https://central.asia-news.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_ca/features/2020/01/24/feature-01
| Politics

Uzbekistan's refusal to join EEU bolsters its independence, say analysts

By Kanat Altynbayev

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A view of the Uzbek parliament building in Navoi Park, Tashkent. [File]

ALMATY -- Uzbekistan's recent refusal to join the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) will help keep the country from becoming dependent on Russia and avoid trade issues involved with the economic bloc, experts on Central Asia say.

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev on January 20 announced that Uzbekistan would not sign on to the Russia-dominated EEU.

"We will not be a member of this union," Mirziyoyev said in a speech to the first session of the upper chamber of parliament since the recent elections.

"Bear in mind one thing: Nobody will ever give away our independence to anyone. Independence rests in the hands of a president whom the people trust," he said.

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'We will not be a member of this union,' Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev told the country's Senate January 20 regarding Uzbekistan's refusal to join the Russian-dominated EEU. [Uzbek presidential press office]

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Lemons produced in Uzbekistan are in high demand in Kazakh supermarkets, and have little need for EEU regulations to help sell them abroad. Photo taken at Magnum supermarket in Almaty on January 24. [Kanat Altynbayev]

Rather than being a member, Uzbekistan will hold the status of observer, just as Moldova has since 2017, said Mirziyoyev.

"Be assured that whatever we do, we will take our national interests into account," Mirziyoyev added.

Independence in Central Asia

Uzbekistan's guiding principle is to preserve its independence, said Farhad Tolipov, director of the Tashkent-based think tank Caravan of Knowledge.

Most global think tanks and leading experts on Central Asia underscore the importance of maintaining and bolstering the independence of the region's countries so they can develop actively, he said.

"Analysts highlight the fact that Russia is setting its sights on bringing the post-Soviet region back into its sphere of dominance and influence, which undermines the independence of the Central Asian countries," Tolipov said, a reference to the EEU.

Uzbekistan's proposed EEU membership "can be considered a particular form of modern dependence on a power [Russia], as occurs to other EEU members that are small republics," Tolipov said.

Although proponents of Uzbekistan's accession to the EEU talk about future economic benefits, so far no one has provided hard evidence to back up such a decision, according to Tolipov.

Since Central Asian integration is a stated priority of Uzbekistan's foreign policy, Tashkent needs to focus its efforts on rehabilitating the Central Asian Co-operation Organisation (CACO), said Tolipov.

This body, which brought together the Central Asian nations, existed from 2002 to 2005, before it was dissolved to avoid duplicating the functions of the EEU.

"Revitalising the relations between the Central Asian countries is more important than joining the EEU," Tolipov said.

Neighbours' mistakes

Uzbekistan's decision not to join the EEU was not a surprise given that over the years Mirziyoyev's government has witnessed the problems that arise within the union, according to Bishkek-based economist Elmira Suranchiyeva.

"Despite the principle of free movement of goods within the EEU, Russia has regularly thrown up artificial barriers for exporters from Kazakhstan and Belarus; these issues have been raised repeatedly at official meetings," Suranchiyeva said.

At a September 2019 meeting with members of the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC), which settles disputes between EEU member countries, Almaz Tubekov, the chief executive officer of Becker & K, a Kazakh food producer, said that in the past three years his company had run up against administrative obstacles in Russia.

In February 2019, Konstantin Fedorets, CEO of Rakhat, a leading Kazakh candy maker, told reporters that Russian businesses were constantly involving Rakhat in lawsuits, while Russian regulators routinely seized the company's products.

Suranchiyeva said that Russia has not gotten around to rectifying these issues.

"Naturally, Tashkent doesn't want to be a part of this problematic union that doesn't enact the key principles for which it was created," she said.

Suranchiyeva said that the EEU does not play a vital role in Uzbekistan's economic development.

In 2019, thanks to its economic liberalisation policy, Uzbekistan managed to attract more than $13 billion in foreign investment, an increase of more than threefold over the previous year.

Meanwhile, Belarus, another EEU member, has also grown disillusioned with Moscow's policy toward its partners.

On January 21, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka announced his intention to reduce Russian oil imports to 30%-40% of the domestic market's needs, Reuters reported, citing the Belarusian news site Belta.

Lukashenka had previously complained about the "overly high prices" that Moscow levied on Minsk.

In late December 2019, he tasked subordinates with finding alternative sources of oil. Just a month later, on January 20, Belneftekhim (Belarusian State Concern for Oil and Chemistry) announced the purchase of 80,000 tonnes of Norwegian oil, which will be delivered by rail before the end of the month.

