New alliance agreement expected to be signed by Russia and Uzbekistan

Russian President Vladimir Putin was set to sign an alliance treaty with Uzbekistan on Monday in a show of support for the authoritarian Uzbek leader, who has been increasingly isolated in the West for his government's brutal suppression of an uprising in May.Uzbek President Islam Karimov was welcomed with a red carpet and honor guard when he arrived in Moscow just as an Uzbek court began delivering a verdict in the trial of 15 alleged participants in the May 13 unrest in the eastern city of Andijan.

Uzbek authorities say Islamic militants staged the uprising and that 187 people were killed, mostly militants and government troops. Human rights groups say over 700 people, mostly unarmed civilians, were killed by government forces.

He said relations "have been developing very actively in the political field, in the economic and energy sphere, and our trade volume has increased."

He said the two countries were "reaching an unprecedented level of relations. I am convinced that this is in line with long-term strategic goals of both Russia and Uzbekistan."

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said the alliance treaty would establish a "long-term foundation" for closer bilateral ties, according to a statement. He said the two nations are considering ways to expand economic and military cooperation, the AP reports.

Karimov in the past has reacted coldly to Russia's military cooperation initiatives and sought to cultivate closer ties with the United States and other Western nations, hosting U.S. troops for operations in Afghanistan in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. But since the brutal crackdown in Andijan and Karimov's rejection of an international probe strained Uzbekistan's relations with the West, Karimov has found staunch support in Russia and China powerful countries that dominate the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

The SCO, a regional security group including Uzbekistan and three other nations in former Soviet Central Asia, urged the United States to set a timetable for withdrawing from their bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan - a call reflecting unease in Moscow and Beijing over the U.S. presence in the resource-rich, strategically located region. Later that month, Uzbekistan handed the U.S. troops a six-month eviction notice.

Signaling closer military ties with Moscow, Russia and Uzbekistan held their first joint military exercise in September, which involved an elite Russian intelligence unit. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov also signed a bilateral agreement relating to flights of military and other government planes.

The business daily Kommersant reported that the alliance treaty to be signed Monday would include a provision that could allow Russia to open a military base in Uzbekistan and back Karimov's government with force in the event of unrest. A.M.

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