Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has hailed defense links between Moscow and Tashkent, saying that recent decisions made by the presidents of Russia and Uzbekistan have helped develop military cooperation “successfully.” He also praised a bilateral anti-terrorism drill in Russia’s Krasnodar region and stated that both Russia and Uzbekistan faced a direct and real threat from terrorism and extremism (Interfax-AVN, September 25).
The two countries began a five-day military drill on September 19, which involved Russian and Uzbek Special Forces and airborne troops. During the drill, the defense ministers of Russia and Uzbekistan had talks in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi on bilateral defense cooperation, the security situation in Central Asia, and the fight against terror.
The joint drill in Krasnodar region officially aimed at sharing experience in anti-terrorism operations. It involved joint planning and an actual anti-terrorism action by Special Forces. The Russian army reportedly dispatched a platoon of the 7th airborne division based in Novorossiysk (RIA-Novosti, September 23).
About 150 elite security officers from both countries simulated a raid on a village seized by terrorists, including air raids by military Mi-8 helicopters. “During these exercises special units of the Republic of Uzbekistan have acquired great experience in conducting anti-terrorist operations,” Uzbek Defense Minister Ruslan Mirzayev commented (Interfax, RIA-Novosti, September 22).
Also on September 22-23 Russia held large-scale war games in Orenburg region involving some 20,000 personnel. The drill’s scenario involved outside aggression against a friendly neighboring state (NTV, September 23). The scenario was seen as an apparent reference to a possible crisis in Central Asia, indicating Russia’s willingness to step in.
Russian officials also indicated that it might use military facilities in Uzbekistan. “Nothing prevents us from jointly combating terrorism on a bilateral basis,” said Ivanov, citing an agreement between the two countries on the possible joint use of military infrastructure in both countries (RIA-Novosti, September 22). Following talks on September 22, Ivanov and Mirzayev signed a blueprint on bilateral military and technical cooperation (Interfax, September 22).
Kremlin representatives have voiced their satisfaction over closer military links with Tashkent. In particular, Russia prioritizes military cooperation with Uzbekistan, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced at a meeting with Ivanov and Mirzayev on September 20. “We will implement all previously agreed joint plans,” he added. “Relations between our countries have been developing very successfully, including military ties” (Interfax, Itar-Tass, September 20).
In the meantime, bilateral military ties have not been without some problems recently. For example, Moscow reportedly decided to move production of the Ilyushin-76 military cargo planes from Tashkent to Ulyanovsk. In other words, Uzbekistan now faces the prospect of losing a major military production facility.
On the other hand, Moscow is now offering Tashkent extra incentives in terms of the arms industry. Russia will sell Uzbekistan arms and military hardware at domestic prices after it completes legal formalities to join the CSTO, Ivanov said on September 20. “As soon as Uzbekistan has completed the legal procedure for joining the Collective Security Treaty Organization, our laws on supplies of Russian arms and military equipment at domestic prices will automatically extend to it,” said Ivanov.
Russian and Uzbekistan were among original signatories of the Collective Security Treaty (CST) in 1992, also known as the Tashkent Treaty. However, Uzbekistan quit the CST back in 1999. The CSTO, set up in October 2002, includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan.
The CSTO head Nikolai Bordyuzha traveled to Tashkent in February but failed to convince Uzbekistan to join the CSTO. But last May, Putin met President Islam Karimov at Sochi and urged deeper bilateral cooperation. In response, Karimov suggested joint measures to strengthen the armed forces. Subsequently, Uzbekistan was admitted to the CSTO in mid-August.
According to Bordyuzha, Uzbekistan’s recent decision to restore its CSTO membership radically changed the geopolitical realities in Central Asia and throughout former Soviet space. Uzbekistan is to join nearly 70 CSTO agreements by early 2008, he said. Bordyuzha argued that the CSTO became a “factor for integration processes inside the CIS.” However, he said that a possible merger of the Eurasian Economic Community and the CSTO could create more management problems than such a move could solve (RIA-Novosti, September 21).
Moscow’s push for closer military ties with Uzbekistan has also been seen as an effort to safeguard Russian economic interests. Incidentally, on September 21 Russia’s Gazprom, Uzbekneftegaz, and KazMunayGaz signed an agreement on gas supply and transit. Uzbekneftegaz is to supply 3.5 billion cubic meters a year to Southern Kazakhstan, while KazMunayGaz would supply an equal amount of gas to Gazprom in a swap deal.
Gazprom has indicated interest in acquiring a 44% stake in the Uzbek pipeline monopoly Uzbektransgaz. The deal was supposed to facilitate supplies of Turkmen gas to Russia via Uzbek pipelines. However, Gazprom’s acquisition of the Uzbektransgaz stake is yet to materialize.