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Alexey Malashenko
J U LY 2 0 1 4

Alexey Malashenko

2014 Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. All rights reserved.

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About theAuthor

Summary 1
The President

The Struggle for thePresident

The Presidents Daughter

Other Players intheStruggle for thePresidency


Clans as aPolitical Factor


Transition andIslam


External Actors


Conclusions 16
Notes 19
Carnegie Moscow Center


About the Author

Alexey Malashenko is theco-chair ofthe Carnegie Moscow Centers Religion,

Society, andSecurity Program. Malashenko also taught attheHigher School
ofEconomics from 2007 to2008 andwas aprofessor attheMoscow State
Institute ofInternational Relations from 2000 to2006. Malashenko is aprofessor ofpolitical science as well as amember ofthe RIA Novosti advisory council.
He serves ontheeditorial boards ofthe journals Central Asia andtheCaucasus andActa Eurasica andthenewsletter Russia andtheMuslim World andis
aboard member ofthe International Federation for Peace andConciliation.


Islam Karimov has essentially been inpower inUzbekistan since 1989. Rumors
abound that Karimov will not take part in the countrys next presidential election in2015, but it seems likely that he will participate. If he does, he is guaranteed towin. Though it is still too early totalk about thechances specific candidates
have ofreplacing Karimov, it is important tolook closely atthecurrent ruling elite
andthepresidents possible successors tosee where thecountry might be heading.
Possible Successors
The presidents eldest daughter, Gulnara Karimova, andtheNational Security
Service chief, Rustam Inoyatov, are seen as the main actors in the struggle
to gain the presidency after Karimovs departure, though there are a number of other potential candidates from both Uzbekistans powerful clans
The presidents daughter is one ofthe richest people inthecountry. She has
conducted local andforeign business transactions inviolation ofboth national
and European laws, expecting her fathers protection. This undermined
Uzbekistans image, drawing father anddaughter into conflict.
Inoyatov is Uzbekistans second most influential figure. He dismantled
Gulnaras business empire and placed her under house arrest at the presidents behest. Some experts believe that he is staking aclaim toKarimovs seat
andconsiders thepresidents daughter his main rival.
Two other potential candidates are the current prime minister, Shavkat
Mirziyoyev, and the deputy prime minister and finance minister, Rustam
Karimov will decide when and to whom to transfer power. The president
recently proposed constitutional changes that would give some presidential
powers to the legislative and executive branches. This may signify his gradual exit from power, but thechanges could also provide Karimov with legal
grounds for running for president again.

2|Exploring Uzbekistans Potential Political Transition

Inoyatov is likely to remain one of the key players during the power transition. Gulnara Karimova has little public support andis unlikely tosucceed as
anopposition figure or tobe thesuccessor.
External actors are likely tohave limited influence onthetransition.
Regardless ofwho emerges as thenext president, regional clans andtheir political representatives will have asignificant influence onthebalance ofpower
The eventual power transition is most likely tobe peaceful, with interest groups
andclans coming toan agreement toavoid instability. Yet, if aclan is dissatisfied with thenew arrangement, it may appeal for public support andprovoke
social protests with anIslamist core.

The President

Islam Karimov has been in power in Uzbekistan since 1989, when he became
thefirst secretary ofUzbekistans Communist Party. Subsequently, he has been
elected president three timesin 1991, 2000, and 2007. In 2014, Karimov
proposed constitutional changes that would transfer some presidential powers
tothelegislative andexecutive branches.
Opinions about themove are divided. Some believe that Karimovs proposal
marks thestart ofhis gradual exit from power andinterpret it as asign suggesting that he will not take part inthe2015 presidential election. Others see it as
a tactical move, which seeks to legitimate the continuation of Karimovs rule,
since theconstitutional changes that limit anindividual totwo terms inoffice
would allow him torun for president again.1 It seems more probable that this is
atactical move.
But even if Karimov actually intends to relinquish some of his powers
to the government and parliament, and even if he plans to retire, he will still
remain an indisputable leader, albeit unofficially this time. Thus, the question
of a successor remains open, and this person will be effectively appointed by
Karimov himself.
The prospects andtime ofthe power transition largely depend onKarimovs
physical condition. His health is the subject ofsome controversy. For instance,
the renowned Uzbek opposition activist Muhammad Salih believes it is far
from perfect, claiming that thepresident suffered several heart-related episodes
andamassive heart attack in2013. Many ofthose who met Karimov inthesecond half of2013 remarked onhis sickly appearance. For his part, Karimov never
hinted athis poor health, andhis daughter Lola wished her fathers health toevery
seventy-five-year-old ina recent BBC interview.2
In recent years, Uzbekistans potential power transition has been generating serious analytical discourse, numerous rumors, and much speculation.
Thequestion ofwho will take thereins is ofparticular interest. Thepresidents
eldest daughter, Gulnara, andthesixty-nine-year-old National Security Service
(NSS) chief, Rustam Inoyatov, are seen as themain actors inthestruggle togain
the presidency after Karimovs departure, though there are a number of other
potential candidates from both Uzbekistans powerful clans andthegovernment.

4|Exploring Uzbekistans Potential Political Transition

Who will actually come out on top remains unclear. The true inner workings ofthe Uzbek ruling elite are aclosely guarded secret. Although theparties
tothefuture transition prepare for it totheextent possible, they do not know how
it will happen andwhere it will lead. Experts attheMoscow-based International
Institute for Political Expertise conclude that no special arrangements for asuccessor have been developed inUzbekistan as oftoday.3 However, various political
factions are vying for power away from theimmediate ranks ofthe ruling circle.
Though it is still too early totalk about thechances specific candidates have
of gaining Karimovs seat, it is important to look closely at the countrys current ruling elite andthepresidents possible successors because leadership change
in Uzbekistan could have a substantial effect on the situation in the Central
Asian region. Thenext leader could also significantly impact Uzbekistans relations with external playersChina, Russia, and the United States. Changes
atthetop may bring Uzbekistan closer totheummahthe global community
ofIslamic peoplesin addition totheTurkic-speaking community that includes
inhabitants of Turkey and Central Asian countries as well as some minorities
(including Tatars) living intheRussian Federation andAfghanistan.

