Spetsnaz to Karshi-Khanabad?

by Nathan Hamm on 8/8/2005 · 6 comments

As with the story that US troops at K2 may go to Azerbaijan, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports that Russian soldiers (who they say have been in Uzbekistan for a month already) will take over Karshi-Khanabad when the US leaves. This story has much more detail than the Azerbaijan one though, and says that the Russians moved in fast to keep China from taking a shot at moving in.

As the editor-in-chief of an Uzbek news agency Fergana Daniil Kislov told the paper, “several hundreds of Russian servicemen — presumably spetsnaz troops of airborne commandos — remain at a former geological exploration airbase near the military installation, wear civilian clothes and try not to get in touch with local people without urgent need”.

At times though, the story also suggests that the Russians will simply oversee the transfer of the base to the Uzbeks to make sure that all of the infrastructure improvements remain intact.

However, Uzbek diplomats and Russian Defense Ministry officials neither confirmed nor dismissed the report, but a military source that wished to remain anonymous said in an interview with the daily that Russian troops will oversee the handover of Karshi-Khanabad airbase…

“Americans expected they would stay there forever, and were setting aside a lot of funds for the base infrastructure. Our task is to make them hand the aerodrome — the runway, communications and watch facilities — over to Uzbekistan upkeep,” the source said.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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IJ August 8, 2005 at 3:22 pm

In anticipation of US troops vacating K2 in Uzbekistan, “the Russians moved in fast to keep China from taking a shot at moving in.”

“[A source in the Russian Defence Ministry] said that after the Shanghai Cooperation Organization demanded U.S. troops withdrawal from the former Soviet republic, China immediately expressed interest in the base. Thus, Russian troops had to rush to the country in order not to lose their chances of taking control of an area that used to belong to the USSR.”

This is all very nationalistic. Is there any organisation with a world view to occupy the base?

Gafur Rakhimov August 8, 2005 at 3:54 pm

I think that Azerbaijan is taugh variant for US troops removement. It would be either Mazari Sharif, Baghram airdrom or somewhere in Turkmenistan. In spite of Turkmens trying to declare their neutrality US commanding decide to have a long and strict to locate their troops near by Afghan boarder. It’s also a very important issue in case of Iran. US troops will also keep their eyes to Iran and try to supply Afghan campaign from Turkmenistan. It is a fork style in chess. When you can control two points from one place. In case of Uzbekistan I can say that Uzbekistan has no choice to let Russian troops to relocate in Karshi. As far as after American evicting there could be new threat from Afghanistan and it’s important when you have powerfull partner behind your shoulders. Amercans according to mutual partnership haven’t helped Uzbekistan much. And that is a reason that Uzbek government have a courage to say Americans “thanks” and “good bye”. Uzbekistan need to change it’s economic and political reforms but it’s too hard to do it now. And that’s not right just to criticize Uzbek government, and important to push and show the solvation of the problems.

Josh Narins August 8, 2005 at 3:57 pm

This is a neat blog.

Do you read the Central Asia and Caucasus Journal of Social and Policy Studies from Sweden?

It’s very detailed, but less news-oriented (of course).

This is their database of articles in English

Andy August 8, 2005 at 4:21 pm

I read one report today (forgotten where, sorry) that compared this to the operation in Kosovo a few years back, where Russian paratroopers rushed to Prstina airbase in order to get there before the US/UK blue berets.

I really don’t think that there is much to the idea that Russian troops would rush to take ‘possession’ of the airbase before the Chinese get there though. If Uzbekistan promises the airbase to one or the other country, there isn’t a damn thing the other could do about it. And, given their burgeoning special relationship I doubt either Russia or China would have the incentive to try to beat the other to claim the base through a pseudo show of force.

If there are plainclothes Russians at a site near to the K2 airbase they are more likely to have been there for surveillance purposes – to keep an eye on the Americans both before and after the Uzbek government’s decision to kick them out.

It would be very interesting, though, to see how Russia reacts if the US starts trashing the base as it leaves…

squid123 August 8, 2005 at 5:33 pm

I think we’re all losing sight of the main issue. Russia in its Cold War mindset and western leftist publications have yet to fully grasp that political influence comes not through having troops on the territory of another country, but through indirect, mostly economic, leverage. The US troops in Karshi had zero effect on civil society and democratization in Uzbekistan, nor was it in their mandate to provide security guarantees to the Karimov regime. They neither helped nor hurt him. Likewise, Russia’s presence in Uzbekistan, if it comes about, will be purely symbolic, as it is in Kyrgyzstan. K2 was important to the US because there IS a low-level war going on in Afghanistan. But it’s incorrect to assume that whoever occupies the base will now be the new “puppet-master”. As it happens, if anyone gets invited to occupy K2, it will probably be a symbol of a deeper economic relatonship, but the troops themselves add absolutely nothing to the relationship. It’s the equivalent of a state dinner with the president on national TV.

Sara August 9, 2005 at 9:19 am

If anyone thinks that Russia is going to be there to simply make sure the infrastructure remains intact, they’re delusional. I love Russia and Russians, but if Putin gets his hands on anything, you will have to pry it out of his cold, dead hands to get it back. And the Russians still in Uzbekistan will do nothing but support him.

I sort of wonder what Karimov is thinking. Russia has far more power there and is probably the only country that could shake him off his pedastal.

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