Monday, May 15, 2006

Putin Slights Massacre Anniversary

On May 13, 2005, in Andijan, a city in eastern Uzbekistan, government troops opened fire on a throng of protesters. According to the government, 187 people died, most of whom were "Islamist terrorists." Accounts corroborated by NGOs and human rights agencies put the number at over 800, many of whom were women and children.

Proving that blood in the streets is thicker than water, Russian president Vladimir Putin marked the anniversary of this atrocity by welcoming Uzbek president Islam Karimov to his Black Sea resort to hail friendlier relations between Russia and the energy-rich Central Asian nation.

In the wake of the Andijan massacre, Uzbek-American relations hit the skids because the State Department had the gall to condemn the action and join the UN in a call for an independent investigation. The Karimov regime responded by closing the US military base in Uzbekistan, which had been used as a staging point for missions into neighboring Afghanistan, and kicking out the Peace Corps and other aid groups. They also shut down the BBC's Uzbekistan offices.

Putin cozying up to Karimov is just one in a long string of overtures he has made to former Soviet states, showing that the Kremlin wants to keep its former subjects close—and as far away from democracy as possible. The fact that Central Asia is rich in oil and other natural resources doesn't hurt, either, and overtures from Russia should be seen in the context of Putin's plan to make Russia an "energy superpower".

Apparently, he's willing to achieve that goal regardless of the moral cost, a revelation that should surprise no one. Russia has a beautifully consistent record when it comes to supporting authoritarian regimes in former Soviet states, whether that's in Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Belarus or Georgia. The only solace is that they don't always back the winning side. For the victims of Andijan and the people of Uzbekistan, that's cold comfort indeed.
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