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Uzbek President Builds New Relations with Vladimir Putin

On October 18-19, Russian president is arriving at Uzbekistan on a state visit.

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During the visit of Vladimir Putin to Tashkent, a host of joint agreements both in economic and in social spheres is expected to be signed. However, it’s quite clear that the relations between Russia and Uzbekistan are at an absolutely different level now.

Photo: kremlin.ru

Earlier relations between Tashkent and Moscow had developed in a complicated way. Karimov was seen as a rather tricky partner and the reset of Uzbek-Russian relations with Mirziyoyev has created assurance within the expert community and the Russian media scene that Uzbekistan will be back to the Russian orbit of influence. However, expert Yury Sarukhanyan thinks that they get ahead of events.

“Amid tough sanctions regime, the Kremlin needs to somehow check for its friends and partners. Putin’s visit to Tashkent looks like an attempt to understand the extent to which he can rely on the new leadership of Uzbekistan. If we analyse the agenda, we cannot say by preliminary agreements if any breakthrough deals are to follow. The parties will discuss and sign trade agreements, oil and gas contracts. The pinnacle will naturally be the launch of construction of the first in Uzbekistan nuclear power plant, a project that leaves more questions than answers,” Sarukhanyan said.

Meanwhile he emphasised that there were a range of factors that suggest that Russian influence will be strengthened in the country. One of them is labour migrants working in Russia, whose existence has been admitted by the Uzbek authorities just recently. According to official data, the number of Uzbekistanis working in Russia is over two million people.

According to statistics, Uzbekistan is the leader among other Central Asian states by the volume of remittances from Russia.

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Meanwhile, Russia is the #1 country by the sales volume with Uzbekistan. By results of the first six months of 2018, it was almost three billion dollars, or 16 per cent of the total sales volume. This is the data provided by the Uzbek ministry of foreign trade.

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Conduits of investments

Speaking about the advantages of Russia over other countries, the head of analytical group of the Centre for Central Asia and Caucasus Studies of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Stanislav Pritchin asked not to forget about ethnic Uzbek businessmen who succeeded in Russia and are concerned with investments in their historical homeland. Billionaire Alisher Usmanov is the first person who wants to make investments.

“The news about his participation in any investment project, or his plans about taking over Pakhtakor Football Club, his love to Uzbekistan expressed via Russian media confirm that Usmanov feels pretty comfortable and actually declares his short-term plans,” Sarukhanyan said.

Unused potential

However, the current thaw in Uzbek-Russian relations cannot be called exclusive, analyst Pritchin said. In his opinion, this is generally the tendency in Uzbekistan in a new approach to foreign policy. If, during the presidency of Islam Karimov, the foreign economic and foreign political model of Uzbekistan was more isolationist, now everyone can see the country is open to cooperation with other countries. And the republic enters into new agreements and contracts almost with all key and major players.

“Coming back to the definition of Russian-Uzbek relations. Why do they predominate over the relations of Uzbekistan with other countries in their dynamics? First of all, it’s because of the accumulative effect, which was never realised,” Pritchin said. “Due to its geographic location and interdependence between Uzbekistan and Russia in terms of economics, the isolationist model of Karimov didn’t allow using the potential of these relations to the maximum possible extent. And the dynamics we see is just the compensation of opportunities and potential that was never used.”

According to him, Moscow’s interest in expanding opportunities for Russian business is clear enough. Reliable economic relations with one of the largest states in the region are important for Russia.

However, these relations are mutually beneficial for both parties. Their basis was laid during Islam Karimov, and now dynamics and flexibility are just added to them, according to political analyst Rafael Sattorov.

“Current relations, even in quite new spheres, for example, in nuclear energy, were founded in Karimov’s period. The military modernisation agreement was signed back in 2015, during the Karimov years.  Or the cooperation agreement between the countries was signed back in 2005, also during the Karimov’s presidency. Now all these agreements are being activated,” Sattorov said.

According to him, now Russia actively talks about elimination of the term “post-Soviet space” and include Central Asia to the new department of Central and South Asia countries. It is still unclear where these discussions will lead, according to Sattorov, but as the concept of Big Eurasia is being promoted, full revision of Russian politics is inevitable.

Darina Solod – CABAR.asia School of analytic journalism alumnus  

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway.

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