As part of the 10th Asian Conference, held by the Valdai Discussion Club in partnership with the Institute for Strategic and Regional Studies under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan (ISRS), a special session was held on Russian-Uzbek relations.
The participants discussed issues of economic, military-technical, cultural and humanitarian cooperation, touched upon the problems of regional security, and addressed the problem of stabilising the situation in Afghanistan. It was repeatedly emphasised, that a state of bilateral relations cannot be considered outside the context of the new world order, which directly affects the format of bilateral relations. And the external context now carries far more risks than opportunities.
It is no secret that Russian-Uzbek relations have long and deep roots. The experts have noted the increased cooperation between the two countries in recent years. Since the beginning of 2019, more than 150 meetings of delegations at various levels have taken place; there has never been such an intense degree of contact.
Uzbekistan's President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to Russia in April 2017 visit to Russia marked a turning point in bilateral relations. Over the past three years, the leaders of the two countries have met eight times, emphasising the dynamics of interaction. Since then, the parliaments of both countries have intensified cooperation. A commission of the heads of government of Russia and Uzbekistan has been established, which is a promising indicator of relations between the two countries. Inter-MFA consultations are constantly held on topical issues related to the bilateral and international agenda. Moscow and Tashkent hold close positions on key issues affecting regional and international politics, and conduct close interaction within the UN, CIS, SCO and other international organisations.
Another priority is the development of trade and economic cooperation. Between January and August 2019, the volume of bilateral trade grew by more than 10%; Uzbekistan's exports, for example, grew by 17% and its imports increased by 6%. The volume of Russian investments Uzbekistan has attracted to its economy has reached 9 billion USD. The issue of regional security in Central Asia as a whole, and Uzbekistan in particular, is a matter of national interest for Russia because of the geographic proximity of the region to the key industrial centres of Russia. The US and European states are looking at Central Asia states primarily through the prism of their relations with China and Russia.
Multilateral institutions such as the CSTO or the SCO play an important role, but they are not the only elements of the security system. Bilateral mechanisms play a significant role in ensuring sustainability and stability in the region. And bilateral relations between Russia and Uzbekistan are becoming an important independent factor in the security system of Central Asia.
Uzbekistan has a unique experience in the fight against Islamic terrorism, extremism and radicalism. Tashkent faced this challenge before everyone else, back in the late 1980s. It is impossible to stand up to Islamic radicalism without engaging in a dialogue with people, and it was determined that such a struggle should be waged, first of all, by spiritual leaders. After the collapse of the USSR, there was an acute shortage of relevant personnel in the post-Soviet space. In the early 1990s, the country set about opening institutions of higher education. In Russia, such work is also underway now; for example, in Tatarstan there are several prestigious educational institutions engaging in religious instruction.
Of acute concern is the movement of militants associated with international terrorist groups from Syria and Iraq into Afghanistan, especially to its northern regions. These include immigrants from the Central Asian countries. Russia and Uzbekistan, through all available channels, have sought to help resolve the Afghan situation. The two countries are calling for the mobilisation of all available multinational organisations to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan. Also, Russia and Uzbekistan are interested in the development of transport projects in Afghanistan, which will connect Central Asia through Afghanistan with ports in Iran and Pakistan.
The fierce rivalry between China and the United States, apparently, will not end in a year or two, but will become the dominant trend of the next decade, which has the prospect of leading to a "technological cold war." At the centre of efforts to end this confrontation will be efforts to form a club of clients and economic partners who will adhere to the same systems and standards. This poses a very difficult challenge for Russia and Uzbekistan.Despite these positive dynamics, the two countries still have a lot of work to do to build a dialogue amid difficult and constantly changing conditions.