Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan step up military co-operation

By Maksim Yeniseyev


Then-Uzbekistani Defence Minister Col.-Gen. Kabul Berdiyev (right) shows off military equipment to Kazakhstani counterpart Col.-Gen. Saken Zhasuzakov in Kokand August 18. [Kazakhstani Defence Ministry]

TASHKENT -- Ever-improving relations between Central Asia's two largest countries could mean a more effective fight against terrorism in both countries, as well as better security for the region, predict observers.

Ties between Uzbekistan (population of about 30 million) and Kazakhstan (about 16 million) have made substantial progress since Shavkat Mirziyoyev became president of Uzbekistan last year.

That progress extends to planned joint exercises and defence co-operation.

"The turnaround in Uzbekistan's foreign policy toward co-operating with its neighbours that began under President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has transformed the balance of power in Central Asia," Tashkent-based political analyst Valerii Khan told Caravanserai.

"Many of the issues causing tension, like disagreements over borders and water, are being taken out of the equation," he said. "If countries in the region stop wasting resources opposing each other, they will be able to effectively fight the threats of extremism and radicalisation."

Regional powers

Both countries are mid-rank military powers, with Uzbekistan ranking 48th worldwide and Kazakhstan 55th, according to the 2017 Global Firepower list.

"Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have the most powerful militaries in the region," Khan said. "Military co-operation and overall friendship between these countries are a big step toward ensuring stability in the region."

Then-Uzbekistani Defence Minister Col.-Gen. Kabul Berdiyev (who left office Monday, September 4) and Kazakhstani counterpart Col.-Gen. Saken Zhasuzakov conferred in Tashkent August 19. Their talks culminated in the signing of a Military Co-operation Plan that day. The ministers discussed rapid response to risks and security threats in the region.

The plan includes "joint operational and combat training ... and military education," the Kazakhstani Defence Ministry said in an August 19 statement.

New levels of partnership

Uzbekistan is showing interest in purchasing Kazakhstani-built military vehicles.

On August 25 in Astana, Zhasuzakov conferred with Viktor Makhmudov, secretary of the Security Council under the President of Uzbekistan, about possible purchases by Uzbekistan, according to the Kazakhstani Defence Ministry.

The talks could lead to a deal, according to the ministry.

Previously, Uzbekistan had expressed interest in buying Kazakhstani-built Arlan and Barys amoured vehicle. Kazakhstan Paramount Engineering (KPE) produces them as part of a joint venture with South Africa.

In June, Berdiyev visited KPE's Astana factory and praised the quality of the vehicles, according to KPE's press office.

Caravanserai previously reported that Uzbekistani-Kazakhstani relations had reached a completely new level in terms of strategic co-operation, soon after Mirziyoyev took office.

In Astana March 23, Mirziyoyev and Kazakhstani counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev signed seven documents about their countries' evolving partnership. The military co-operation treaty was an offshoot of this policy.

"I believe that Uzbekistan soon will try to build similar relations with the other countries [in the region], making itself the centre of a new wave of integration," said Khan the political scientist.

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