Russia and Central Asia: Horizons of Cooperation

For all the problems, disputes and setbacks at the initial stage of the existence of the post-Soviet space, there was a steady search for ways to preserve and promote the erstwhile close cooperation seen as a balance to the protracted “disintegration” of the former unitary system.

This search has been largely guided by the realization that in an extremely complicated and controversial globalization environment marked by a clash of interests among the leading outside players, the institutional mechanisms of regional cooperation are an important and meaningful component of security and stability.

Common culture, history and traditions have always been the basic component of the Central Asian nations’ community. Addressing the international conference Central Asia: One Past and a Common Future, Cooperation for Sustainable Development and Mutual Prosperity, held in Samarkand on November 10, 2017, President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev emphasized the importance of common cultural heritage and traditions.1 It was then that he described the Central Asian region as the main direction of his country’s foreign policy.

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The Central Asian countries should intensify their regional dialogue, if only to prevent the resolutions of their problems by Washington, Beijing or Moscow. However, it would be short-sighted to think that this dialogue and narrow regional forms of cooperation could become a “lucky ticket” to the world for them.

Efforts to form a new regional system are always specific in their own way, and the understanding of these specifics is important in that it helps to assess both the past and future development. In the past, the rapprochement between countries with a similar level of development and their gradual adjustment to each other at different stages in the process could have been easier in a narrow format, most often a bilateral one, than within the system as a whole. In the current environment characterized by de-globalization and a strict localization of relations at the regional level, it becomes possible to limit the dangerous fragmentation in this part of Eurasia and feel the role and importance of national states in a new way. At the same time, we see an incipient constructive transformation of an entire set of relations between countries in the region, on the one hand, and Russia, on the other.

In the historical and cultural context, it is rather difficult to draw clear-cut boundaries between the ethnic groups in the region. Back in the Soviet era, the ethnic situation there was largely related to the sensitive issue of administrative demarcation. It is for this reason that Uzbekistan’s current leaders see settling border disputes with neighbors on a mutually acceptable basis as their number one priority and a way to strengthen relations with countries in the region. During the past three years, mutual agreements have been reached on 80% of the disputed stretches of the border with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

The Central Asian republics realize that a consistent rapprochement of their economic systems is an objective and inevitable necessity. All of them are landlocked and have no outlet to the sea. Their geopolitical position is equally unfavorable, and they are fully dependent on neighboring states for access to trading routes. In any event, their wellbeing will hinge on stability in adjacent countries and the nature of relations with them.

Apart from the above reasons for close cooperation, there are economic priorities. In the Soviet Union, the Central Asian economies specialized in producing agricultural raw materials (given the climatic conditions in each particular republic) and catered primarily to the USSR’s needs. In the course of their post-Soviet rapprochement, they managed to overcome certain initial distrust and launched active cooperation on many regional matters.

As estimated by experts, the Central Asian region has rich, if unevenly distributed, mineral resources such as oil, gas, gold, uranium, zinc, and others, with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan accounting for most reserves. Coupled with heavy production and processing costs, this circumstance might prod countries in the region towards more active cooperation, but they prefer a slower pace. Nevertheless it is close cooperation that can solve problems facing the Central Asian states, including the economic security problem. Their proven oil reserves exceed 30 billion barrels and gas – 350 trillion cubic meters, or 7.1% of the world oil and gas reserves. They are among the top ten countries in terms of coal and gold production and have vast reserves of rare and non-ferrous metals.

The World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 report puts Uzbekistan among the top ten reformer countries excelling in the ease of doing business over the last five years. (It moved from 166th place in 2012 to 69th in 2019.) This leap forward is facilitated by Uzbekistan’s active cooperation with Russian partners in the priority investment sectors and its use of Russian best practices in drafting national engineering/R&D projects and organizing research and technological parks, innovative cities and areas. These targeted projects might also address the problem of joint marketing strategy in the investment segment by removing disparities in the allocation of investment in priority economic spheres. A case in point is a number of advanced projects, such as Uralmashplant upgrading processing lines at the Olmaliq mining-and-metallurgical integrated works, Russian Eurocement’s involvement in overhauling the Ohangaronsement plant, the production by Rostselmash of forage harvesters and agricultural equipment at the Chirchiq agricultural equipment plant, the drafting, in partnership with Lukoil, of a plan to develop the Kandym-Khauzak-Shady gas fields, the construction, jointly with Gazprom, of a gas chemical facility in the Surxondaryo Region, as well as hydrocarbon production in Karakalpakstan, the Andijan, Bukhara and Qashqadaryo regions, and much more. Intensified industrial cooperation with Russian and Chinese technological companies will boost exports to countries in the region. World Bank experts predict a two-fold increase in investment in Uzbekistan’s economy and the establishment of new joint ventures by 2025, something that will have a direct impact on the country’s export potential. According to a report released by the Uzbekistan State Statistical Committee, its main CIS trade partners are Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan (accounting for 29.4% of Uzbek foreign trade); other partners include China, South Korea, Germany, the United States, Japan, France, Italy, Turkey, Latvia, India and Afghanistan (accounting for 44.4% of foreign trade).

In the foreseeable future, close cooperation and interaction between the Central Asian states and the Russian Federation will remain of vital importance for the former. Faced with the complicated political processes unfolding in the world, the states in the region are making efforts to define their regional and global role in a new way.

[1]. Remarks by President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev at the international conference Central Asia: One Past and a Common Future, Cooperation for Sustainable Development and Mutual Prosperity, Samarkand, November 10, 2017 (available at


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