Putin lays flowers at Uzbek strongman’s grave
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday laid roses at the grave of late Uzbek leader Islam Karimov, whose death last week after 27 years in charge sparked fears of instability in the Central Asian nation.
Footage broadcast by Russian state television showed Putin kneeling at Karimov’s flower-covered grave in the historic city of Samarkand after he made a detour to ex-Soviet Uzbekistan on his way home from the G20 summit in China.
Putin also held talks with Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev, in a further sign that he is the frontrunner to replace Karimov, who was announced dead at 78 on Friday after a stroke with no clear successor.
Long lambasted by rights groups for brutally crushing dissent, Karimov portrayed himself as a bulwark against radical Islam on the border of Afghanistan and played off Russia, the West and China against each other.
But the Russian leader praised Karimov for maintaining “stability” and said Russia would “do everything to support the Uzbek people and the Uzbek leadership.”
“You can count on us fully, as you can on your most faithful friends,” Putin said, according to Interfax news agency.
Mirziyoyev — a Karimov loyalist known as a tough-guy enforcer — told Putin that Uzbekistan’s ties with Russia were “completely strategic” and that Tashkent would look to “continue to develop” them, Interfax said.
“Your visit today says a lot and we are very grateful to you,” Mirziyoyev told Putin, calling it the “shoulder of a real friend” during a “difficult time”.
Footage also showed Putin greeting Karimov’s black-clad widow Tatyana and younger daughter Lola inside a marble-lined hall before bowing his head in front of a large portrait of the deceased president.
– Jihadist fears –
Karimov was one of the Communist Party bosses who managed to cling to power after the collapse of the Soviet Union, crushing Islamist groups at home as he imposed his iron-fisted rule.
During his time at the helm, he kept the cotton-rich nation of 32 million balanced between Moscow and the West, at one stage hosting a US base for its operation in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Analysts say that Moscow is keen to see an orderly transfer of power in the impoverished country given fears of the threat from jihadists close to its southern flank and could be hoping to exert more influence over Uzbekistan.
“Russia has always viewed stability on its southern border as a priority and especially so these days because of fears that (the Islamic State group) could exploit a power vacuum,” Scott Radnitz, a regional expert at the University of Washington, told AFP.
The Kremlin could try to draw Uzbekistan closer by offering a better deal for the roughly two million migrant workers from the impoverished country living in Russia or a generous loan, Radnitz said, but ultimately the new leadership is likely to keep treading its own course.
“As before, it will not put all its eggs in the Russian basket,” he said.