The Struggle for thePresident

The current situation has one distinct characteristic: thecovert struggle tosucceed Karimov is also the struggle for Karimov himself. Inoyatov has been
atthehelm ofthe NSS since 1995 andis considered thesecond most influential
political figure in Uzbekistan after Karimov. He concentrated enormous powers inhis hands andhas been completely unopposed since 2005, when his rival,
then internal minister Zakir Almatov, was held responsible for events inthecity
ofAndijana revolt organized by Islamists inwhich Uzbek government troops
killed protesters.
With his KGB training, Inoyatov has ensured that NSS agents penetrate every
segment ofUzbek society. He keeps afile for every member ofthe countrys elite,
including those inKarimovs inner circle andhis family. In addition tooverseeing
state-run institutions, theNSS structures control commercial banks andenterprises.4 Some sources close to Karimov claim that the president has complete
confidence in Inoyatov and entrusts him with the most complex and delicate
However, Rustam Inoyatov is not a mere executor of the presidents orders.
He also has his own ambitions. Institute for War andPeace Reporting analyst
Inga Sikorskaya believes that he ultimately seeks totake control ofthe country.5
According toUzbek political scientist Kurban Yumashev, it is possible that the
country is being prepared for amilitary takeover headed by theforce structures.6
Muhammad Salih expresses asimilar view: Inoyatov is able toisolate thepresident from his entourage, hence a significant are number of governing mechanisms is inthehands ofthe NSS chief. 7 According toinformation cited by Forbes

Alexey Malashenko|5

Kazakhstan, Inoyatov is trying to purge the NSS personnel loyal to Karimov,

going as far as attempting tophysically eliminate them.8 While it is impossible
toascertain theextent towhich this information is accurate, it is certainly true
that thetop NSS brass is fiercely loyal toInoyatov.
Inoyatov is doing everything in his power to become
completely indispensable to his patron. He also uses his
Gulnara Karimova, whose business and
power toinfluence Karimov by selecting what information
thepresident may receive. Strict control over theinformation political role underwent cardinal changes in
received by countrys leader also existed during the Soviet 20132014, is at the center of political intrigue.
era. In todays world, however, such control can hardly be
absolute. Islam Karimov, who is known tobe aninquisitive
type, receives information from awide variety ofsources. He thus has nothing
incommon with theaged leaders ofthe late Soviet period. It is virtually impossible toblock his access toinformation completely.
Inoyatov is essentially securing his central role at the time of power transition. At aminimum, this will guarantee his political future under any new leader.
All ofthe current political figures are wary ofthe NSS chief, whose control over
information will be one of the factors enabling him to play a key role during
thepower redistribution andcabinet reshuffle. It is possible that local politicians
fear a repeat of the Russian scenario in which former KGB operatives all but
monopolized their grip onpower. A similar outcome would upset Uzbekistans
still strong clan power structure, posing serious problems for thecountry.
But thepowerful security chief hardly covets thepresidential post. He does not
really need it. It appears that Karimovs trust andacceptance ofRustam Inoyatov
to a large extent springs from Inoyatovs lack of visible presidential ambitions.
He prefers to remain in the shadows, rarely appears in public, and clearly dislikes media attention. He is charismatic ina way that is not immediately obvious
but nevertheless felt by thepublic. One can liken Inoyatov totheSoviet KGB
head Yuri Andropov, who was not very noticeable but was widely known tobe
very powerful. Andropov was both feared andtrusted, andmany Soviet citizens
believed him tobe theonly person capable ofrestoring order inthecountry.

The Presidents Daughter

Some experts continue to see Gulnara Karimova as Inoyatovs opponent
inthestruggle for thepresidential post. Gulnara, whose business andpolitical role
underwent cardinal changes in20132014, is atthecenter ofpolitical intrigue.
Gulnara Karimova is one ofthe richest people inUzbekistan. Her estimated net
worth is $2 billion, andher business empire extends tovarious economic spheres.
She owns or controls several foreign-based companies. Thelargest one ofthem is
a Zurich-based conglomerate, Zeromax, which Karimova used to make multimillion-dollar cotton, oil, and gas deals (dubbed schemes by her detractors).
In 2008, Zeromaxs operational expenses were $3.298 billion, andthecompany

