Uzbekistan told US to close down airbase 'after gas deal with Russia' and get out

By Andrew Osborn, in Moscow
Published: 01 August 2005

http://news.independent.co.uk/europe/article302912.ece

The United States has been given six months to shut
its airbase in the central Asian state of Uzbekistan
in an ultimatum that is a snub to Washington and a
boost for Russia which has been deeply uneasy about
the presence of the US military in an area it
considers its back yard. 

Washington was served notice at the weekend at its
embassy in Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, and unless it
can persuade the autocratic regime of Islam Karimov to
change its mind it will have to close the base known
as Karshi-Khanabad or "K2", within 180 days and
withdraw the thousands of military personnel. K2 was
established after the 9/11 attacks in the US and is
used to fly humanitarian and military missions into
nearby Afghanistan.

America has paid $15m (8.5m) in rent since 2001 when
it opened and it was keen to extend its lease. But
Russia wants the US military out of the former Soviet
central Asia.

And America has been under enormous pressure from
human rights groups to condemn the Karimov regime for
a massacre of opposition figures and ordinary
civilians in May. The US State Department has irked
Tashkent by calling for an international inquiry
(Moscow says no such inquiry is necessary). But
Britain's former ambassador to Tashkent, Craig Murray,
said the move was driven by a desire to keep control
of the Uzbek economy in local and Russian hands.

"This is about the Karimov regime's decision to turn
to Gazprom and the Russians, not the US, to develop
Uzbekistan's oil and gas," he said. "This deal was
brokered between the President's daughter, Gulnara
Karimova, and Alisher Usmanov, the Uzbek-born Russian
who bought 27 per cent of Corus [British Steel])."

"They were concerned that Western companies could
build centres of wealth not under their direct
control. They have decided to turn to Russian and
Chinese state companies for investment." 





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