TASHKENT -- Russian lawmakers are growing increasingly worried as Uzbekistan strengthens co-operation with the United States and European Union (EU).
Russian State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin during a visit to Tashkent on November 28 lambasted Uzbekistan's co-operation with the West, and in particular the United States.
"The United States comes in sheep's clothing, but you can still see a wolfish grin," he said, alleging that the United States' strategic partnership with the EU has led to economic problems in the EU, according to an English translation posted by the Duma.
"There are wise, literate people [in Uzbekistan]; they understand the consequences of such intentions," Volodin said, referring to recent visits of US representatives to the region.
"Those who live in Asian countries understand it all, especially those who have always built relations with [Russia] on the principles of mutual respect, friendship and non-interference in internal affairs," he added.
Uzbek observers have voiced scepticism and ridicule of Volodin's remarks.
"The United States and the EU have always helped Uzbekistan," said Farkhod Mirzabayev of Tashkent, a political analyst. "They've shared their innovative experiences and given considerable support to the positive reforms taking place here."
"They've never imposed their worldview on us, and I'd like to believe that they won't do that in the future either," he said. "They understand completely that they can't impose a false choice on our country between the West and Russia or China."
It would also behoove Russia not to try imposing its policies on Uzbekistan or instructing it on its choice of allies, Mirzabayev added.
Russia fears that the West will take advantage of the Kremlin's declining authority, respect and influence in the region and replace it in Central Asia, said Pulat Akhunov, an Uzbek politician living in Sweden.
The West wants to establish strategic co-operation, specifically with Uzbekistan, and is also interested in military co-operation, he said.
For its part, Uzbekistan is continuing to cultivate relations with EU countries.
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev during a visit to France November 21-23 met with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron and signed 14 agreements worth more than €6 billion.
Under one of those deals, Uzbekistan is set to purchase 17 Airbuses and ATR aircraft for almost €800 million total. Uzbekistan also plans to purchase two Airbus helicopters.
The Uzbek and French presidents stressed the need to strengthen their countries' co-operation in the international arena, including the United Nations Human Rights Council, European Parliament, Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly.
"We are making efforts to ensure that a foreign investor first and foremost associates Uzbekistan with stability and predictability," Mirziyoyev said during his visit to France.
Samarkand earlier on November 17–18 hosted the EU-Central Asia Connectivity Conference: Global Gateway, which itself was preceded by a meeting between the foreign ministers of the Central Asian and EU countries.
On November 18, Mirziyoyev conferred with Josep Borrell, the EU's top diplomat, on regional co-operation in Central Asia and the situation in Afghanistan.
Following the conference in Samarkand, the parties began working on a roadmap and a separate agreement on expanding the partnership and co-operation between Uzbekistan and the EU.
"The EU's relations with our Central Asian partners have gone from strength to strength in the 30 years since we established diplomatic relations," Borrell said in an address to the conference, as posted by the EU Delegation to Kazakhstan.
"The EU has high stakes in seeing Central Asia develop since together we are stronger to face the challenges in our increasingly complex world."
Russia's 'feet of clay'
The independence of the Central Asian countries is a vital resource for the West given that it is a prerequisite for deterring Russian geopolitical imperialism or "integralism", said Kamoliddin Rabbimov of Tashkent, a political analyst.
The Kremlin is trying to avoid losing further ground, proposing its own options for relations and relying on Russia's continued status as one of Uzbekistan's largest partners.
"Why is Russia so nervous? Because Russia has nowhere else to go now," said Rabbimov.
"It has already lost Ukraine ... The only countries from the former Soviet Union that are left [that it could still influence] are the Central Asian ones," he said.
"Russia's aggression against Ukraine and failure in the war have shown Central Asian leaders that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's Russia has feet of clay," said Akhunov, the Uzbek politician.
"The country's might is a lie, and Russia is on the brink of destruction. These factors are the reason why the West and Central Asia are gravitating toward each other."
"A new multi-directional policy now means turning one face toward China and another face toward the West," Akhunov said.