Change of power in Uzbekistan may create problems for Minsk
Russia seeks to preserve her political dominance in Central Asia. The death of Karimov will prompt the Kremlin to step up its game in Uzbekistan, including engaging this country in Moscow-initiated integration projects (EEU and CSTO). The struggle for influence in Uzbekistan will require substantial resources from Moscow. That said, Russia might cut financial support for Minsk.
The deceased Uzbek leader sought to be equidistant from the main external players in the region and consistently opposed to Moscow’s great-power ambitions. The change of power in Uzbekistan is likely to trigger the struggle among external actors for influence on the new Uzbek leader. Yet fears of possible political destabilization in Uzbekistan seem premature. For years, Karimov exercised brutal repression against the secular and religious opposition. As a result, one is completely destroyed, while the other one is extremely weak and deep in the underground.
Meanwhile, Karimov has left the country in a dire economic state. The new Uzbek leadership’s foreign policy will be largely predefined by where external financial assistance comes from.
The threat of destabilization in Uzbekistan is speculative for Belarus due to the geographical distance between the two states. However, Tashkent may become Minsk’s rival for obtaining financial support from Russia. Belarus is already a member in the CSTO and the EEU; she does not want to be drawn into the Kremlin's confrontation with the West and seeks to reduce her dependence on Russia. Unlike the Uzbek leadership, the Belarusian authorities have virtually nothing to "sell" to Moscow in the political, ideological, or symbolic terms. That said, the economic situation in Belarus is unstable and Russia is still a major financial donor for Minsk.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.