As Uzbekistan opens up, resistance to dependence on Russia grows

By Sara Ishonova

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev during Putin's state visit to Uzbekistan in 2018. [Kremlin]

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev during Putin's state visit to Uzbekistan in 2018. [Kremlin]

TASHKENT -- Uzbekistan's efforts to open up to the world, coupled with its refusal to join the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), are signals that the country aims to be more self-reliant and curb its dependence on Moscow, experts say.

The government is trying to build up its standing in the international community as one way to demonstrate it is leaning away from Russian influence, according to Mukhammad Bobur Malikov, a former Uzbek minister of justice.

"It is quite obvious that the president of Uzbekistan is trying to build a multi-pronged foreign policy, as demonstrated by his recent visit to Turkey, where he met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan," he said.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's recent trip to Uzbekistan was a further sign of the country's growing stature on the international scene, noted Malikov, also a former Uzbek ambassador to Washington.

The visit by Pompeo demonstrated that the United States is becoming an increasingly attractive partner for Central Asian countries, he added.

During his time in Uzbekistan February 3, Pompeo "thanked President Mirziyoyev for his leadership in forging a closer, strategic partnership between the United States and Uzbekistan and for advancing a negotiated political settlement in Afghanistan", the US State Department said in a statement.

With or without Russia?

At the same time, Uzbekistan is showing a willingness to curb its reliance on Russia, and since the countries have no common border, "this makes Uzbekistan less vulnerable to Russia than countries like Georgia, Belarus and Ukraine are", Malikov said.

To be sure, Uzbekistan still remains dependent on Russia, primarily in the natural-gas industry, he said, adding that this sector is Russian President Vladimir Putin's "personal fiefdom."

Despite Uzbekistan's dependence on Russia, Mirziyoyev understands that self-reliance is becoming more crucial as Russia embroils itself in long-term conflicts such as the one in the Donbas region of Ukraine, Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and Syria, said Malikov.

In addition, "the emergence of new conflicts [instigated by the Kremlin] with such close Russian allies like Belarus" is worrisome, he said.

Such behaviour by Moscow makes a continued alliance with it risky, he said.

Alisher Taksanov, a former Uzbek diplomat and economist, agreed with Malikov.

"Recent events show that Uzbekistan is determined to establish a multi-vector and balanced foreign policy," he said.

"Yes, Uzbekistan is very dependent on Russia, but Russia badly needs Uzbekistan," said Taksanov.

Uzbekistan is still very dependent on Russia economically, he noted. Russia is the country's biggest trading partner, and about 5 million Uzbek migrant workers are employed as labourers there.

Still, Mirziyoyev undoubtedly sees the risk of continuing with a heavy reliance on Moscow, according to Taksanov.

"Putin is literally isolated right now," he said. "He has practically no allies abroad, so he is relying on former members of the USSR, and Uzbekistan is a very necessary partner in this regard."

"But Putin shouldn't expect the president of Uzbekistan to become his satellite," he added.

Demonstrating sovereignty, independence

The Uzbek leader already has sent a strong signal to Moscow that the country plans to fortify its independence by saying on January 20 that Uzbekistan would not sign on to the Russia-dominated EEU. Instead, Uzbekistan chose observer status.

"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.

Uzbekistan's refusal to join the EEU is most likely a "demonstration -- to the world community and to his own people -- of President Mirziyoyev's commitment to the path of sovereignty and independence", said Malikov, the former Uzbek minister of justice.

The former president, Islam Karimov, took even more pointed steps. Karimov died in 2016.

Karimov rejected the use of the Soviet term "Great Patriotic War" in relation to Uzbekistan in World War II and renamed Victory Day (May 9) to Memorial Day, Malikov said.

Moreover, Karimov pulled the country out of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and moved Uzbekistan away from the Cyrillic alphabet to the Latin alphabet.

Risk factors

Another recent strain on Uzbekistan's ties with Moscow is the ongoing trial in Tashkent of a political analyst and a number of military personnel in connection with charges of spying for Moscow.

The Yunusabad District Criminal Court in Tashkent on February 10 conducted the second session of the closed trial of Rafik Saifulin, 61, a political analyst and former director of Institute for Strategic and Interregional Studies under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan (ISISPRU), a Tashkent think tank, and of 10 military personnel.

As part of their alleged charges of treason, the defendants spied for Moscow, disclosed state secrets and committed other crimes, prosecutors say.

However, the Saifulin case is "just the tip of the iceberg ... underpinned by even more significant figures lobbying for Russia's interests and blocking President Mirziyoyev's initiatives on establishing closer relations with the West", said Taksanov.

"Despite the exposure of Russian espionage, about half of the country's State Security Service specialists studied in Russia and have close ties with Russia. Their closest relatives have Russian citizenship. They also hold property and investments in the Russian Federation," he said.

Another asset for Putin in Uzbekistan is the ethnic Russian minority, said taksanov.

"While the majority of Russians are dissatisfied with Putin's policies and are critical of his actions, the Russian population in Uzbekistan has a very positive view of him and consider him to be their defender and bulwark," he said.

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America, Britain or Russia, my thoughts that I left off. We had to join European Economic Area. I am mostly a child of Independence. I had only heard, read and watched in movies about 70 years of tyrany of Former Soviet Union. I think that this tyrany still remains. Dear President, please join this organisation, let Uzbeks live good too, they must not buy cars that cost 2 thousand for 12 thousand, they must not live from paycheck to paychek. Enough this monopoly ruled for so long. Not only third class, but the middle class people are struggling. We will live like this for long it seems. Once again it is my opinion only.


