It would be naive to believe that the current relationship between Tashkent and Moscow is built on good neighborly and mutually beneficial conditions, as diplomats and heads of state would not try to present them in bright colors. First of all, it is a political marriage based on the adverse climate of Europe and the United States to the anti-democratic regime of Uzbekistan, and the need for Russia to partner allies in opposing the expansion of NATO and Western influence in the post-Soviet space.
After a long period of estrangement from the beginning of the 90s of the last century, it was precisely by 2004 in the schedule of political and economic relations that the points of contact between Uzbekistan and Russia suddenly began to draw closer. This was preceded by geopolitical changes in Central Asia. Firstly, this was facilitated by the change of course of Washington towards Tashkent due to the growing threat of internal conflict in Uzbekistan as a result of the frivolity of the ongoing reforms in all spheres of life, secondly, the decline in Western investments in the republic due to their inefficient use and high the level of corruption, the lack of a favorable economic climate, and thirdly, the strengthening of authoritarian tendencies in the domestic political system, the increasing pressure on the opposition and the media, the non-observance of human rights and freedoms, which led to a threat to the stability of society and the state.
On the other hand, Uzbekistan received support from Russia during the strengthening of the authoritarian regime of Islam Karimov (parliamentary elections of 1999, a referendum on extending the presidency in 2002) and pursuing a repressive government policy towards the masses (May 2005, Andijan) and suppressing the opposition (government decisions on the accreditation of journalists, the closure of NGOs, the expulsion of international organizations), the concealment of many crimes of the Uzbek regime (gold smuggling, the shadow operations of the Karimov family from countries), strengthening mutual understanding between anti-democratic countries in the framework of the SCO, Euro-AESEC.
In addition, both regimes linked fears of the spread of “color revolutions” in the post-Soviet space, which also brought them together.
As a result, Uzbekistan left GUUAM, transformed OCAC into EuroAzES, expelled the K-2 US base from Khanabad, revised the status of Newmont and the non-governmental organizations Freedom House, Ayrex, Eurasia, Soros Foundation, etc. d. All this, of course, was welcomed by Russia. That is, the two countries have united, because they have been given a choice: either to develop along a democratic path, or to isolate themselves and “stew in their own juice”. The second way was preferable.
Several areas of cooperation were chosen:
- joint appearances on the international arena against Western countries, in particular, through participation in integration structures (SCO, Euro-AESEC), support of decisions of the Treaty on Collective Security of the CIS countries, removal of tension from the EU-imposed sanctions against Uzbekistan;
- expansion of domestic markets for each other, which could compensate for the economic and technological losses of Uzbekistan from trade with foreign countries;
- opposition to the influence of democratic processes going from the West to Central Asia, as it weakens the regimes, which does not meet the strategic interests of Moscow (it is easier to negotiate with a dictator than with a democratic parliament).
That is why Moscow closed its eyes to the Andijan massacre. “Russia believes that the actions of the leadership of Uzbekistan during the 2005 Andijan events were aimed at preserving the territorial integrity of the country,” said Sergei Mironov, speaker of the Federation Council of Russia. By this, Tashkent was untied, and the Kremlin strengthened its influence on this Central Asian country.
As a result, on April 21. The State Duma of the Russian Federation ratified the treaty on allied relations between Russia and Uzbekistan (Tashkent did it before). “The entry into force of the treaty will contribute to a significant strengthening in the long-term perspective of the military-political and economic positions of Russia in Uzbekistan, as well as in the important, from the point of view of our strategic interests in the Central Asian region,” the explanatory note to the ratification documents says. By the way, the contract fixes the obligations of the parties to assist each other if one of them becomes the object of external aggression. It is unrealistic that Islam Karimov will want to rent Russian bases, but at the same time it is highly likely that he will provide Moscow with his military airfields and military units for the Russian armed forces. It is also unlikely that Tashkent could become a victim of aggression by any of the countries. Most likely, we are talking about the fact that Uzbekistan returns to the sphere of interests of Russia and becomes it. At the same time, no one notices that Uzbekistan is a country with a clearly undemocratic regime of the Stalinist type.
Evidence of converging positions is, and, suddenly, increased Uzbek-Russian political and economic cooperation. High-ranking Russian officials often visited Tashkent, the Oliy Majlis of Uzbekistan joined the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (where Moscow rules), Russian business structures showed "interest" in the republic’s strategic resources and facilities. By the way, only in the last five months of 2006, 12 delegations from Russia, including four parliamentary delegations, visited the republic.
Equal importance is given to economic interests. So, if in 2004 the trade turnover between the two countries amounted to more than $ 1.6 billion, which is almost 43% higher than the previous period, then in 2005 this figure exceeded $ 2 billion. Today, Russia's share in the republic’s total trade turnover is almost 22% (three years ago did not exceed 18%).
On the one hand, this contributed to overcoming some Uzbek sectors of the economy (in particular, industry and agriculture) from the crisis, but on the other hand, it strengthened the country's raw material dependence (sales of gas, cotton, metals), which in the long run separated it from real GDP growth and ensuring economic independence. There is a tendency that Moscow is increasing the conjugation of the national economy of Uzbekistan to its strategic interests, its needs. As a lever of pressure, the Kremlin uses the external debt of Tashkent at $ 630 million.
Islam Karimov understands this very well. But this suits him completely, as Moscow now ensures his political and physical well-being, hides his shadow operations and corruption in the government, solves some urgent problems (official recognition of Uzbek labor migrants, short-term investments, sales markets, etc.), which helps to reduce social tension. Now 433 joint ventures with the participation of Russian investors are operating in Uzbekistan. In turn, the Uzbek investments were invested in 284 joint ventures operating in the “big brother” territory. Representative offices of more than 80 Russian companies and firms have been opened in Uzbekistan. However, behind these figures are the private interests of companies and a narrow circle of individuals who have access to the resources of the country, and you should not rely on the well-being of residents.
Alisher, I know you are a strong analyst and a diplomat in the past. Admire your articles and perseverance. I liked the article, you gave a good overview of the real Uzbek-Russian relations. I wish you success. And take care of yourself!