This is a republication of a post authored by Andrew Korybko, which was first published in OneWorld. It has been adapted with full permission obtained from the author.
Official Update on Uzbekistan
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s press service reported on Saturday that he traveled to Nukus, the capital of the autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan, during which time he decreed that articles related to that subnational entity’s special status won’t be changed during the ongoing constitutional reform process. A draft to the opposite effect prompted an unauthorized rally there on Friday, which a joint statement released the day after by the local parliament, republican government, and the region’s Interior Ministry claimed was hijacked by foreign-connected criminal elements who unsuccessfully tried to seize government buildings. They also accused unnamed foreign forces of trying to destabilize the situation through the proliferation of information warfare narratives that distorted current events.
The sequence of events in the 24 hours since the Nukus Incident enables objective observers to obtain a clearer idea of what exactly transpired. As the author initially suspected prior to the news about President Mirziyoyev’s trip to the Karakalpak capital and his promise that its autonomy won’t be scrapped during the constitutional reform process, “It’s Too Early To Call The Protests In Uzbekistan’s Karakalpakstan A Color Revolution”. This analytical angle was shaped by “Applying Putin’s Advice Against Wishful Thinking To Alt-Media’s Color Revolution Speculation”, which resulted in taking a cautious approach towards the incident unlike many in the Alt-Media Community (AMC) who consider all protests in the Global South to be CIA-orchestrated Color Revolutions aimed at regime change.
Knowing what’s since been revealed from the earlier mentioned joint statement from the autonomous republic’s top political and security structures, there’s no doubt that some Color Revolution technology was indeed utilized during the Nukus Incident. Per Google Translate, “Hiding behind populist slogans, manipulating the consciousness and trust of citizens, the organizers of the riots, not obeying the legitimate demands of the authorities, gathered the citizens of the republic on the square in front of the complex of administrative buildings of the Republic of Karakalpakstan. Provocateurs, relying on the gathered citizens, made an attempt to seize these state institutions and thus split the society, destabilize the socio-political situation in Uzbekistan.”
Acknowledging these facts isn’t the same as automatically concluding that a foreign intelligence agency was involved in organizing the unrest. Color Revolution technology has proliferated so widely across global society in the past two decades that any non-state actor can employ its many tactics and strategies without having to be connected to any external spy service. As the author explained in his first hyperlinked analysis from Saturday morning, the odds of a serious full-fledged foreign-backed Color Revolution succeeding in sparking major instability in Uzbekistan – and not to mention the rest of Central Asia – are close to nil due to the region’s sparsely populated settlements, far-flung location from the rest of the country’s key cities, and Uzbekistan’s strong military-intelligence services.
Be that as it is, the regional authorities’ vague mentioning of foreign forces is subject to interpretation, and was most likely deliberately ambiguous for reasons that will now be explained. Uzbekistan, like every Central Asian country, is astride major drug smuggling routes controlled by transnational criminal gangs. These organizations usually have some connection with terrorist groups, whether in their part of the former Soviet Union and/or in neighboring Afghanistan, which makes them very dangerous non-state actors. They can easily be used as proxies of forces even more sinister than themselves, be they foreign intelligence agencies and/or terrorists (the second-mentioned sometimes being proxies of the first). Other times, however, they operate on the orders of powerful clans or even just independently.
Comparing Karakalpakstan’s July Event with Kazakhstan’s January Events
It remains unclear at the time of writing whether the authorities are even yet aware of exactly what these foreign connections are, but they at the very least realized that certain foreign media forces were sharing a twisted interpretation of events that misportrayed the Nukus Incident as unprovoked brutality by the state against “peaceful protesters”, which isn’t what happened. As the region’s top political and security structures confirmed, a criminal group manipulated the populace in order to use them as human shields behind which to orchestrate their attempted seizure of government buildings. This eerily resembles the opening stages of the Hybrid War of Terror on Kazakhstan from early January whereby organic protests prompted by the removal of fuel subsidies were hijacked by similarly nefarious forces.
Both instances of unrest were most directly caused by a controversial government decision, or in the case of Uzbekistan, a potentially planned one. They were also exploited by criminal groups who employed Color Revolution technology after hiding behind manipulated members of the public who they misled into participating in their unauthorized protest in order to exploit them as human shields. So far, this is all par for the course when it comes to protests nowadays, whether in the Golden Billion (ex: Antifa, “Black Lives Matter”, anti-COVID, etc.) or the Global South. It’s here where the differences begin to emerge, however, because the Nukus Incident ended in just a few hours while the Hybrid War of Terror on Kazakhstan required a Russian-led CSTO peacekeeping intervention to stop.
