countries to do so. If anything, Russia and the West should be looking towards Uzbekistan for inspiration about how to deter their own jihadis.
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Uzbekistan and Russia Struggle for Leverage in Gas for Investment Deal

On 5 April, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and President Vladimir Putin both emerged from the Kremlin declaring the complete success of Mr. Mirziyoyev’s first trip to Russia, the crowning jewels of which are a series of trade and investment agreements totaling $15.8 billion and a framework for the joint development of Uzbekistani gas and oil reserves. It is likely, however, that when the two smiling leaders left the Kremlin they rejoiced with two very different understandings of the arrangement that these documents created. The statements made by President Putin on 5 April make it clear that he understood most of the investment promised to be focused on the profitable oil and gas sectors, with Uzbekistan receiving investment so that the quasi-private clique of bureaucrats and businessmen who control energy markets in Eurasia can make fortunes by opening Uzbekistani oil and gas fields up to the world market. President Mirziyoyev, on the other hand, has emphasized elements of the agreement focusing on development projects and Russian investment in unprofitable areas of the economy, like agriculture, basic infrastructure, and manufacturing. How this investment money is spent will set the tone for Uzbekistani development during the Mirziyoyev administration, as it will test the resolve of Uzbekistani government to prioritize long-term development planning over the parochial interests of domestic elites and against Russian pressure. While petrochemicals still make up the core of the deal, as well as recent Uzbekistani agreements with Beijing, how the billions of rubles remaining are spent comes down to the commitment of the Mirziyoyev government to guide Uzbekistan on its own path.
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The Prospects for South Ossetian Integration

On October 21, President Leonid Tibilov of the Republic of South Ossetia — an ethnically distinct region of Georgia which declared independence during the collapse of the USSR — has announced his tiny nation of 50,000 will hold a referendum on applying to join the Russian Federation. Many deride this move as an expression of Russian neoimperialism at its worst, but in all likelihood this is a move driven by the Ossetians. To understand the eagerness of Tskhinvali and the apprehension of Moscow on the issue of unification — or “re-unification” as many Ossetian politicians refer to it — we have to understand the unique history of the region and the reasons for Russian involvement there.

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The Failures of Cold War Attitudes in the Handling of the Ukrainian Crisis

The ceasefire agreement signed on September 5th is more maintained by a stalemate between Pro-Russian militias and Ukrainian security forces than by combatants actually obeying the truce. Largely due to the influx of Russian arms, armor, and troops, Pro-Russian forces have halted the Ukrainian advance. The Ukrainian forces have switched to defensive positions, columns of Russian tanks and APVs continue to move throughout the rebellious territory, and supplies for rebels reportedly flood through the uncontrolled border. Although such an obvious effect barely deserves mention, those who bear the main brunt of the War in Donbass are civilians; shelling continues to kill civilians and damage key infrastructure in Mariupol, Donetsk, and Luhansk. Despite the additional measures passed following its most recent summit in Wales, NATO can look upon the situation in Eastern Ukraine and say that it has lost. Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian president, has accepted a peace deal proposed by Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, that leaves the Donbass under the administration of Novorossiya, amounting to de facto Russian control. Russia still controls of Crimea and Sevastopol, amidst reports of human rights abuses against the Tatar community there. All of the goals of Western intervention in Ukraine have been lost: Civilian casualties remain high in the East, valuable infrastructure has been destroyed in Ukrainian’s most industrialized region, Ukraine remains corrupt and oligarchical, and Ukrainian sovereignty continues to be violated in both the Crimean peninsula and the Donbass. Mr. Putin’s goals in Ukraine have been accomplished, as the country is destabilized, Crimean and Sevastopol remain Russian possessions, and they control the Donbass through a combination of direct military force and a supplicant rebel administration. Looking back, NATO and the West can learn from its own mistakes that led to Mr. Putin’s strategic victory in Ukraine.
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