By Deirdre Tynan
At a time when Uzbekistan was under European Union sanctions relating to the Andijan massacre, the German government paid $67.9 million euros from 2005-2009 for use of the Termez air base in the Central Asian nation.
The base at Termez, near the Uzbek-Afghan border, provides support for operations carried out by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops in Afghanistan. US personnel have been permitted to use the Termez facility since 2008. Germany has leased the base from the Uzbek government since 2002.
According to an official German Bundestag document, during the years Uzbekistan endured EU sanctions, imposed following Tashkent’s crackdown on Andijan protesters in 2005, the German government increased its annual payments to Tashkent. In 2005 Germany paid 12.4 million euros to lease the base; in 2006 and 2007, annual payments rose to 13.3 million and 14.8 million euros respectively; the lease payments peaked in 2008, when Germany paid 15.2 million euros, falling in 2009 back to 12.2 million euros. What Germany paid for the use of the base prior to 2005 was not publicized.
The 2005-2009 figures are included in an official German government response to questions posed in late 2010 by Paul Schäfer, Jan van Aken and Sevim Dagdelen, MPs who are members of the opposition Left Party. The document provided no figures for 2010.
The EU imposed sanctions on Uzbekistan in late 2005 in response to Uzbekistan’s refusal to allow an independent investigation into the Andijan events. The sanctions included a prohibition on arms exports to Tashkent that could be used for the repression of internal dissent. Brussels also banned top Uzbek officials deemed responsible for the massacre from traveling to any EU member state.
Human rights organizations have long argued that Germany never fully supported the sanctions and undermined them through bilateral diplomacy efforts with Tashkent. The travel ban was lifted in 2008 and the arms embargo in 2009. Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s rehabilitation seemed complete with a trip to Brussels in January of this year. However, the visit ended up having mixed PR results for the Uzbek leader.
Veronika Szente Goldston, Human Rights Watch’s advocacy director for Europe and Central Asia, said the German payments for Termez illustrate how difficult it was for Berlin to “navigate” its relationship with Tashkent while the sanctions were in place. “This just goes to show how strategic interests were perceived as standing in the way of a more principled, robust human rights approach on the part of the German government in relation to the sanctions,” she said on March 24.
“They [German government officials] could have been more honest about it,” Szente Goldston added. “Instead of talking about the sanctions being ineffective, or talking about their genuine belief in engagement for engagement’s own sake, they could have honestly spelt out this tension, which would have been more acceptable from a human rights perspective.”
Michael Laubsch, the Bonn-based executive director of the Eurasian Transition Group, said German taxpayers should be made aware that their money is going to Uzbekistan’s authoritarian government.
“The amount of money the German Government is paying for the Termez airfield proves how much the Bundeswehr [German Federal Defense Force] is counting on cooperation with the regime in Uzbekistan, which is one of the worst [rights offenders] globally,” he said. “The German tax payer might not be aware of the amount of money that was paid to the Karimov Clan between 2005 and 2009 because responsible lawmakers in Berlin never tried to explain the real reasons for supporting Karimov.”
“Most of the German parties that supported the abstention on the recent resolution on Libya at the UN Security Council argued that Germany should not be involved in military actions in Northern Africa,” Laubsch added. “Meanwhile, those parties were and are part of a government that pays millions of euros to a dictatorship that suppresses its own people.”
Deirdre Tynan is a Bishkek-based reporter specializing in Central Asian affairs.