6|Exploring Uzbekistans Potential Political Transition

failed topay $500 million intaxes onits export revenues. Zeromax went bankrupt in2010.
Karimova is actively working in the jewelry business and owns the Guli
designer clothing line. She also tried her hand inshow business, starring inamusic
video featuring thecontroversial French actor Gerard Depardieu. She founded
Uzbekistans Forum for Arts andCulture, which sought toattract creative youth.
In Moscow, Gulnara Karimova hosted receptions and banquets frequented by
influential Russian politicians, including those close totheKremlin.
Karimova controlled theinformation andcommunication business, allowing
certain companies tooperate inUzbekistan while banishing others. In 2012, she
ordered that Uzundrobita, aleading player onthelocal media market anda subsidiary ofMTS, theRussian telecommunications giant, be stripped ofits license
andexpelled from thecountry. Its general director, Radik Dautov, acitizen ofthe
Russian Federation, was arrested. Dautovs wife, Tamara, wrote to Vladimir
Putin asking him to investigate this incident. MTSs losses totaled $1 billion.
Uzbek businessmen know how dangerous competing against Karimova is. While
inbusiness, she pursued her own interests, sometimes resorting toillegal means
tobankrupt several media companies.
Gulnara Karimovas ambitions also extended to foreign policy. A Harvard
graduate anda PhD inpolitical science, she had adiplomatic career. Beginning
in2010 she was theambassador toSpain, andshe was also adeputy foreign minister for international cooperation in cultural and humanitarian affairs. Until
the middle of 2013, she also served as Uzbekistans permanent representative
totheUnited Nations andother international organizations.
Being thepresidents daughter, she considered herself invincible. In fact, family members andchildren ofpolitical leaders frequently become very influential
political figures in the post-Soviet space. Heydar Alievs son Ilham inherited
Azerbaijans presidency; Nursultan Nazarbayevs daughter Dariga was atthetop
inKazakhstan for along period oftime; andKyrgyz business was controlled by
President Kurmanbek Bakiyevs son Maksim. While thefate ofthese presidential
offspring is now quite clearsome ofthem are inpower, while others are charged
with crimesGulnara Karimovas future looks less certain.
Completely unaccountable (she did not even report to her own father),
Gulnara has started toaggravate theUzbek elite, the middle class, andespecially
the business community. She is especially disliked by theforce structures, which
seek toestablish total control over society andare responsible for thecountrys
security. Occasional rumors ofher designs onthepresidential seat fueled thediscontent. Therumors often came from abroad andwere not well substantiated.
Karimovas business practices also drew complaints from her Western partners. She has been accused ofmoney laundering andties totransnational organized crime. In late 2013, her domestic partner, Rustam Madumarovthe registered owner of Karimovas propertywas implicated in a number of criminal cases in France, Latvia, Sweden, and Switzerland. Switzerland froze bank

Alexey Malashenko|7

accounts associated with Karimovas business. Thecase ofTeliaSonera, aSwedishFinnish mobile telephone service provider, generated the strongest negative
reaction. Thecompany paid Karimova $300 million toenter Uzbekistans telecommunications market. Themoney was transferred toa small Gibraltar company in the name of Gayane Avakyan, Karimovas associate. The investigation
of the TeliaSonera affair commenced in 2012. In 2013, the Organized Crime
and Corruption Reporting Project added Gulnara Karimova to its Person
of the Year list. The corrupt and even criminal nature of business dealings
conducted by the presidents daughter sullied Uzbekistans business reputation
Uzbek force structures had been carefully collecting information related toGulnaras business andthen furnished it
Karimova cannot succeed as an opposition
toher father. NSS chief Rustam Inoyatov was acting as both
figure since she has little popular support.
theprotector ofstate security andthedefender ofthe presidents reputation andpopularity. He had been increasingly
shielding thepresident from Gulnara. It is unlikely that he
feared her potential presidency, but she certainly posed athreat tohis authority
and, by extension, tohis influence onthetransition ofpower.
Karimova had a few chances to defeat Inoyatov. In her struggle against
the NSS chief, she started portraying herself as a champion of social justice
andeven anadvocate for human rights (she was proceeding cautiously andhad
no direct contacts with human rights activists). It is notable that she refused
to be interviewed by the Information Agency, which frequently
publishes critical analyses ofthe situation inthecountry by experts andopposition activists.
Gulnaras writings appeared on the website, which is blocked
in Uzbekistan, under the pseudonym of Marcus Aurelius. She fiercely criticized theruling elite, particularly Inoyatov andPrime Minister Mirziyoyev. She
accused thelatter ofinviting prostitutes andpromiscuous government employees
into his royal chambers.9 Another subject ofGulnaras criticism is her mother,
Tatiana Akbarovna Karimova; their relations have been long and irreparably
damaged. Gulnara denies her authorship ofthe texts, but many inUzbekistan
strongly believe her tobe theauthor.
In themiddle of2013, Karimova repeatedly criticized thecourse ofthe Uzbek
government, which is essentially her fathers course. She assailed his migration
policy, saying that migrants are unfortunate people who are forced toleave their
homeland tohelp their families survive. She questioned theofficial employment
statistics for theperiod 20052011: 5 million new jobs were reportedly created,
60 percent ofthem insmall andmidsize businesses. Karimova also mentioned
thepoor health ofUzbekistans citizens, which supposedly made them shorter.
Describing her trip to the historic city of Kokand in her Twitter account, she
remarked that she did not see asingle public restroom during her travels (I took
thesame trip once andcan confirm theaccuracy ofher observation).

