Although Tashkent has moved to re-join the Moscow-led post-Soviet security framework, bilateral issues remain between Russia and Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan moved to revive its membership in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and this month the lower house of the Uzbek parliament approved a draft law to ratify the protocol on Uzbekistan’s renewed CSTO membership, which was signed in Sochi in August. “The deputies unanimously approved the draft law and sent it to the Senate,” according to the parliamentary press service (Itar-Tass, November 22).
Following Uzbekistan’s decision to re-join the CSTO, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov met with visiting Uzbek Defense Minister Ruslan Mirzoyev in Sochi on September 20. Putin said that Russia viewed military cooperation with Uzbekistan “extremely seriously.” At the meeting, Ivanov said that Uzbekistan would be able to purchase Russian military supplies at Russian domestic prices as soon as Tashkent completed the legal formalities to re-join the CSTO.
Russian arms supplies appear timely, given Uzbekistan’s current international isolation and the Western ban on weapons exports to the country. On November 13, the European Union extended for another year its arms embargo against Uzbekistan, imposed in 2005 in the wake of the Andijan massacre.
Russia, however, supports the hard-line policies embraced by the Uzbek regime. On November 14, 2005, Putin and Karimov signed a treaty of strategic alliance, which followed a strategic partnership agreement of 2004. In the past year, the two leaders have held a total of five summit meetings.
Tashkent’s renewed CSTO membership followed Uzbekistan’s accession into the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEc). Uzbekistan formally joined the EurAsEc on January 25 at a summit meeting in St. Petersburg. The EurAsEc member states — Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan — agreed to admit Uzbekistan into the organization, citing both economic and security reasons.
In the wake of Tashkent’s policy shift in Moscow’s favor, trade between Russia and Uzbekistan has grown fast, and bilateral trade turnover reached $2 billion in the first nine months of 2006. Russia has become Uzbekistan’s top foreign trade partner with nearly a quarter of Uzbekistan’s total foreign trade turnover. Last year, bilateral trade exceeded $2 billion.
Russia has also continued police cooperation with Uzbekistan, including the controversial practice of extraditing Uzbek nationals on political charges. In November the Russian Federal Security Service detained two Uzbek nationals as alleged members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir. Davranbek Gulomov, 33, and Dolimbek Gulomov, 29, were extradited to Uzbekistan, where they face charges of terrorism (Interfax, RIA-Novosti, November 14). Moreover, Moscow seems to be extending some ideological support to Tashkent.
Earlier this month, Russia and Uzbek pundits held a roundtable meeting in Samarkand on “The Development of Democratic Institutions and Processes in Uzbekistan and Russia.” The Uzbekistan-based Religious Policy Foundation and Russia’s Effective Policy Foundation organized the meeting. Uzbek pundits reportedly hailed the “extensive experience in building civil society” in Uzbekistan, which has “selected its own way of development based on the principles determined by President Islam Karimov.”
Russian political analysts back Tashkent’s isolationist, anti-Western stance. “Democracy cannot be imposed from outside and every state has the right to select its own way to build it,” said Moskovsky novosti editor Vitaly Tretyakov. “Russia highly values Uzbekistan’s policy aimed at supporting peace and stability in Central Asia,” said Gleb Pavlovsky, head of the Russian Effective Policy Foundation.
President Karimov received the Russian delegation, headed by Russian presidential aide Modest Kolerov, at the Oqsaroy presidential residence on November 16. At the meeting, Karimov said Uzbekistan pays great attention to issues of democratization and political reforms. The Uzbek leader and the Russian pundits reportedly discussed bilateral “large-scale cooperation” (Interfax, UzReport, November 14-17).
However, despite optimistic official pronouncements, some thorny issues remain. Uzbekistan and Russia. Russia’s Tekhsnabexport, the Uzbek Navoi plant, and Uzbekistan’s State Committee for Geology and Mineral Resources signed a memorandum of understanding to form a joint venture to develop the Aktau deposit with estimated reserves of 4,400 tons of uranium. The venture would have mined up to 300 tons of uranium ore per year at the Aktau deposit in Uzbekistan, while possible Russian investments were estimated at $30 million. However, the two sides have reportedly postponed setting up a joint venture to develop the Aktau uranium deposit, planning to resume negotiations early in 2007 (Kazinform, Itar-Tass, November 2). Originally the joint venture was to begin operations by the end of 2006.
Moscow and Tashkent have also struggled to cooperate on aircraft production. Boris Gryzlov, speaker of the Russian State Duma, has argued that Russia should move production of the Il-76 military transport planes from Tashkent to the Russian town of Ulyanovsk. The aircraft are merely assembled in Tashkent, he argued, while some 70% of their parts come from Russia anyway. Under the current arrangements, Uzbekistan exports Il-76 to foreign markets, which is unacceptable, Gryzlov said (Interfax, November 14).
Earlier in November, some Uzbekistan-oriented media outlets speculated that production of the Il-76 could remain in the Uzbek capital and Russian officials could accept an idea of parallel production of Il-76 in Russia and Uzbekistan (Fergana.ru, November 7). Russian officials had reportedly voiced concerns that Tashkent was slow to carry out a $1.5 billion contract to supply 38 Il-76 military transport planes and Il-78 tankers to China. Russia’s unhappiness about this contract was cited a reason behind plans to move production from Tashkent to Ulyanovsk.