Saturday, October 17, 2015

Could a Russian Fake Provoke a War in Central Asia?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 17 – Russian news outlets, either through simple ignorance and general lack of journalistic standards or possibly for more nefarious goals, have been promoting the idea that Uzbekistan is on the edge of a war with Kyrgyzstan by distorting the historical record and reality, according to an expose by Central Fergana portal.

            This started when the Regnum news agency reported that Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov supposedly had said in the Kazakkhstan capital of Astana on September 7, 2015, that “water and energy problems in Ccentral Asia may deepen to the point that they could cause not only serious conflict or even war” (

            Fergana provides a screenshot of the Regnum report but points out that Karimov was not in Kazakhstan a month ago as the article suggested and that he had made those points not last month but three years ago (  Unfortunately, the story and the problem haven’t ended there.

            Before anyone could correct Regnum’s error, it was picked up by Moscow’s “Gazeta” which compounded the mistake in two ways.  On the one hand, that Russian outlet suggested that Russia was as a result being “drawn into a water war” in Central Asia, although whether “drawn in” is the correct term is far from clear (

            The paper argued that this was all the more so because the words cited by Regnum had supposedly appeared on the website of the Uzbekistan president and thus must reflect Tashkent’s official policy. In fact, the Fergana investigation found, no such words have ever appeared on Karimov’s site.

            And on the other, “Gazeta” committed another gaffe: It asserted that “the sources of the majority of major mountain rivers are, for example, in Kyryzstan while Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are downstream,” clearly confusing Tajikistan, where many such rivers rise and about which Tashkent has complained, with Kazakhstan where they don’t.

            The most innocent explanation for what Regnum did and what “Gazeta” continued is that the Russian outlets confused the joint statement of Karimov and Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov of October 2015 with earlier remarks. But their statement last week was far more measured than what the Russian outlets said (

            Uzbekistan outlets, Fergana continues, have not raised the issue of a possible “’future’ war with Kyrgyzstan at all. At the same time, they have not exposed the Russian “mistakes,” possibly because, as Fergana’s chief editor Daniil Kislov says, the Russian errors serve to highlight the importance of the water issue for Tashkent.

            But he suggests that the recent Russian errors bear a greater resemble to “conscious disinformation than to the mistakes of journalists.” If that is so – and Fergana’s investigation clearly indicates that it is – then what has appeared in the Russian media may be less about Tashkent’s plans than about Moscow’s.

            By stirring the pot, especially at a time when Kyrgyzstan is clearly in the Russian camp and Uzbekistan is not, Moscow appears to be setting the stage for increasing tensions between the two countries, possibly sparking the kind of conflict into which Moscow could intervene in order to rein in Tashkent.

            If that is the case, and unfortunately Vladimir Putin's behavior elsewhere does not give much ground for optimism that it is not, then what appear today to be “mistakes” in the Moscow media may be the beginning of a new “hybrid” Russian war against Uzbekistan and Central Asia more generally.

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