8|Exploring Uzbekistans Potential Political Transition

At the end of November 2013, Gulnara visited the headquarters

ofUzbekistans Interior Ministry tosecure therelease ofstudents arrested for
frequenting antigovernment websites. The detained students participated
in the Kelajak Ovozi youth contest, which attracted Uzbekistans student
elite. Karimova wrote that theauthorities erred inarresting thestudents, which
may lead topolitical confrontation.
However, Karimova cannot succeed as anopposition figure, since she has little popular support. By criticizing thetop echelon ofthe elite, she is also depriving herself of influential political patrons. She cannot really expect to restore
her credibility with the West, either. Americans and Europeans sympathize
with genuine human rights activists who have a proven track record of advocating for human rights. Nevertheless, as avictim ofpersecution atthehands
ofthe force structures andInoyatov himself, Karimova may get some sympathy
from theopposition activists living intheWest. Well-known opposition figure
Bakhodir Choriyev urged no rejoicing over Gulnaras downfall, since it indicates
that Karimovs power is now inthehands ofthe NSS.10 But theopposition
does not see her as their ideological partner, let alone their ally.
Islam Karimov grew tired of his daughters unseemly behavior and decided
inmid-2013 topunish her. Gulnara was removed from her ambassadorial post
in Spain and stripped of her diplomatic immunity, which will complicate her
visits toa number ofEuropean countries. She was planning tovisit theUnited
States but was not allowed toleave thecountry. Her TV andradio stations were
silenced, andtheForum for Arts andCulture was shut down. Her team was also
affected: her cousin andher business aides were arrested, andher security chief
fled thecountry.
Many experts onCentral Asia believe that Gulnara Karimovas opposition
work was not thereason for her falling-out with her father. Rather, theconflict between the father and his eldest daughter concerns the redistribution
ofenormous financial flows as well as business andpolitical influence. Tired
of Gulnaras business escapades, the president realized how seriously his
daughters recent behavior harmed Uzbekistans reputation.11 She became too
heavy a burden for the aging authoritarian president.12 Thus, Western partners were informed that the criminal aspects of Karimovas activities should
not be equated with official state policy; on the contrary, Uzbekistan abides
by international norms and regulations. French authorities immediately
reacted totheKarimova affair by conducting searches onGulnaras property,
which included her Paris apartment. The dialogue between the European
Union andUzbekistan has traditionally been problematic,13 not only because
ofeconomic cooperation but mostly concerning democracy andhuman rights
inUzbekistan, andKarimov does not want any additional complications, so he
took strong action.
The conflict should also not be seen as a struggle inside the ruling family.
The Karimov clan is effectively represented by one personPresident Karimov.

Alexey Malashenko|9

Unlike some other neighboring countries (such as Tajikistan anduntil recently

Kyrgyzstan), there is no consolidated ruling family inUzbekistan. Thefact that
Gulnara has long been atodds with her mother andyounger sister Lola has practically no bearing onthecountrys political life.
Lola Karimova-Tillyayeva, Uzbekistans permanent delegate to the United
Nations Educational, Scientific andCultural Organization, is occasionally (albeit
very rarely) mentioned as apossible presidential candidate. For instance, human
rights activist Matabar Tadjibayeva subscribes to this view.14 However, such
anoutcome is very unlikely.
Unless something extraordinary takes place, theclan beyond Islam Karimov
will quietly pass the time outside of the countrys borders, although Gulnara
Karimova may experience problems abroad inconnection with her questionable
business practices inEurope.
Gulnara Karimovas drama should not be viewed as the first stage
inUzbekistans power transition. It looks more like anearly test ofstrength, primarily onthepart ofRustam Inoyatov.
Indeed, thecrackdown onGulnara is avictory onthepart ofRustam Inoyatov.
Therefore, Karimova has every reason tolay theblame atthefeet ofthe NSS chief.
She believes that he is eliminating her as arival andis intending tocome topower
himself. Inoyatov is struggling for power already, Gulnara stated onher website. She also wrote about theattempts onher life.
Inoyatov did not score a decisive victory, and Karimova remains his rival,
although much weaker. Islam Karimov punished his daughter quite seriously, but
he did not sever his ties with her completely, ina sense leaving some room for her
inthecountrys political life.
This arrangement perfectly blends into Uzbekistans political landscape,
where Karimov masterfully plays therole ofa mediator. It is quite possible that
he intentionally let theGulnara affair reach theboiling point so that he would
have achance tosuddenly curb theall-powerful Inoyatov, thus showing him who
thereal head ofthe country is. Daniil Kislov news agency asserts
that the president controls the situation. He is known for easily eliminating
any official, minister or aclose associate if he stopped working for his [the presidents] benefit.15 Kislov is certain that Karimov still keeps thesituation inhis
khanate under complete control16 and views the scandal as a theatrical production directed by Islam Karimov himself inorder todemonstrate his power
The Karimovs crisis culminated inlate 2013 (it was rumored that thefather
slapped his daughter onthecheek, although more informed sources refuted this
allegation). Soon after that, father anddaughter appeared toreconcile, which was
evidenced by thegift Gulnara presented toher father for his 76th birthdayshe
sang him anaria from Camille Saint-Saenss opera Samson andDelilah.
However, thepeace turned out tobe short-lived: inthemiddle ofFebruary,
special services stormed into Karimovas apartment andconducted asearch there.

10|Exploring Uzbekistans Potential Political Transition

In thecourse ofthe search, they acted crudely and, by some accounts, even used
physical force. As aresult, Karimova andher daughter Iman (a U.S. citizen) found
themselves held under house arrest. No one can predict how Islam andGulnara
Karimovs relations will develop inthefuture.

