Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has sacked National Security Service (SNB) chief Rustam Inoyatov, a powerful veteran who held his post for 23 years. Inoyatov, 73 and known both as Uzbekistan's “last Stalinist politician" and as the “kingmaker” for playing a decisive role in ensuring Mirziyoyev succeeded the late longtime autocrat Islam Karimov in September 2016, was replaced at a meeting held on January 31, state and private media reported.
His departure was officially portrayed as voluntary, but there is enough evidence to suggest he was driven from his post. Sometimes seen as a rival to Mirziyoyev, Inoyatov, who is notoriously shy of publicity, seems to have fallen victim to the president's campaign to purge officials left over from predecessor Karimov and surround himself with his allies. Given how many noses Mirziyoyev has put of joint with his extensive economic, human rights and media reforms in the past year, that may be a make or break ploy.
At a gathering at the SNB headquarters on January 31, the Uzbek leader harshly criticised the security service in front of a crowd made up of lawmakers, foreign diplomats as well as local and foreign journalists. Mirziyoyev’s speech also targeted other law enforcement entities alongside the SNB for having almost unlimited rights to abuse Uzbek citizens. He denounced torture and tactics of intimidation frequently used by the Uzbek law enforcement bodies and declared that they should no longer be allowed to run wiretaps and searches without court orders.
“The [SNB] operates on the basis of a statute adopted by the government 26 years ago. We must reform this structure,” Mirziyoyev, 60, said. “It is unacceptable to arrest people on the basis of false testimonies. Until investigators can prove a person’s guilt, they should not be placed in prison,” he added.
General Prosecutor Ikhtiyor Abdullayev, 51, a long-standing government official who once served as an adviser to Karimov, has been named as Inoyatov's successor.
End of the power struggle
Though Mirziyoyev won the battle to take the presidency, he found himself dependent on two other members of what was an unofficial ruling trio. It is thought that political infighting became a real problem—analysts saw the situation as akin to the power struggle that ensued following Stalin’s death in the USSR between Beria, Malenkov and Khrushchev. Inoyatov and former finance minister Rustam Azimov were reportedly seen as the two people that along with Mirziyoyev made up the ruling Uzbek triumvirate.
That interpretation was partially proven when Mirziyoyev sidelined Azimov from the ruling triumvirate. Moreover, on June 1 last year the publication of the contents of a leaked tape featuring Mirziyoyev confirmed that Azimov was under pressure. Azimov has been credited as the force behind the initial financial and economic reforms that followed Karimov’s death. The changes prompted the return of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to Uzbekistan.
The departure of Azimov left Mirziyoyev with Inoyatov as his only powerful rival. Inoyatov—who, as the son of a KGB colonel, Rasul Inoyatov, was inducted into the KGB while serving in the Red Army during the 1976-1981 Soviet engagement in Afghanistan—was reportedly opposed to some policy changes which Mirziyoyev has brought in such as switching the embattled Uzbek currency over to a floating exchange rate regime. Critics claimed his stance was related to the reality that representatives of the state security apparatus controlled the black market for the Uzbek currency, engaging in the manipulation of foreign exchange rates for their own profit. The security chief’s conservative influence, nonetheless, did not get in the way of the currency liberalisation launched last September 6.
Mirziyoyev reshuffled senior security officials last September 4, sacking defence minister Qobul Berdiyev and leaving Inoyatov as the only security official left over from Karimov’s era. Mirziyoyev replaced Berdiyev with his ally Abdusalom Azizov. Berdiyev had served as Uzbekistan’s defence minister since 2008.
Rumours of assassination plots
Reports that members of the SNB were conspiring to assassinate reformist Mirziyoyev surfaced in September on the opposition People's Movement of Uzbekistan website. There were even claims that the president escaped a plot to murder him during a visit to Kyrgyzstan. More specifically, an "active member" of Islamic State (IS) was supposedly meant to carry out an attack based on a plan stemming from the alleged machinations of SNB generals during the second half of August. The plot, it is further claimed, failed to come to fruition as the IS member was arrested by the Kyrgyz state security services (GKNB) on September 2.
Khaknazarov in a separate article, published last September 11, accused the SNB of trying to “sabotage” Uzbekistan Airlines planes in order to threaten Mirziyoyev and dissuade him from removing an SNB stooge, Valery Tyan, as the head of the company. The article also indirectly accused Inoyatov of being involved in these efforts. Tyan, according to Khaknazarov, worked in favour of Inoyatov’s personal interests. The airline, he said had been turned into a corrupt business involved in smuggling goods from and to South Korea, among other operations.
The claims, of course, should be taken with a bucketful of salt, as the country is no stranger to unfounded rumours. For instance, there are the now disproven claims from late 2016 that Karimov’s disgraced daughter had been killed. Further reports last year appeared to hint at a possibility of a high stakes power struggle. In October it was revealed that Uzbekistan had rented Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov’s private jet for Mirziyoyev’s overseas trips. Usmanov, an ethnic Uzbek, has close ties to the Tashkent government. Mirziyoyev’s decision to fly in Usmanov’s private jet was seen as odd, breaking the tradition of the Uzbek president using state-owned aircraft.