It depends on strong diplomacy to have close ties with any country and developing the country. I cannot say with which country we should and with which we should not have close ties. Because there is not country that does not think of its own benefit. I am not pro-US, nor pro Britain, nor pro Russia, I am just an ordinary citizen of independent Uzbekistan, one can say with certainty that Russia is our neighbor and there is an Uzbek saying "Straw that is near is better than a faraway wheat".


Don't be in chains, don't beg, Because you also are born free.


There is no country that benefitted and developed by being with Russia. Instead countries that were close to America or England have developed, there are many examples


I'm for developing Uzbekistan, but without any Russian interference whatsoever. Wherever Russia meddles that place ends up in shambles!


In this modern, super-dynamic world, refusing to join various unions and associations serves only short-sighted politicians. I believe that in these situations it might be possible to join these communities with conditions of participation that are limited in scope but sufficient to meet the requirements. Our principles are dictated by objective laws that entail the natural diversification of economic relations worldwide, and modern systems of economic relationships that aim at mutually beneficial economic ties.


I am against being dependant on America and Russia. Whoever that is they are not greater than us and we are not greater than them, and if so I am for the independent policy that Islam Karimov led where we had established equal relationship with everyone.


We are greater than all of this, because Allah is with us, but we have to feel it with our hearts, believing person will never loose, if he dies he will become shahid, if not then he is a winner.


Independence is most precious gift! I fully support the path President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has chosen.


Time will show


If only they could be make me leader of the group that fights against traitors, nor the family, nor wealth would interest me. I would exterminate those traitors without hesitation for the future of our country, Inshaallah
After that the bribetakers and after....
I would exterminate them until the last day of my life with the help of Allah


Way to go!!!!


Uzbekistan has lived with Russia since 1863, but what should be measured is how much success there was. What have we achieved after all these years? Nothing. We were going around in circles. And now what can we expect from Russia? Nothing good!!! We need to find our own way of economic and political development, at least the way Turkey has! Russia has done nothing good for the development of Uzbekistan in 157 years. It just stole our gold and wealth, doing nothing for our development!!!


For example neighbouring Afghanistan was not dependant on Russia, and how did it develop in 100 years - in education, in medical field and etc.


Let's comtemplate about development instead of times of tyrany. Tyrants only purpose is to rob the country. Let's now think about diplomatic ties. Who will mislead the nation if it has firm stance on its direction? Reforms, international agreements must improve and ease the life of people.


As a matter of fact, no one heard Mirziyoyev say these very words.


Karimov, too, wanted to be independent of Big Brother, and after almost 30 years he succeeded. But what was the price? How many millions of Uzbek citizens were forced to leave the country looking for jobs? I'm afraid Europe will not support us until Mirziyoyev condemns Karimov's regime and conducts democratic reforms and economic reforms. It will be just like we used to be under Karimov: "hungry yet independent". Don't think that Uzbekistan can free itself of Russian influence easily just because we don't share a common border. That's ridiculous. Also, we don't share any borders with democratic and developed countries, and their influence is insignificant here. And Uzbekistan didn't has not officially rejected the [Russian-proposed] nuclear power plant construction project yet. So, Moscow's reach still extends to Tashkent.


We could build nuclear plant with Japan for cheaper and with better quality than with Russians
And in the future, Inshallah, if we will be able to build two nuclear plants we can be independent from Russia


They must find the rest of the spies and punish them strictly. The state security service must be further reformed. We do not need Russians. Our people had enough suffering because of Russians. The time has come for us to live for our own selves.


Also, take your [people] away from Russia


National guard is against, our head knows that State Security Service is not safe and that they have traitors, there is no fact.


The country cannot become politically independent without economic independence. Uzbekistan is a country with a great future.


Benefactors like Artikhodja (he means Jakhongir Artikhodjaev, mayor of Tashkent) must reduce the prieces, not only him, but all the manufacturers must reduce prices for the people, people must spend what they have earned for themselves, their earnings must exceed their needs, at the present our money is not enough for our needs, people on top have donkey brains. It is necessary to open customs clearance for semi-finished raw materials, finished raw materials and secondary raw materials, Slaves of Russia, descendants of dogs are not carrying out the decrees of the President in some places, decrees that are giving possibilities for money laundering are being implemented without approval, because of this they are showing the politics of the President in bad light and as a result people are becoming dissatisfied with the President. They are turing the people against the President, and I do not know if he knows about this or not, but I hope there will be peace, these filthy rascals are trying their best to arise hatred in people. What if they will come face-to-face with you tomorrow, how long we will keep silent like fish? Let's speak up, let's get together, let's say how long this disgrace will last. If one foul person will appear, know that he is OUR REAL ENEMY.

Police might as well hang them without summoning, because they are filty ungratefull traitors.

So, my dear friends let's be careful, vigilant. Let's not blindly agree to everything saying that President himself decreed


We must not wander out of the right path


If we will abide to what Allah wishes, we will not go astray


When Mirziyoev publicly stated that Uzbekistan wouldn't join the EEU, he wiped his feet off on Putin's face.


There are brave sons that you do not know oh my Uzbek people, time will come when whole world will become silent. But for now let them speak as much as they want. We must come together instead of idling, we should not call each other names, we should not curse each other, we should not divide each other to classes. We must stay together and after that there will come times I told you about. The whole world will become silent, just like Russians did when Chechen spoke.