Other Players intheStruggle

for thePresidency
Some people in the presidents inner circle, who bear greater responsibility for
thesituation inthecountry than others, can also be put ontheshort list ofpotential successors. The two other potential candidates are current Prime Minister
Shavkat Mirziyoyev17 (he has held his position since 2003) and Deputy Prime
Minister andFinance Minister Rustam Azimov.
The Prime Minister andtheDeputy
The 56-year-old Mirziyoyev is known for his personal loyalty tothepresident. It
is believed that he can be thebest guarantor ofpreserving theKarimov family
assets if he is tobecome president. As aprime minister, Mirziyoyev has earned
some popularity with thepeople by improving agriculture. Some analysts believe
him to be the protg of Inoyatovs security services.18 Mirziyoyev is a distant
relative of influential Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov. This connection
can be interpreted as a sort of information channel and a possible instrument
ofRussias influence onUzbekistans balance ofpower. But Alisher Usmanov is
first andforemost amember ofthe Russian business community anddoes not
appear interested inpositioning himself as anactor ontheUzbek political stage.
Prime Minister Mirziyoyev comes from theBukhara-Samarkand clan, which
provides him with significant support. Some call him aTajik; others use themore
cautious label ofTajik speaker. In any event, his fluency inTajik can be considered another factor that brings him closer toPresident Karimov.
However, Mirziyoyevs educational background is lacking. He graduated from
thelow-ranked Tashkent Institute ofIrrigation andAgricultural Mechanization.
Perhaps this fact explains his lack ofinformal contacts with theWestern-minded
younger generation ofthe Uzbek elite.
The 55-year-old deputy prime minister andfinance minister, Rustam Azimov,
can boast amore prestigious biography. Azimov is ason ofa renowned scientist,
amember ofthe Uzbek Academy ofSciences. He graduated from Tashkent State
University with adegree inhistory (besides, he obtained adegree from Tashkent
Irrigation Institute). From 1992 to1998, he worked attheEuropean Bank for
Reconstruction and Development and chaired the National Bank for Foreign
Economic Activity. He has been first deputy prime minister since 2005 andis
considered Uzbekistans best expert infinance. Azimov comes from theTashkent
clan, which actually has little bearing onhis political career prospects. Just like

Alexey Malashenko|11

his patron, Islam Karimov, he belongs totheextra-clan (or supra-clan) generation

ofthe Uzbek elite.
Azimov enjoys thesupport ofDefense Minister Kabul Berdiyev andRustam
Inoyatov. However, support from themilitary means little inUzbekistans political intrigues (this is a major difference between the Central Asian countries
andtheArab or South Asian states). But no Uzbek politician can refuse thesupport ofthe force structures. Azimovs problems with Ilak Yuli Bank, which he
owns, were solved thanks toInoyatovs support after he was accused ofillegalities
in2012 to2013.
Other Players
This short list is missing names from theFerghana clan. At this point, Ferghana
politicians lack acharismatic figure; besides, their religious conservatism raises
some concern. And Ferghana natives are less trusted after the Andijan events
(although, as explained below, Andijan residents, ina sense, belong toa separate
autonomous clan that has its own interests).
Uzbekistans public politicians dwarf themore humble figures that have no
chance of winning the presidential election but are capable of swaying public
opinion, especially in case problems with the transfer of power arise. Jahangir
Shosalimov is one such figure. His political activism peaked inthe1990s, when
he supported Muhammad SalihKarimovs main opponentin the 1991
presidential elections. In the 2000s, Shosalimov criticized Islam Karimov
andeven attempted torun inthe2007 presidential elections, but he was foiled
by theauthorities. Shosalimov hopes tomake another attempt during the2015
elections. He operates under theslogan From ineffective andharmful state governance tohonest state governance.
Tojiboy-ugli (Abdulloh Mirsoyatov) is also preparing for arun intheupcoming election. His previous 2007 bid was unsuccessful. When his registration was denied on procedural grounds, Tojiboy-ugli filed numerous lawsuits
against theCentral Election Commission, theruling Liberal Democratic Party,
and even Islam Karimov himself. Naturally, no response was ever received. In
2006, Uzbekistan enacted legislation that requires every presidential candidate,
including the independents, to run only as a candidate from a political party.
Thus, Tojiboy-ugli dreams oftransforming his For Honest andFair Elections
movement into apolitical party by 2015. Then he can run as its candidate. He
believes that thecountrys political climate might improve, which will allow him
totake this step.
One more activist who tried toparticipate inthe2007 presidential elections
was Shukhrat Rustamov ofUzbekistans Human Rights Alliance. He is known
for defending therights ofindividuals who have been wronged by officials. In
2007, anyone who gathered 300 signatures from themembers ofa citizens action
group could become acandidate. Rustamov, who enjoys alot ofpopular support,
especially in his own community, had an easy time doing it. However, police

12|Exploring Uzbekistans Potential Political Transition

officials visited the members of the group on the eve of their meeting, warning them about thepossible consequences ofsupporting Rustamov. As aresult,
themeeting never took place. Rustamov was intimidated as well. It is still unclear
how he is planning toparticipate inthenext presidential campaign in2015.
A U.S. migr, Bakhodir Choriyev, who heads theBirdamlik Movement, may
become another presidential candidate. He stresses that he advocates anonviolent course ofaction, which is ina way reminiscent ofthe protests carried out
by theSoviet dissident movement. For instance, his associates organized public
gatherings incity squares, where they took group photos infront ofgovernment
buildings with theConstitution ofUzbekistan intheir hands.
Shosalimov, Tojiboy-ugli, Rustamov, and Choriyev do not directly participate inUzbekistans political life. They can be more aptly described as civic leaders. However, given thegrowing tensions andconflicts within theruling class,
theprimary cast ofpolitical characters will have totake these individuals into
account tosome degree. It is worth noting that Gulnara Karimova has already
tried to look for supporters among those discontented with the presidents
authoritarian methods.
Potential Outcomes
Currently, there is no official discussion ofpresidential succession. Both Shavkat
Mirziyoyev and Rustam Azimov are potential presidential hopefuls in theory
only. Neither ofthem will dare even drop ahint oftheir possible interest ingreater
political prospects. Thesame is true ofRustam Inoyatov andto aneven greater
extent of Gulnara Karimova. Moreover, the most likely candidate for the top
position intheeyes oflocal andforeign analysts could be easily sidelined andeven
disciplined for his real or imaginary political ambitions.
An unscientific poll conducted by theindependent Uzbek sociologist Khayet
Khan Nasreddinov sheds some light onthepotential outcomes ofan election.
His acquaintances answered thepoll questions for his article as afavor tohim.
Nasreddinov asked the people about the possible results of the 2015 presidential elections if theelections were free. According tothedata he obtained, Islam
Karimov would get 27.18 percent ofthe vote, Gulnara Karimova11.41 percent,
aforce structure representative (in this case, Inoyatov A.M.)13.63 percent,
Shavkat Mirziyoyev10.82 percent, Rustam Azimov5.71 percent. Opposition
leaders come next onNasreddinovs list: Bakhodir Choriyev would finish with
4.41 percent; Sanjar Umarov would get 2.61 percent, andMuhammad Salih
24.24 percent. Nasreddinov admits that his poll is hypothetical, and people
would vote differently during theactual elections.19
This informal, essentially unscientific poll can be viewed as areflection ofpublic sentiments. Although Uzbek citizens may not voice them in public, these
sentiments can nevertheless affect thesituation inthecountry. A case inpoint
is theSoviet intelligentsia, especially its dissident segment, whose protest views
appeared marginal andabsolutely irrelevant during Soviet times. Nevertheless, it

