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Islam Karimov's visit to Moscow could get Washington’s attention: commentaries

April 26 was the official part of Uzbekistani President Islam Karimov’s visit to Moscow. Dmitry Peskov, the Spokesperson for the Russian president, said Vladimir Putin and Islam Karimov had an informal vis-à-vis meeting the day before. Today, bilateral talks will be held and a number of documents in the trade-and-economic, scientific-and-technical, and humanitarian fields will be signed. The two presidents will discuss the pressing issues on the regional and international agenda, cooperation at international organizations, including the CIS, UN, and SCO and its Summit to be held in Uzbekistan on June 23-24. The host country forms the agenda and promotes adoption of decisions. Therefore, Karimov and Putin are most likely to discuss this issue too. Labor migration will probably become another issue for discussion. By data of the Russian Foreign Ministry, there were more than 1.5 million citizens of Uzbekistan in Russia in early April 2016. In 2014, money remittances of migrants to Uzbekistan totaled about $5.5 billion. Last year, this indicator shrank by 60% due to the crisis. Moscow and Tashkent have repeatedly said they will draft and implement an agreement on organized employment of the citizens of Uzbekistan in Russia. Perhaps, the time has come.

Leonid Gusev, a senior research fellow at the Analytical Center of the International Studies Institute at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), says cooperation in the field of gas recovery may become one of the important topics for discussion. Gazprom announced it will increase the procurement of natural gas from Uzbekistan this year. The Kazakh side welcomed the idea. However, consumption of gas in Europe has decreased and questions arise concerning Gazprom’s plans.

Alexey Miller, Gazprom CEO, has quite lately reaffirmed the company’s readiness to increase gas procurement from Uzbekistan. “We highly appreciate the results of the talks with our Uzbek friends. Uzbekistan is our reliable partner in the gas field and we will continue our mutually advantageous cooperation,” he said. However, it appears that Karimov does not mind receiving more assurances in Moscow.

Another important topic is the security field, Gusev says. The stances of Russia and Uzbekistan coincide here. The two countries are concerned over Afghanistan where the situation has grown tense during the last year. Uzbekistan has a common border with Afghanistan. Besides, militants of ISIS (an extremist organization banned in Russia and other countries) have occurred in Afghanistan, while the extremist forces in Uzbekistan are quite influential.  The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan has always been considered as one the most dangerous forces in the region.

Alexander Knyazev, PhD in History, expert in Central Asia and Middle East, says the military and political cooperation is the cornerstone of the Russian-Uzbek relations. This cooperation was not affected even after Uzbekistan suspended its membership of the Collective Security Treaty Organization in 2012, Knyazev says. The dialogue in the field of security for Uzbekistan is based on several components now: developments in Afghanistan, the neighboring Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan, as the threats may come from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan only via its neighbor states. The border of Afghanistan and Uzbekistan is protected more than properly and the province Balkh on the border with Uzbekistan is one of the calmest in Afghanistan, though certain elements of destabilization are emerging there too.  In this light, the presidents of Russia and Uzbekistan need to discuss the prospects of the rapidly lapsing government in Kabul.  Uzbekistan generally agrees with the viewpoint in Moscow that the settlement of the Afghan issue must be political, and not military, and the Taliban Movement should be involved into the political process inside Afghanistan, Knyazev says.

One more aspect of cooperation is modernization and re-equipment of Uzbekistan’s armed forces by Russia.  Considering the recent flare-up of the Karabakh conflict and the arms Russia has supplied to Tajikistan, certain circles in the Central-Asian region are concerned that the Russian weapons may be used in the region, since there is a bunch of unresolved border problems between Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. When the legal arms market is oversaturated and supply exceeds demand, a producer uses every chance to get profits, without thinking of the future consequences.

The relations of Moscow and Uzbekistan are interesting also because Russia has finally understood that it is useless to try to involve Uzbekistan in any integration projects, since that country prefers bilateral cooperation and keeps the balance of interests of its powerful partners, Knyazev says. Therefore, he says, the meeting of the presidents is hardly about the Eurasian Economic Union. After all, Karimov has strictly said that he does not seek to join the Union, but is ready to weigh establishment of a free-trade zone. 

As for the economic bloc of issues to be discussed by the presidents, it is the cooperation in the gas field, development of minefields in Uzbekistan, supply of the Russian industrial production. Putin and Karimov are expected to sign an agreement to establish an international organization that will continue the construction of Suffa Radio Observatory.  Knyazev believes that Russia and Uzbekistan will implement a great space project having no analogues in the world.

Suspended in 1980s, the construction of the observatory was resumed after a high-level meeting in 2014. The project has not been completed due to some financial problems. Russia has already envisaged financing of Suffa project in the state budget. A special organization is needed now to complete the project. 

Meantime such a comprehensive program of talks and agreements Moscow and Tashken could make Western media publish U.S. demands to the daughter of Uzbekistan’s president – Gulnara Karimova – to return nearly 500,000 dollars “laundered” through Swiss banks. EADaily reported earlier that it was for the first time when the president’s daughter was named in media. Previously she was mentioned as the “closest relative of a high-ranking official.” This may be a veiled warning against too close cooperation of Tashkent and Moscow. Nevertheless, it might be an elementary coincidence too.

EADaily’s Middle East Bureau

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