restricted access The Uzbek Wild Card in the New Great Game in Central Asia

Beginning in early 2013, US analysts detected a shift in Uzbekistan’s foreign policy—a move to increasingly rely on bilateralism as the basis for the state’s international relations. President Islam Karimov’s rejection of Russia’s self-proclaimed role of hegemon in Central Asia has likely contributed to this newfound policy approach that places Tashkent in a position to increase social and economic ties with the region’s emerging powerhouse—China. Although Uzbekistan has expressed consistent interest in establishing closer ties with the US, the withdrawal of US forces from the region diminishes the ability of the US to remain a plausible partner. This new approach to foreign relations will not fully prevent Uzbekistan from participating in the region’s multilateral organizations, but rather it is seen as an attempt to create some spacing between Tashkent and Moscow. This paper argues that active multistate cooperation between Uzbekistan, its Central Asian neighbors, and the region’s superpowers—Russia, China, and the United States—is necessary for the containment of extremism in Afghanistan following the International Security Assistnace Force drawdown in 2016. However, if Uzbekistan abandons multilateralism to the degree that neighboring Turkmenistan has and relies on the neorealist tenet of self-help in addressing political and security threats, the state will inevitably expose itself to Russian meddling. Uzbek cooperation with Vladimir Putin in the areas of economic development and security will continue but will be approached very cautiously due to the alarm resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.