18 October 2007

Alisher Usmanov eyes bigger prize?

The Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty website is not one I regularly visit but I was intrigued by a recent item about Alisher Usmanov . If it is true then Usmanov may have his sights on a prize far bigger than just a north London football club. Apparently he is seen as a possible heir to Islom Karimov, the current president of Uzbekistan

Much of the article covers ground which will now be very familiar to anyone following Usmanov’s ham fisted attempt to silence Craig Murray and Tim Ireland, the outrage it caused within the blogosphere and his subsequent charm offensive (feeding lazy journalists first rate food and wine and fourth rate spin) However it notes that Craig Murray and others are convinced that Usmanov harbours “significant ambitions” regarding his Central Asian homeland.

According to Murray, Karimov and his family would ultimately like Usmanov to succeed the president: "I've been aware for at least the last three years that Alisher Usmanov was looked on favourably by the Karimov family as a possible, eventual successor when President Karimov decides to give up in -- what Karimov hopes -- won't be for several years. But the Karimov family has been very keen to find a successor who they trust will not take all the money and all the industries and properties away from the Karimov family." Said Murray

Murray is not alone: Yevgeny Volk, the head of the Nasledie think tank in Moscow agrees that Usmanov would be a likely contender to take over when the 71-year-old strongman passes on. "I think Usmanov needs power because -- first of all -- he still is a stranger in Russia to some extent. With his origin and roots, he belongs to the Uzbek nation. I think his political ambitions could be realized in Uzbekistan."

But it’s not just his native roots that would make Usmanov the right man for the job. Usmanov, a senior adviser to Gazprom and president of one its subsidiaries, is arguably part and parcel of the Kremlin’s inner circle. Russia and its energy firms still play a significant role in Tashkent’s affairs; Usmanov could be uniquely poised to eventually take over in the Uzbek capital with pivotal backing from Moscow. "Usmanov's latest steps show his efforts to create a rapport with Russian leaders and demonstrate his loyalty,” according to Volk

Usmanov has never said publicly that he would consider entering politics. Nor has he made any political comments about Uzbekistan. There could also be official and legal barriers for Usmanov to run for the Uzbek presidency. His Russian citizenship and years abroad could work against his candidacy. But with Russia using energy clout to reassert hegemony over the lands of Moscow’s former empire, few profiles might better fit the bill to lead Uzbekistan than that of Alisher Usmanov.

This may just all be speculation but perhaps Usmanov really does have his eye on the big prize. I wonder if he will get match fit by having a few bloggers boiled alive*?

* The apparent fate, according to Human Rights Watch, of Muzafar Avazov in an Uzbek prison in 2002

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