In October, when Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin declared his goal of establishing a Eurasian Union, scorned by some as a “Soviet Union-lite,” the more sycophantic among post-Soviet leaders jumped over each other to sign up.
One strongman president, however, remained unsurprisingly silent. Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov has always pooh-poohed the suggestion of any such union, practically since neighboring Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbayev floated the idea in 1994.
Now Karimov, however obliquely, has responded to Putin. Uzbekistan, he has made it clear, is going it alone. And it’s no surprise: The country’s ruling elite depends heavily on a tightly controlled economy, which allow them to profit from natural resources like cotton and gas.
Speaking on state television December 7 to mark Constitution Day, Karimov – who maintains chilly relations with all his neighbors – said he saw no need for “integration processes.” Groups that promote them are designed to take away Uzbekistan’s hard-earned sovereignty and put the country in Moscow’s yoke, he implied. Ironically, given his chilling human rights record, he deplored the Soviet Union’s past repressions.
From his speech (translated and published by BBC Monitoring):
It is no secret that today one can easily observe various increasing attempts aimed at falsifying challenges and painstaking work on the path of achieving independence and these bright days, as well as the meaning and significance of our independence. Above all, one can observe attempts in the former Soviet area, which are aimed at giving wrong interpretation and using lies against young people who have never seen the old repressive regime and those who have not enough information about this. The attempts are aimed at raising nostalgia for the past Soviet-era in their minds.
One can easily see that the attempts fail to accept the collapse of the former union, the Soviet empire, as a natural and logical end and to understand that it was caused by, above all, the improper political, economic and ideological bases of the regime.
Karimov urges vigilance against integration, warning that “such unions are increasingly becoming of a political nature, and it is natural that such a situation may negatively affect relations and cooperation between the members of such unions and other foreign countries.” Uzbekistan, Karimov says, will not bend over to “get permission from any other country.”
I want to say that it is impossible to turn back history. Our people, our young generation that grew up in the past 20 years have huge confidence in our future and will never, I repeat, never retreat from the chosen path.
Instead of, heavens forbid, joining his neighbors in any union, Karimov promised to continue development his own way, babbling on about making Uzbekistan a great investment opportunity and even promising to lift restrictions at its notoriously closed borders. But for the foreign investors who have had their businesses seized recently and for those too scared to touch Uzbekistan with a thousand-mile pole, the proof will be in action, not words. Karimov, they know, is a man of many promises.