MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday laid roses at the grave of late Uzbek leader Islam Karimov, whose death last week after 27 years in charge sparked fears of instability in the Central Asian nation.
Footage broadcast by Russian state television showed Putin kneeling at Karimov's flower-covered grave in the historic city of Samarkand after he made a detour to visit ex-Soviet Uzbekistan on his way home from the G20 summit in China.
The Kremlin leader was accompanied by Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev, in a further hint that he could be in line to take over long-term from Karimov, who was announced dead at 78 on Friday and was buried Saturday with no clear successor.
Long lambasted by rights groups as a brutal despot who crushed all dissent, Karimov was one of the Communist Party bosses who managed to cling to power in their homelands after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The veteran leader portrayed himself as a vital secular bulwark against radical Islam who maintained peace in the strategically located country bordering Afghanistan, crushing fundamentalist groups at home.
Before flying to Uzbekistan Putin praised Karimov for keeping the "stability" in the country and said he hoped any new leadership would maintain the order the former Soviet apparatchik had imposed.
Karimov played former master Moscow off against the West and China to keep his cotton-rich nation of 32 million -- by far the most populous in ex-Soviet Central Asia -- from isolation and dampen criticism of his iron-fisted rule.
Analysts say that Russia is keen to see an orderly hand-over of power in the landlocked country over fears of the threat from jihadists close to its southern flank and could be hoping to exert more influence over Uzbekistan.