Sunday, January 30, 2011

EU to Give Uzbek President Islam Karimov “The Lukashenko Treatment”

Which is to say: doing nothing about a thuggish regime on the fringe of the supposed “Human Rights paradise”., and benignly ignoring them while playing something out to the EU’s domestic audience.

The Commission's spokespeople have said that one aim of the discussion is to sign an energy memorandum, as part of a wider programme of "constructive engagement" with Uzbekistan, which also includes issues on which the EU and Uzbekistan do no see eye to eye, such as human rights. Even if a few references to human-rights abuses do sneak onto the agenda, it is doubtful that this high-level discussion will be much more "constructive" than any of the annual human-rights dialogues between the EU and Uzbekistan, or indeed that the Commission is really motivated by this aspect of the meeting. What matters here is energy.

The EU’s efforts to confront Uzbekistan over the May 13 2005 Andizhan killings - when Uzbek government security forces fired on a demonstration, killing hundreds of people - have been characterised by these knee-jerk changes of priority, and a failure to see any policy through in a consistent way. In the immediate aftermath of the killings, the EU’s priority was indeed human rights. An arms embargo and other smart sanctions were placed on Uzbekistan, and the EU’s "partnership and cooperation agreement framework" was partially suspended.

In 2007, the EU launched a human rights dialogue with Taskhent. But only two years later, its sanctions were dropped despite a lack of commitment from the Uzbek side, a reported worsening of repression in the country in 2008 and 2009, and no credible investigation being allowed into the Andizhan events. Strong pressure came from Berlin to do so, because the Germans were reluctant to allow the sanctions to jeopardise their use of a strategic airbase in Uzbekistan.
The timeline say it all.
- In 2005 they wanted to confront Karimov (verbally), but didn’t.
- Two years later, they talked about possibly confroting him (verbally) again, but didn’t.
- 2008-09: with further handwringing over deepening repression, but no mention is made of it.
- 2011: the brave and bold lights of the EU-3 flap their gums at ONE ANOTHER again, but not at the Uzbeks.

To underscore just how naïve they are, the excuse used is the use of an air base. In reality, that’s as much of an instrument of leverage for the Germans than anything else, not to mention the fact that they hardly want a resurgent Taliban seeding the population with fresh ideas for how to dispose of the Karimov regime, if nothing else.

The article’s seemingly unintentionally probing title, “A backdoor guest?” is more apt than it would seem. Having set this as another precedent in the eyes of Iran and Russia, the Bunga-Bunga is on Europe.