With a helping hand from South Korea, the United States has reestablished a strategic presence in Uzbekistan – sort of. The development provides a boost for US efforts to press an offensive against Islamic militants in Afghanistan, and offers evidence that Russia’s influence in Central Asia is waning.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov revealed on May 11 that a cargo airport in the city of Navoi is already being used for the airborne transport of NATO non-lethal supplies destined for coalition forces in Afghanistan. The announcement coincided with a state visit by South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak. South Korea is overseeing a major renovation at Navoi airport that will turn the facility into a world-class air freight hub.
South Korea’s involvement in the project provides a face-saving way for the resumption of US-Uzbek strategic cooperation, capping over a year of US diplomatic efforts to bridge the rift that opened amid the fallout from the 2005 Andijan massacre. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Karimov evicted US forces from an air base in Karshi Khanabad in late 2005 as a response to US protests over his administration’s handling of the Andijan events.
The Uzbek-South Korean agreement regarding Navoi airport gives Karimov the ability to deny to Moscow that he has cut a deal with the United States. But at the same time, Washington stands to get what it needs – a transit base that can take over much of the load from the American base in Kyrgyzstan, which is scheduled to close this summer.
I’m not a huge fan of the current NATO mission in Afghanistan, so I can’t really celebrate this, per se. That said, what I think of Afghanistan doesn’t really matter — as long as the US and its NATO partners are going to prosecute this war, this is good news.
Read the rest of the article on your own.
(Big tip of the hat to Korea Economic Reader)