June 14, 2011 / 12:01 PM / 9 years ago

Russian, Uzbek leaders concerned by Arab spring

* Medvedev says Russia wants predictability in region

* Karimov says Arab events “cannot fail” to cause concern

* Critics say Uzbekistan could face violence

MOSCOW, June 14 (Reuters) - A wave of protests sweeping North Africa and the Middle East this year could undermine stability in Russia and its neighbours, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said on a visit to Tashkent on Tuesday.

In remarks broadcast on Russian state television, Medvedev told Uzbek leader Islam Karimov he hoped events in the region would develop in a way “that is clear and predictable for us”.

“We are linked with many of these states by a large quantity of unseen threads... not only economic relations, trade relations, but a mass of humanitarian and cultural ties,” he said. “They can be very positive, but can have a difficult and sometimes even destructive character.”

Medvedev’s comment was an apparent reference to the involvement of Arab militants in the Islamist insurgency in Russia’s North Caucasus, where unrest persists a decade after it drove separatists from power in Chechnya.

Karimov, who later echoed Medvedev’s concerns over the Arab Spring uprising, also fears outbreaks of militancy in the volatile Ferghana Valley, which Uzbekistan shares with other Central Asian nations.

“Everything that relates to providing for regional security and stability, and consequently what is occurring in North Africa and the Middle East, cannot fail to concern Russia and Uzbekistan,” Russian news agency Itar-Tass quoted him as saying.

Karimov tolerates no dissent in the mostly Muslim nation of 28 million, where rights groups say thousands of political prisons languish in jails rife with torture. [ID:nLDE72H0FH]

Russia-based human rights group Memorial warned in March that Karimov, in power since the Soviet era, could end up fighting against his people like Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.

Opponents of Russia’s government say it could also face mass street protests in the coming years if it does not improve democracy and implement economic reforms. [ID:nLDE7591E4]

Kremlin opponents say Russia has rolled back democracy and civil rights in the past decade.

Reporting by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Jan Harvey

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