Alexey Malashenko|13

was thenonconformists that were thedriving force behind perestroika, which led
totheSoviet collapse.

Clans as aPolitical Factor

Regardless ofwho emerges as thenext president, regional clans andtheir political representatives will have a significant influence on the balance of power
Analysts identify three to seven clans, including the Samarkand-Bukhara,
Tashkent, Ferghana, Jizzakh, Surkhandarya-Kashkadarya, Khorezm, andKarakalpak clans. It is hard tocome up with amore exact number, since theeconomic,
kinship, andeven geographic borders ofthe clans are quite blurred. According
toone assessment, theTashkent andFerghana clans practically represent asingle entity. On theother hand, theTashkent andFerghana factions have always
been somewhat separate. In the last ten years, Tashkent was not very happy
about the large influx of Ferghana residents who moved into the capital in an
attempt to obtain important political positions. Another assessment identifies
anadditional Andijan clan within theFerghana (Ferghana-Tashkent) clan. Some
question theexistence ofthe Jizzakh clan, which can also be seen as apart ofthe
Tashkent clan. As for theSamarkand-Bukhara clan, one may focus ontherivalry
between its Samarkand andBukhara factions. There are also several smaller clans
that do not exert significant influence ona nationwide scale.
Every clan has its own sphere of influence, though it is not entirely clear
what influence each of the clans has on political life, given their varied classifications. Analysts from the International Institute for Political Expertise
attempted to assess a clans influence on a 10-point scale, with a score of 10
indicating ahigh degree ofinfluence. TheSamarkand-Bukhara clan received 8
points, Tashkent7.5, Ferghana6, Jizzakh5, Surkhandarya-Kashkadarya
(Surkash)4.5, Khorezm4, Karakalpak2.5.20 This appears tentative inlight
ofsupra-clan interests andinterclan cooperation.
As oftoday, theSamarkand-Bukhara andTashkent clans
remain themost influential ones, as theInternational Institute
Regardless of who emerges as the next
for Political Expertise research bears out. Central Asia expert
Andrei Grozin also adds theFerghana clan tothis category, president, regional clans and their political
albeit with some reservations.21 For his part, Sergei Gorshkov representatives will have a significant influence
believes that theSamarkand-Bukhara clan has been theonly on the balance of power in the country.
power hub since 1989.
The Tashkent clan gravitates toward economics
and finance, as well as science and the arts. It is more
European than the other clans. Samarkand natives are accustomed to being
inpower. Thecurrent president hails from theSamarkand clan. TheFerghana
clan is known for its commitment totraditional values andhas produced anumber ofspiritual leaders. In this respect, one cannot help drawing parallels with

14|Exploring Uzbekistans Potential Political Transition

Tajikistan, where, as theadage goes, Leninabad (Khujand)

The situation may escalate if the factions rules, Pamir dances, andKulob guards.
The last serious clash between the Tashkent
engaged in the transition of power prove unable and Samarkand-Bukhara clans occurred at the turn
to reach a quick settlement. In this case, one of2000. It mostly manifested itself as astandoff between
of the parties (especially the one that senses Jurabek Aminov of Samarkand (otherwise known as
its own defeat) may resort to religious protest The Gray Cardinal) and Timur Aliev of Tashkent
Timur), who also drew support from Ferghana
rhetoric in its appeal for public support. (TheGreat
natives. 22 Alievs supporters were confident that he would
subsequently become the president of the country. But
Islam Karimov put anend tothescuffle by banishing both
rivals from big politics andthus undermining theimportance ofthe clan factor. Theconflict between Tashkents Rustam Inoyatov andSamarkands Zakir
Almatov, which flared up after theAndijan events, can hardly be considered
aninstance ofinterclan struggle. It was aduel between theheads oftwo security organizations, between two politicians, and neither of them asked his
clan for assistance.
While clan divisions should not be overstated, ones origin does continue
to play a certain role in the distribution of administrative positions. But by
and large, under Karimov, clans do not play a central role in the distribution
ofpower. Karimov, whose Samarkand origin is still stressed by some political
analysts (some also call him the head of both the Tashkent and SamarkandBukhara clans), has eliminated the clan approach to politics and unquestionably become the national leader. He does not deny the existence of clans
and maintains a balance between them, for instance, by distributing power
positions toKhorezm andSurkash representatives. At thesame time, thepresident looks down onregional solidarity, believing that clan struggle threatens
therepublics stability23 (apart from pure pragmatism, Karimovs position can
be explained by thefact that his own family line is not themost influential one
intheSamarkand clan). It is personal loyalty that is most important toKarimov.
He also often reshuffles his team, thus preventing its members from accumulating excessive power, andhe instituted direct appointment ofkhokims (regional
governors) for this very reason. Because ofthis, it will not be possible for presidents after Karimov toemphasize their clan affiliations.
It is also clear that, no matter how and when the transition of power takes
place, thenew president will not be as authoritative anational leader as Karimov
is now. He will have aharder time mediating between clans, whose competition
may escalate when political positions are distributed. Under such conditions,
therole ofthe clan factor may increase for aperiod oftime.

