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Arkadiusz Legieć

Uzbekistan without Islam Karimov – the consequences of the leader`s death

President of Uzbekistan Islom Karimov died on the 2nd September after 27 years of rule, during which ran repressive internal policy against religious radicals and isolated the country internationally. His death brings the risk of destabilization to the country. The new president will probably be the current prime minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev. The key to the stability of the country will be the consolidation of power by the new leader.

Times of Karimov

Ruling Uzbekistan since 1989 Karimov created political system based on the person of the leader and one of the most closed and authoritarian regimes in the region. Notwithstanding the provisions of the constitution he was elected four times as president (the Constitution provides for a maximum of one re-election). He treated the state as his own property while maintaining anachronistic model of social relations.

As a result of political repression substitute of the opposition only works on emigration.

Uzbekistan under his rule became corrupted state, in which no elections were free, and whose citizens have access only to the pro-government media and are constantly subjected to surveillance and control of the security services. As a result of political repression (long-term prisons, beatings, kidnappings, tortures, rapes and killings on behalf of) substitute of the opposition only works on emigration. The parliament formed a government coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (Karimov supporter in the presidential election for years) and the Uzbekistan National Revival Democratic Party, which is headed by Mirziyoyew.

Karimov brutally suppressed all social rebellions (for example – in Andijan in 2005). Such policy determined the ethnic tensions in the country and border conflicts with its neighbors in the Fergana Valley. Stabilizing factor was fear of Karimov and formed division of influences between major clans. The most influential Samarkand Clan, which originated for Karimov himself, had influence in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the second largest Tashkent clan was controlling the state security services. Smaller clans, such as Jizak Clan, Bokhara Clan, Fergana Clan and Khorezm Clan used to come into alliances with larger clans, thus creating a system of stabilizing the situation in the whole territory of Uzbekistan.

Changing the state policy is unlikely, and the succession will take place in controlled manner by the security apparatus.


Scenarios of succession are limited to the closest associates of Karimov. Changing the state policy is unlikely, and the succession will take place in controlled manner by the security apparatus. Power probably will be taken by Shavkat Mirziyoyew, Prime Minister of Uzbekistan, closely associated with the family of Karimov and having the support of the ministries of power, which increases the possibility of implementing formed the center of power. The stability of his rule, however, will depend on the support of Rustam Inoyatow.

Inojatow is the head of the National Security Service, is considered as the “gray eminence” of Uzbekistan. It is unlikely that he wanted to run for president`s office, but this can not be excluded out in the future. This will depend on the course of its cooperation with Mirziyoyev.

Other potential candidates do not have sufficient political base, such as deputy prime minister Rustan Azimov and chairman of the Senate Nigmatil Judaszew, which waived its constitutional obligation to exercise temporarily the function of head of state after the death of Karimov for Mirziyoyev. It is unlikely also to apply for the office by one of Karimov`s daughters – elder Gulnora, which two years ago fell into conflict with his father and was barred from the highest policy or younger Lola, who has never been in it fully involved.

The threat of Jihadism

Uzbekistan is struggling with Islamic terrorism since the 90s, when a group of Islamic radicals began fighting with the regime of Karimov (the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan tried to call Sunni uprising). Inside the country has developed Muslim brotherhood based on a radical interpretation of the Koran, often wahabi, whose activities gained anti-government profile (eg. events in Namangan in 1991). Possible conflict in power, reflected in the destabilization of the state, can cause activisation of regional terrorist groups such as the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Impact on recruitment Uzbeks to terrorist groups has a very large number of young people who are the main group of people recruited into the ranks of terrorist organizations such as Islamic State or regional Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, as well as emigration to Russia, where terrorist organizations (mainly gangs of Caucasian) recruit citizens Central Asian states.

It is estimated that currently more than 500 Uzbeks fight in the so-called ISIS.

Uzbeks are an important group fighting for the so-called Islamic State (ISIS). It is estimated that currently more than 500 Uzbeks fight in its ranks. They have their own armed groups in Syria, using contacts with other terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda or Al Nusra Front. More than 40 fighters with combat experience gained so far returned to the country.

ISIS influence in the region is limited, however, opportunity to create substitutes for its province could result in an increased radicalization among Uzbeks, directed against ruling elites. Contribute to this may be active terrorist groups in other countries of Central Asia, and also constant threat of destabilization and Jihadism from Afghanistan, in which the active cell Islamic State, operates IRU, which in 2015 unilaterally declared membership in ISIS, and also the Taliban fights (in the ranks of which are also Uzbeks).

