Moscow. (RIA Novosti political analyst Arseny Oganesyan.) The withdrawal of a base from Uzbekistan by a six-month deadline set by Tashkent is not a big problem militarily.
But politically, the loss of an ally is quite serious for the United States. On the one hand, the West will exert much more pressure on the Islam Karimov regime. But on the other, China and Russia are not likely to abandon their partner in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nikolai Burns has conspicuously cancelled his visit to Tashkent. He told The New York Times that it was considered inexpedient to pay a visit to Tashkent after they got notification about the withdrawal of the U.S. military base. He added that Uzbekistan was isolated because its government had failed to carry out reforms.
But this is very far from the truth. Tashkent has not become an international outcast just because the West is displeased with lack of democracy there, or because it makes every effort to prevent the extradition of Uzbek refugees from Kyrgyzstan. To the contrary, both China and Russia approve to a different extent Tashkent's tough action against Muslim radicals.
Moreover, the West's desire to encourage Central Asian nations to make a fast leap to democracy finds no support in Moscow. Director of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies Yevgeny Kozhokin: " Imperfect schemes of democratization may produce a social and political explosion, as a result of which secular regimes will be replaced with Muslim, or even Muslim fundamentalist forces. This threat exists in Central Asia, especially in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan."
"It is easy to criticize the Islam Karimov regime but for the time being no alternatives that could help stabilize the situation in that country have been offered," Kozhokin said.
Militarily, withdrawal from Uzbekistan won't be a big snag. A source in Moscow said that most likely the Americans won't set up new bases, for instance, in Tajikistan, but will step up their military presence in Kyrgyzstan.
But politically the risks for the U.S. will grow considerably. The Bush administration showed in Uzbekistan that imposing democracy is more important for it than allied relations. It has become clear that the U.S. military presence is aimed at ensuring a rapid democratization of Central Asian countries and their subsequent involvement in the U.S. sphere of influence. Struggle against international terrorism is not that important.
Such transparency may cost the U.S. other allies. Washington faced sovereign states with a choice that is bordering on blackmail: Either get Western-style democracy and we'll be friends, or live the way you like and become outcasts. This undermines U.S. international prestige and results in the loss of "soft power" and cogency that have been cherished so much by a considerable part of the American political elite.