Russia’s policy in the post-Soviet space can hardly be called successful. In the 2000s, several countries left the Russian orbit. Uzbekistan has also occupied an ambiguous position. But the rumor that Tashkent’s sudden decision to suspend its CSTO membership will lead Uzbekistan to turn from Russia to the United States is hardly grounded.
The time that has elapsed since the last meeting of the Russian and Uzbek presidents has been one of the most dramatic periods in the countries' bilateral relations. In June 2012 Vladimir Putin and Islam Karimov signed a declaration in Tashkent on promoting their strategic partnership. It provided an assessment of their bilateral cooperation and prospects of its development in the United Nations, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Before long, Tashkent announced its intention to suspend its membership in the CSTO.
On the eve of Karimov’s trip to Moscow, analysts discussed what he wished to achieve. Many believed it was an attempt on Tashkent’s part to dispel unpleasant impressions after its withdrawal from the CSTO. In any event, any top-level talks help clear up the positions of the parties, regardless of their results. They are always positive in this sense. Our partnership has never broken off, although it has followed a zigzag path. Importantly, Karimov’s visit to Moscow has put an end to the gossip about his serious illness.
As for the policy of the Uzbek leadership on the CSTO, national leaders make such decisions based on national security interests, and do not care much for outside assessments. The rumor that Tashkent’s sudden decision to suspend its CSTO membership will lead Uzbekistan to turn from Russia to the United States is hardly grounded.
Reports about the visit did not mention meetings of experts at the ministerial level, so apparently sensitive issues (like court action against Uzdunrobita, a subsidiary of the Russian company MTS or the continuity of power in Uzbekistan) were not discussed. Judging by media reports about the talks between Putin and Karimov, they spoke about the future of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Western troops in 2014. As for Tashkent’s concern over Russia’s planned participation in the construction of the Verkhne-Narynsky hydro power cascade and the Kambarata hydro power plant in Kyrgyzstan, this issue is always discussed in one way or another.
Labor migration from Uzbekistan to Russia remains a difficult issue. It is necessary to create certain procedures to allow guest workers to come to Russia visa-free on foreign passports. However, I don’t think these issues were discussed on a broad scale, because Karimov’s visit was a brief one.
After the talks, the sides signed an agreement on encouragement and mutual protection of investment, a program of economic cooperation for 2013-2017, a program for cultural, humanitarian, scientific and technical cooperation for 2013-2015 and documents on cooperation between environmental, customs and tax agencies. According to Uzbekistan’s National News Agency, “the documents that were signed show that both states are expanding their versatile cooperation.” I fully share this opinion because these documents provide a legal foundation for a bilateral striving for cooperation, motivated by mutual interests.
In general, Russia’s policy in the post-Soviet space can hardly be called successful. In the 2000s, several countries left the Russian orbit. Uzbekistan has also occupied an ambiguous position. Obviously, Russia must build a well-balanced strategy for its relations with ex-Soviet republics. Its principles have been fully described in the foreign policy concept adopted in 2013. Section IV, entitled Regional Priorities , reads, “Russian foreign policy should focus on bilateral and multilateral cooperation with other CIS countries and on further consolidation of the CIS – a foundation for promoting regional cooperation of its members, who have a common historical heritage and a vast integration potential in various fields.”
The concept states Russia’s intention to build up cooperation with other CIS states in countering common challenges, above all international terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking and illegal migration. It emphasizes the need to neutralize these threats emanating from the Afghan territory and prevent destabilization in Central Asia. The concept reads: “respecting the right of its CIS partners to developing relations with other foreign states, Russia stands for the comprehensive fulfillment by the CIS countries of their commitments in the regional integration structures in which Russia participates, and further development of integration and mutually advantageous cooperation within the CIS.”
These principles fully apply to Russia’s relations with Uzbekistan.