Alexey Malashenko|15

Transition andIslam
As has frequently been the case in the past, public discontent may manifest
itself inreligious, Islamic form, which is typical ofany Muslim country. While
the main Islamic opposition force in Uzbekistan, Hizb-ut Tahrir al-Islami
(theIslamic Liberation Party) is weaker today, andits activists are forced tolive
inneighboring countries andRussia, where there are possibly hundreds ofthem,
theorganization may spring back tolife andtake charge ofthe protest inthetime
ofcrisis, especially intheFerghana Valley. Paradoxically, theforce structures may
take advantage of the growing activism on the part of the Islamic opposition;
they may initially allow protest inits extreme form only tosuppress it later, thus
again demonstrating their ability torestore order.
The situation may escalate if thefactions engaged inthetransition ofpower
prove unable toreach aquick settlement. In this case, one ofthe parties (especially theone that senses its own defeat) may resort toreligious protest rhetoric
inits appeal for public support.

External Actors
External actorsChina, Russia, and the United States in particularare
unlikely toplay asignificant role inUzbekistans power transition.
The pro-Russian lobby did not emerge inUzbekistan. Actually, Moscow did
not launch anorganized effort tocreate it. TheKremlin hopes that Islam Karimov
himself will ensure the continuation of Russian-Uzbek relations, but Karimov
has initiated andconsistently implemented amulti-vector foreign policy. While
maintaining bilateral economic relations with Russia, Karimov strongly opposes
Uzbekistans participation intheRussian integration projects: theCustoms Union
andtheEurasian Union. He refrained from joining theCollective Security Treaty
Organization (CSTO). In 2009, Tashkent failed tosign theagreement onthecreation ofa rapid reaction force within theCSTO framework.
There are no clearly Russia-oriented politicians among thepotential presidential candidates. After theannexation ofCrimea andtheconflict between Russia
andtheWest that followed, closer ties with Moscow may hinder thedevelopment
ofrelations with theUnited States andEurope. Uzbekistan has already indirectly
expressed its negative stance ontheKremlins Ukraine policy by abstaining during theUN vote onits resolution ontheCrimean annexation. Uzbekistan also
outbid Russia onNATO cargo transit. Russia requested 50,000 euros per container, while Uzbekistan offered just 30,000 euros.24 Respect for Russias decisive
moves along its Western borders is accompanied by fears ofits growing ambitions
along theentire perimeter ofthe post-Soviet space. Tashkent is even more unsettled by the quasi-Soviet rhetoric used by Moscow politicians and the red flags
onRussian city squares. If this trend continues, Uzbekistan will continue drifting
farther away from Russia under thenext president.

16|Exploring Uzbekistans Potential Political Transition

Even today, Moscows influence on Uzbekistans internal politics is insignificant, andany attempts toinfluence thecountrys power transition can only
trigger anegative reaction from theUzbek ruling class. Thus, Russia is reduced
toanobservers role inUzbekistans internal matters.
The United States exerts more influence onUzbekistans power transition, but
its role also appears limited. There are Western-oriented politicians inTashkent.
Among them are Rustam Azimov and former foreign minister Sodiq Safoyev.
Theyounger American- andEuropean-educated high-ranking officials can also
be considered part ofthe pro-American lobby. Their influence is growing; they
are replacing their older Russian-speaking counterparts, thus creating a proWestern atmosphere. While not forcing change, Washington is cautiously facilitating theevolution ofthe political landscape inaccordance with its interests.
Tashkent was promised that it would receive some ofthe American military
equipment after thecoalition troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Uzbekistan
will become part ofthe main route for thecargo shipped from Afghanistan,
according to the 2012 Northern Distribution Network agreement. The US
views thecountrys territory as most attractive for creating large regionally-significant transportation hubs andmilitary installations (bases) that do not have
tofunction ona permanent basis.25 After theevents inUkraine, theinterest
indeveloping U.S.-Uzbek relations will be increasing, andthecountrys next
president will do everything inhis power toimprove them.
For its part, China does not pay much attention tothequestion ofwho will
become Uzbekistans new leader. Beijing is certain that thenew Uzbek leader
will treat China as his countrys stable, economically advantageous partner.
Cooperation with China also insulates Uzbekistan from excessive pressure
onthepart ofRussia andtheUnited States. In this respect, Uzbekistan is no
different from other countries intheregion, which also treat theChinese presence inthearea as aninevitability. Besides, Beijing is likely totake amore active
position mediating regional conflicts, which include theessential issue ofthe
distribution ofwater resources, which Russia did not succeed inresolving.

It is impossible toformulate any substantiated predictions onthepower transition
inUzbekistan. In therun-up tothe2015 elections, Islam Karimov announced
that he is ready torelinquish some ofhis powers totheparliament andgovernment, which is inno way indicative ofhis weakness as anational leader. Should he
decide toparticipate inanother election, his victory is guaranteed.
The succession question is not yet ontheagenda. An interim dark horse may
emerge, allowing Karimov to retain the position of indisputable leader during
thetransition period andalso making for asofter transition. None ofthe politicians mentioned inthis article are guaranteed thepresidential seat. Each ofthem
rejects any mention ofsuch apossibility.

