The Kyrgyz-Uzbek border
To people in Central Asia, home to some of the most oppressive regimes in the world, President Bush’s inaugural speech in January was important. ‘When you stand for liberty, we will stand with you,’ said Bush, and his words sounded very promising. Thirteen years after the collapse of the Soviet dictatorship, no country in Central Asia has yet held elections which could be described as even remotely free or fair. While the presidents, their families and entourages amass enormous fortunes, 80 per cent of the population struggles to survive on less than $1 a day.
Celebrating VE Day in the Baltic states, the US President lambasted the Soviet occupation and ‘secret deals to determine somebody else’s fate’. A couple of days later, speaking in front of 100,000 people in Tbilisi’s Freedom Square, the US president talked enthusiastically about ‘the idea of countries helping others become free’ and ‘a rational, decent and humane foreign policy’.
‘The path of freedom you chose is not easy, but you will not travel it alone,’ Bush promised. As Julian Evans reported last week in these pages, the US is actively fomenting revolt in Belarus. In Central Asia, however, US policy is characterised not by supporting the oppressed, but by showering the oppressors with millions of dollars and political support in return for access to the region’s military installations and energy resources.
For three years experts have been warning against this hypocrisy. In the words of David Lewis, Central Asia director for the Crisis Group, ‘the list of countries which are described as tyrannies is very selective. Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan are exactly as tyrannical as Cuba or Iran, but are not on the list because they are security allies of the US. The double standards in US foreign policy are very clearly demonstrated in Central Asia.