Contrasting These Two Examples of Unrest
That outcome is due to several significant factors. First, the Uzbek military-intelligence services are much more powerful and less corrupt than their Kazakh counterparts. Second, the Karakalpak “trigger event” related to the reportedly planned removal of its autonomy was localized to that region and didn’t directly concern the rest of the country like the removal of fuel subsidies did in Kazakhstan. Third, the criminal gang behind the Nukus Incident wasn’t anywhere near as well-equipped or -trained as those behind the Hybrid War of Terror on Kazakhstan. Fourth, the preceding observation very strongly suggests a lack of professionalism that in turn brings the analysis to the fifth point of there being very little chance that this was directly connected to a serious full-fledged foreign-backed Color Revolution.
President Mirziyoyev’s reaction adds credence to that conclusion since he’s unlikely to have visited the site of Friday’s unrest less than 24 hours after it transpired and then promised that the constitutional reform process wouldn’t remove Karakalpakstan’s autonomy (which was the demand of the majority of peacefully but nevertheless still illegally protesting locals misled into functioning as human shields) if his powerful military-intelligence services truly believed that this was an unpopular externally orchestrated coup attempt orchestrated on that pretext. Having said that, the top regional political and security structures’ joint statement vaguely talking about the role of foreign forces beyond their specified information warfare serves a strategic purpose related to shaping forthcoming narratives.
Foreign Speculation & Scenario Forecasting
That’s not to say that there isn’t any truth to what was ambiguously written – there certainly is, even if it’s only at the very least connected to transnational drug gangs – but just that it enables the authorities to expand the scope of their “Democratic Security” response (counter-Hybrid Warfare tactics and strategies) in order to sustainably ensure stability in Karakalpakstan and elsewhere in the coming weeks. The Nukus Incident was indeed isolated but it might not be the only instance of violence carried out on the pretext of “protesting” some element or another of the constitutional reform process. Quite clearly, whoever was behind it hadn’t coordinated with conspirators elsewhere in the country like what happened in Kazakhstan in January but it can’t be dismissed that “copycats” might soon creep up.
Viewed in this larger strategic context and being aware that Uzbekistan’s powerful military-intelligence services became what they are precisely because they’re required to keep this country’s disparate clan-based society together, it’s certainly possible that some hostile elements (whether domestic and/or external) will seek to destabilize the state during its constitutional reform process and subsequent referendum by exploiting its preexisting fault lines. Unlike the regionally limited pro-autonomy cause that masked the criminal gang’s unsuccessful seizure of power in Karakalpakstan, copycat movements elsewhere will probably try to take advantage of the more nationally all-encompassing reform proposal enabling President Mirziyoyev to run again beyond what’s supposed to be his final term in office.
To summarize, the reasons why the Nukus Incident shouldn’t be seen as connected with this Color Revolution scenario are because:
- The state’s “trigger event” was regionally limited.
- It prompted genuinely grassroots and organic protests.
- Those criminals who hijacked them didn’t coordinate with others elsewhere across the country beforehand like what would have happened had they sought to replicate the Hybrid War of Terror on Kazakhstan.
- They weren’t anywhere near as well-equipped and -trained as those terrorists.
- The unrest was promptly quelled by the authorities.
Had President Mirziyoyev considered Friday’s event the opening salvo of a larger campaign, then he wouldn’t have visited Nukus less than 24 hours later and promised not to remove Karakalpakstan’s autonomy.
Uzbekistan is a fiercely sovereign state, so much so that it even had problems with Russia in the past that its former leader claimed were due to Tashkent’s relevant concerns about Moscow overstepping its authority through the CSTO and other means. This means that it’s completely unrealistic to imagine that its incumbent president capitulated to the demands of an ultimately unsuccessful but supposedly full-fledged foreign-backed Color Revolution as can naturally be implied by interpreting his trip to Nukus in the context of the explanation of Friday’s events shared by some in the AMC. Rather, that very development discredits this view and thus strongly suggests that the Nukus Incident wasn’t a full-fledged foreign-backed Color Revolution but the isolated hijacking of a genuinely grassroots protest.
Whatever one’s conclusion may be about what truly transpired in Karakalpakstan on Friday, it’ll form an integral part of their evolving worldview related to the global systemic transition to multipolarity due to Uzbekistan’s connection to this process by virtue of its geostrategic location in the literal center of Eurasia. Either one ascribes to the oversimplified and arguably inaccurate assessment propagated by many in the AMC for reasons of “narrative/political convenience” or they aspire to obtain a more nuanced understanding of the complex socio-political processes (soft security) connected to Color Revolutions in general and in the Nukus Incident in particular. The first will result in keeping them blinded to objective strategic realities while the second will sustainably enrich their analytical skills.