Alexey Malashenko|17

Despite thecovert competition among thepoliticians andregional clans, they

are amenable to consensus and compromise. Otherwise, Uzbekistan will face
social andpolitical upheavals. Theescalation ofconflict will invigorate Islamic
However, contrary totheinformation circulated ontheInternet (incidentally,
it appears on non-Uzbek websites), Uzbekistan has greater chances of avoiding the local scenarios of the Arab Spring and Orange Revolution. The country, alongside Kazakhstan, is also likely to remain a main regional power under
thenext president.


V. Panfilova, Karimov predlozhil peredel vlasti [Islam Karimov Curtails His Own
Powers], Nezavisimaya gazeta, March 18, 2014,

Lola Karimova-Tillyayeva: Ne obshchayus s sestroy 12 let [Lola Karimova-Tillyayeva:

I Havent Talked toMy Sister for 12 Years], BBC, September 26, 2013,

E. Minchenko, K. Petrov, andA. Kazantsev, Investitsionniy potentsial Uzbekistana

[Uzbekistans Investment Potential Report] (Moscow: Mezhdunarodnyy Institut
Politicheskoy Ekspertizy [International Institute for Political Expertise], July 2013),

P. Bologov, Mister I [Mister I],, February 5, 2014,

I. Sikorskaya, Uzbekistans Feuding Family Elite, Institute For War andPeace

Reporting, RCA Issue 725 (January 31, 2014),

A. Muminov, Kto byet i derzhit pod arestom Gulnaru Karimovu? [Who Is Holding
Under Arrest andBeating Up Gulnara Karimova?],, March 4, 2014, www.

V. Volkov, Tashkentskie kacheli Islama Karimova [The Tashkent Swings ofIslam

Karimov], Deutsche Welle, January 24, 2014,

Uzbekskie spetssluzhby zachishchayut loyalnykh Karimovu silovikov [Uzbek Special

Services Purge Security Personnel Loyal toKarimov],, January 28, 2014,

V. Tarasova, Gulnara Karimova pod psevdonimom pishet oppozitsionnye stati

[Gulnara Karimova is Writing Opposition Articles Under aPseudonym], Birzhevoy
lider, February 19, 2014,

10 Est li budushchee u Gulnary Karimovoy i kursa uzbekskogo suma k dollaru na

Forekse? [Does Gulnara Karimova Have aFuture? How About theUzbekistani Som
toDollar Exchange Rate onForex?], Birzhevoy lider, February 28, 2014,
11 D. Kislov, Uzbekistan: Vlast Karimova ne daet treshchin [Uzbekistan: Karimovs
Power Allows No Cracks], Information Agency, February 20, 2014,

20|Exploring Uzbekistans Potential Political Transition

12 O. Saokyan, Gugusha kak zerkalo uzbekskoy politiki [Gugusha as aMirror ofUzbek

Politics],, February 24, 2014,
13 M. Rakhimov, Mezhdunarodnoe sotrudnichestvo Uzbekistana v kontekste obespecheniya
stabilnosti i ustoychivogo razvitiya v Tsentralnoy Azii [Uzbekistans International
Cooperation intheContext ofEnsuring Stability andSustainable Development
inCentral Asia] (Tashkent: Yangi Nashr, 2011), 127.
14 V. Lisitsyna, V Uzbekistane usililas borba za vlast mezhdu klanami [Inter-clan
Struggle inUzbekistan Has Intensified], Russkaya planeta, January 9, 2014, http://
15 V. Panfilova, Krug vokrug Gulnary Karimovoy suzhaetsya [The Circle Around
Gulnara Karimova Is Getting Smaller], Nezavisimaya gazeta, February 19, 2014, www.
16 Kislov, Uzbekistan: Karimovs Power.
17 His name is also sometimes spelled Merziyoyev.
18 Pismo otstavnogo generala SNB: Shavkat Mirziyoyevvnedrenets Rustama
Inoyatova [NSS Retired General Writes: Shavkat Mirziyoyev is Rustam Inoyatovs
Plant], Narodnoe Dvizhenie Uzbekistana, May 6, 2013,
19 Kh.Kh. Nasreddinov, Uzbekistan: Za kogo budut golosovat na vyborakh?
[Uzbekistan: Who Will Get theVotes intheElection?], Information Agency, February 4, 2014,
20 Minchenko, Petrov, andKazantsev, Uzbekistans Investment Potential, 40.
21 A. Grozin, Nasledniki Tamerlana. Klanovaya sistema Uzbekistana [Tamburlaines
Successors. Uzbekistans Clan System], Arabeski,, December 9, 2005,; A. Grozin, Sleduyushchiy! Kto pridet
na smenu Islamu Karimovu?[Next! Who Will Replace Islam Karimov?], Arabeski,, December 14, 2005,
22 U. Khaknazarov, Islam Karimov i ego khozyain. Vozvrashchenie Serogo Kardinala
uzbekskoy politiki [Islam Karimov andHis Master. TheReturn ofthe Gray
Cardinal ofUzbek Politics],, January 2, 2003,
23 I. Karimov, Uzbekistan na poroge XXI veka [Uzbekistan ontheBrink ofthe XXI
Century] (Tashkent: Uzbekistan, 1997), 95.
24 Y. Paniyev, NATO priostanavlivaet sotrudnichestvo s Rossiey po Afganistanu
[NATO Suspends Its Cooperation With Russia onAfghanistan], Nezavisimaya gazeta,
April 3, 2014,
25 D. Malysheva, Security Challenges for Central Asia (Moscow: IMEMO RAN, 2013),

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