Moscow on edge

Russia tried to entice Uzbekistan to join the EEU as part of its efforts to expand its influence in Central Asia because it is uneasy about the activity of two other powers in the region, the United States and China, according to Dosym Satpayev, the Almaty-based director of Kazakh think tank Risk Assessment Group.

The foreign ministers of five Central Asian countries and their US counterpart met in New York in September 2019 in a "C5+1" format, following a similar meeting in Nur-Sultan in August and another one held previously in Tashkent.

Satpayev noted that in recent years, Central Asian officials have been more frequently meeting in the C5+1 format -- that is, with the United States.

"That testifies to the mutual interest of Washington and the Central Asian countries in co-operating on various timely issues," he said.

Russia is also concerned about the intensifying co-operation between Beijing and Central Asian countries in regards to China's extensive funding of regional projects under its Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, according to Satpayev.

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Comment Policy

Do not join, WE DO NOT NEED EEU. I AM AGAINST IT. OUR ECONOMY WILL COLLAPSE. OUR MANUFACTURING WILL STOP. UNEMPLOYMENT WILL GROW AND PEOPLE WILL GO TO RUSSIA TO WORK. RUSSIA WILL STOP GIVING OUT PATENTS AND EVERY PERSON WILL WORK AFTER PAYING TAX. AND THEY WILL PAY MORE THAN THEY ARE PAYING (NOW). MESSING WITH RUSSIA WILL END BAD.

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Thank God. I hope the news about not joining is true. Letʻs not join after, too.

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Countless thanks to Allah for such a smart and prudent Head of the State

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Russia has a beef with its darling Belarus now. The EEU is a stillborn child.

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Way to go, Mirziyoyev! We, the Kazakhs, should leave this lame, petty union with the backward, disintegrating, and AIDS-plagued country named Russia.

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Way to go, Mirziyoev

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No one needs the EEU unless there's a security threat. They will run to the EEU and join any organisation as soon as the "liberators" appear in the South. All the migrants will soon be returned - let them rejoice at working in the cotton fields.

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Can you be more specific about the garbage you're saying?!

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Mirziyoyev did a great job! Belarus and Kazakhstan didn't want to sign the EEU treaty because of the independence issues. Y. Lukashenko, Ukrainian Prime Minister, openly cited those clauses of the EEU treaty where it was stipulated that the voting power of every member state should be proportional to its GDP. Meaning, the EEU was created for the sole purpose of benefiting the Russian economy and Russia governing the economy of the member countries. And this is exactly what happened. Now, Moscow dictates the products range and prices for Kazakhstan: starting from sugar and gas all the way to the energy supply prices for the Kazakh economy. On the other hand, Russia has got low prices on the necessary resources, such as [natural] gas (the largest gas processing plant in Orenburg fully works on Kazakh gas), base metals, rare-earth elements, etc. The EEU itself is the reason of underdevelopment of the energy-intensive economy sectors in Kazakhstan (other than the Soviet-era iron and steel plants which, by the way, satisfy the demand of the Russian and international economies). One can count the cement plants on one hand, there's no mechanical engineering (meaning, the economy is in the feudal, agrarian stage), machinery, etc.

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What kind of union is that if they treat their allies like animals? Here's the New Year's sweep of migrants in Moscow https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5b9u6pNlT20&t=4s
Modern Russia rounds up the Central Asians just like Hitler's Germany hunted down the Jews.

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Our foreign trade with member states are developing even when we are not the member of EEU. As our honored President have mentioned we must solve the issues inside our country without chasing the greater targets. Social welfare of people have improved in the last 3 years. Lets have a better understanding of modern technology and management, have more knowledge so that we can compete with any organization.

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We have no business staying in this EEU good-for-nothing quagmire. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan should leave as well.

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Правильно, Россия там будет чинить препоны. Молодец Мирзиеев.

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Actually, the EEU member states - Kazakhstan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia - didn't complain about losing their sovereignty. So it's not a threat to Uzbekistan. But the USA is risking to lose its influence in Central Asia, that's why they are telling tales. :)

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It depends on who is more beneficial for us to cooperate with. Russia is clearly not an option.

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Stop telling tall tales. Russia is the most backward country, suffering from the rage syndrome provoked by the convulsions of its demise (AIDS outbreak, depopulation). No doubt, Kazakhstan and Russia have different paths. [We] need to foster co-operation with the West increasingly, in particular with America.

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