Crossroads Asia | Politics | Central Asia
The apparent dismissal of Rustam Inoyatov, who lost his long-held post as head of the Uzbek security services back in 2018, moves a former kingmaker off the board.
Rustam Inoyatov, until 2018 the long-serving head of Uzbekistan’s much-feared National Security Service (SNB), seems to have been replaced as the Uzbek president’s adviser on law enforcement.
In a November 15 announcement via Telegram, presidential spokesman Sherzod Asadov said that Bakhtiyor Islomov, who had been serving as the presidential adviser on civil rights, would be taking on the law enforcement advisory role following a presidential decree. This would appear, by default, to signal the dismissal of Inoyatov from that position, though no clear announcement regarding Inoyatov’s removal has been made.
In the days after the 2016 death of Uzbekistan’s first president, Islam Karimov, it was not clear who would take over. Inoyatov had led the SNB since 1995 (and had served in the Uzbek KGB for 20 years in the Soviet era). He maneuvered the SNB into one of the most powerful institutions in the country. Inoyatov was described by many as a “grey cardinal,” a power behind the throne. But there were others with power, too: Karimov’s long-time prime minister, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, and Finance Minister Rustam Azimov. Indeed, in late August 2016, RFE/RL’s Bruce Pannier deemed Inoyatov “a third, less likely potential candidate” after Mirziyoyev and Azimov due to his age, 72 at the time. “Inoyatov is seen as a kingmaker,” Pannier wrote, “not a king.”
Mirziyoyev clearly won whatever behind-the-scenes wrangling for power took place, and is firmly cemented in the presidency now. Along the way, he cleared out many Karimov-era figures, including Azimov and Inoyatov.
Azimov was relieved of his finance post the day after Mirziyoyev was sworn into office in December 2016, and in June 2017 he was dismissed from government altogether after months of presidential criticism of the country’s banking system.
Inoyatov took longer to unseat but in February 2018 he was appointed an adviser to the president, a de facto dismissal from his leadership of the SNB. The dismissal came, as in Azimov’s case, after harsh criticisms of the security services from Mirziyoyev. The SNB was soon after renamed the State Security Service (SGB) and reorganized, with Mirziyoyev clearly favoring the Uzbekistan National Guard, which he had earlier shifted out of the SNB’s umbrella and to the Defense Ministry.
Now 76, Inoyatov is being shuffled along again. The specific reasons are unknown, and it isn’t likely that the Uzbek government will comment on the matter. The timing, just after Mirizyoyev secured a second term in the presidency in a no-competition, no-nonsense electoral exercise in late October, may be significant. Mirziyoyev’s centralization of power over the last five years has been gradual, and accompanied by the mantra of reform. With Inoyatov’s apparent dismissal, that exercise is essentially complete. Mirziyoyev no longer needs a kingmaker.