Buttering up Central Asian dictators

This week, U.S. Central Command chief Adm. William J. Fallon is quietly reaching out to everyone’s favorite Central Asian dictatorships: Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Uzbekistan, you may recall, is the country with which the Pentagon broke off a basing agreement back in 2005, not long after government forces massacred nearly 200 civilians in the eastern Uzbek ...

596863_fallon_05.jpg
596863_fallon_05.jpg
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This week, U.S. Central Command chief Adm. William J. Fallon is quietly reaching out to everyone's favorite Central Asian dictatorships: Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

Uzbekistan, you may recall, is the country with which the Pentagon broke off a basing agreement back in 2005, not long after government forces massacred nearly 200 civilians in the eastern Uzbek town of Andijan and U.S.-Uzbek relations went sour. Tentative contacts between the two countries have been underway since late September, though, as the U.S. military has grown increasingly concerned about the situation in Afghanistan and its supply lines in Pakistan. The United States is also seeking to undercut Russia's ability to play hardball with Central Asian energy resources, and rescue pipeline projects that have been threatened by savvy Russian and Iranian moves. So what it Uzbek President-for-life Islam Karimov boils dissidents alive and has unarmed civilians gunned down in the streets? He's in a strategic location.

Fallon has previously denied suggestions that the United States would reopen its air base in Uzbekistan. And so far, it appears that nothing substantive has come of Fallon's Thursday meeting with Karimov. Of course, that's normal with these types of touchy, under-the-radar missions.

This week, U.S. Central Command chief Adm. William J. Fallon is quietly reaching out to everyone’s favorite Central Asian dictatorships: Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

Uzbekistan, you may recall, is the country with which the Pentagon broke off a basing agreement back in 2005, not long after government forces massacred nearly 200 civilians in the eastern Uzbek town of Andijan and U.S.-Uzbek relations went sour. Tentative contacts between the two countries have been underway since late September, though, as the U.S. military has grown increasingly concerned about the situation in Afghanistan and its supply lines in Pakistan. The United States is also seeking to undercut Russia’s ability to play hardball with Central Asian energy resources, and rescue pipeline projects that have been threatened by savvy Russian and Iranian moves. So what it Uzbek President-for-life Islam Karimov boils dissidents alive and has unarmed civilians gunned down in the streets? He’s in a strategic location.

Fallon has previously denied suggestions that the United States would reopen its air base in Uzbekistan. And so far, it appears that nothing substantive has come of Fallon’s Thursday meeting with Karimov. Of course, that’s normal with these types of touchy, under-the-radar missions.

Today, Fallon was in the capital of Turkmenistan, trying to woo that country’s new leader:

In particular, Washington is keen to secure Ashgabat’s participation in the long-planned Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP), a route that would circumvent Russia… Turkmen leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has expressed interest in the project, but has yet to make any firm commitment.

Turkmenistan is also in a bit of a spat with neighboring Iran over gas prices, so perhaps Fallon is sensing an opportunity to bring Berdymukhamedov into the anti-Tehran camp. But as I’m sure the admiral well knows, Central Asian leaders are wily negotiators with a history of using Western powers to gain leverage with Moscow. They might just be hinting at warmer ties with Washington in order to get what they want from the Russians. So, on which level is this great game is being played?

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