Uzbekistan has a new president, a new prime minister and is about to have a new Cabinet. In an interview to EADaily, Rafik Sayfulin, an independent expert, former Director of Uzbekistan’s Strategic Studies Institute, has comment on the processes developing in his country.
You are opening a new page of your history. You have a new regime. What expectations do you have?
Uzbekistan is a big state. It is home to over 32,000,000 people. This is more than in the rest of Central Asia. In order to be fine, they need stability. Mirziyoyev will give it to them. He is going to upgrade the existing policy. He is committed to liberalize the monetary policy, perhaps, to revaluate the som. He is expected to do it in mid-2017. Mirziyoyev is also going to optimize the Cabinet so as to make it more flexible.
As far as I know, he has already drafted a number of decrees. What are they about?
The point is that Islam Karimov wanted the country to switch from a strong personality to a strong system. And he was close to that goal. He was very close to finalizing his reform. He wanted to strengthen the judiciary, the cabinet and the parliament. I hope that the new president will accomplish this reform. When a president has wide powers, what matters is the executor. Under Karimov there were restrictions that kept him from personalism – the key problem of Khrushchev and some other Soviet-time leaders. I think Mirziyoyev will continue Karimov’s policy. I am sure that he will strengthen the system rather than specific personalities. Here we need consensus among all those seeking influence in Uzbekistan. We must do our best to avoid “Aleppo” or “Maidan.” If something like this happens, the whole region will be flop over.
A Chinese representative said on the day of the voting in Tashkent that Chinese leader Xi Jinping would like to strengthen China’s relations with Uzbekistan. What projects can he offer?
It is early to speak about specific projects but the Chinese know the value of money. They are obviously interested in developing their relations with us. They know what we are interested in: not just transport infrastructure (rail and motor roads) but the real sector. They have already opened an economic zone in Jizzakh and a mining and metallurgical combine in Olmaliq. But here they are looking out for the Russians. In any case, they need to retain their foothold in Central Asia and Uzbekistan can help them in the matter.
Russia also hopes for closer relations with Uzbekistan, mostly for bilateral relations as Uzbekistan is not going to join any regional unions.
In 2004, Russia and Uzbekistan signed a strategic partnership agreement. In 2005, they entered into an alliance. We have not refused to integrate. If this benefits us, why not? I, first of all, mean the Collective Security Treaty Organization. We have suspended our membership in that organization but we have not withdrawn from it. So, we can expect anything in future provided that it benefits both sides.
Before the election, Russia and Uzbekistan signed an agreement on military-technical cooperation…
Yes, they did. And a very valuable agreement. It was the fruit of Putin’s meeting with Karimov in Sochi in Apr 2016. It is good that our leaders keep in touch. This is already a tradition.
Was the West’s low activity in Uzbekistan due to the presidential race in the United States or are the Americans planning to leave the region?
Everybody is interested what Donald Trump will do. Central Asia is backyards for the United States but will it be such in future? I can’t say what the Americans will do in the region. What I care for is to see the Russians being attentive to it. Their position is decisive. But the Chinese are also active here.
How will Uzbekistan contact with its neighbors?
Uzbekistan’s relations with its neighbors have not been always good. This is what one of Mirziyoyev’s foreign political priorities is to develop contacts with neighbors. Recently our Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov paid a visit to Tajikistan. The Tajik energy minister has visited Tashkent. We have had negotiations with Nursultan Nazarbayev. We are committed to improve our relations with neighbors. Recently we resumed flights to Dushanbe. We have lived side by side for centuries and I hope to God that this will continue. But here we have one small nuance: Russia must stay neutral here. We should be able to solve our problems on our own with no interference by any great power.