The foreign policy

Karimov criticized Russian integration projects of post-Soviet space, fearing the political dominance of the largest neighbor. The country did not join the Eurasian Economic Union (EUG) and in 2012 suspended its membership in the Organization of Collective Security Treaty (CSTO). Russia, however, will work to restore the participation of Uzbekistan in the CSTO and its rapprochement with EUG, as is apparent from its geopolitical ambitions in Central Asia.

Karimov criticized Russian integration projects of post-Soviet space, fearing the political dominance of the largest neighbor.

Another factor that works in favor of Russia is the unstable situation in the region (Uzbek-Kyrgyz conflict about the course of the border and the status of the Uzbek minority in Kyrgyzstan, but also Tajik minority in Uzbekistan, disputes over water resources in the region and unstable Uzbek-Afghan borderland), thanks to which Russia is a the most important guarantee for the maintenance of security, as in the case of Russian support for the control and management of Uzbek-Afghan border in 2015.

The new president may also face the challenge of pro-Russian separatist movements, an example of which is the situation in the Autonomous Republic of Uzbek Karakalpakstan. Other means of pressure from Russia include, among others, policy of granting Russian citizenship to people born in the USSR or their descendants, or also Russian investments in the energy sector (Russian Lukoil is a partner of the Uzbek state holding Uzbekneftegaz projects exploration of gas deposits on the seabed of the Aral Sea and has a 90% stake in the consortium operating the strategic project for the exploration of the Uzbek gas fields Kandym-Khausak-Chady-Kungrad).

Factor weakening Russian influence is the economic involvement of China, which is the main economic partner, investor and lender for poorer Uzbekistan. The project of the New Silk Road China intensifies cooperation with this country in the field of infrastructure investments. The confirmation of the growing role of China is also concluded in June agreement on a comprehensive and strategic partnership.

Another chance to balance Russian influence is cooperation within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Last year a joint summit of the SCO and BRICS countries in Ufa created the institutional instruments to deepen economic cooperation of Uzbekistan with India, Pakistan, Brazil and South Africa.

Matters relating to regional security Uzbekistan, together with other Central Asian states, consults with the US format calls “S5 + 1”. It strengthens the role of the US in the context of operating in the Afghanistan mission of US and NATO mission “Resolute Support”. But there is no real possibility to return to the intensity of mutual contacts from the years 2001-2005, when in Uzbekistan functioned US military base at Karshi-Khanabad, although NATO countries continue to use in order to supply its troops in Afghanistan from Termez airbase.


The change of power in Uzbekistan will take place in a controlled manner between the closest collaborators of the late president. There will be no change in government policy, political liberalization, and any raise of living standards of citizens. The biggest risk may create a conflict of elites, which could destabilize the country, negatively affecting created by Karimov status quo in clans system, arouse ethnic conflicts and create a wider field of action for Islamic radicals. The decisive test for the state will be the end of the transitional period by efficiently organizing elections within three months, which means conduct should be followed by the OSCE, CoE and the EU.

The new government will continue its strategy of un-engage in international politics, with a potential to benefit from bilateral cooperation with individual partners. Therefore, the EU should develop cooperation with Uzbekistan in the framework of the activities envisaged in the priorities of the Slovak Presidency, which assume the renewal of the EU Strategy for Central Asia, support for regional stability and the fight against terrorism and the phenomenon of foreign fighters. The key can be used to support the modernization of the Uzbek border service.

On economic issues, the EU can use planned by Uzbekistan diversification of export markets for their agricultural products by creating for them preferential trading conditions. Poland should support such activities and warrants them a dialogue on human rights and democracy, and extend the offer of scholarships for young people from Uzbekistan.

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Photo: Bukhara, Uzbekistan; Author: Mariusz Kluzniak; Source:; Licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Arkadiusz Legieć is an MA student in a Centre of East European Studies, University of Warsaw. His field of research concerns Post-Soviet Region, Strategic and Terrorism Studies and also Failed and Unrecognized States. Publications include analysis concerning politics in post-soviet area, contemporary terrorism and foreign fighters phenomenon, on the example of Ukraine-Russian Conflict.

Contact: [email protected]

Themes: Armenia, Politics,
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