Russia and Uzbekistan: Developing ties in all directions

Russia and Uzbekistan: Developing ties in all directions

Evgenia Kotkova

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev visited Moscow last week. Formally, this was his second foreign visit, but the first, involving a one-on-one meeting of leaders of states. Russian President Vladimir Putin met with his Uzbek counterpart on November 19.
Both before and during the visit, it was repeatedly said that relations between the two countries are at an unprecedented high level, which they have reached in recent years. In essence, this means: during the presidency of Mirziyoyev.
It was with his coming to power and the beginning of fundamental reforms in the country that a major breakthrough was outlined in the dialogue between Russia and Uzbekistan. In particular, the volume of mutual trade turnover over the past year is twice as high as in 2016, at the end of which Mirziyoyev won his first presidential elections, and if the countries manage to reach the level of $ 7 billion declared by the Uzbek leader by the end of this year, then the difference will be already two and a half times.
Large joint projects
In 2020, Russia and Uzbekistan increased their trade turnover by 15.6% compared to a year earlier. The figure is significant – almost $ 5.9 billion. In terms of the volume of trade with the Russian Federation, Uzbekistan from neighboring countries is second only to Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. The republic mainly imports metals, oil products, timber and certain types of food, and supplies cotton, textile products, fruits and nuts to Russia.
As Vladimir Putin noted during a meeting with his Uzbek counterpart, the dialogue between Moscow and Tashkent is notable for its depth and intensity and is multifaceted. According to him, great merit in this belongs to interregional cooperation. Among the regions of the Russian Federation that maintain active economic ties with Uzbek partners, he named Moscow, St. Petersburg, Tatarstan, Chelyabinsk, Moscow, Ivanovo and Samara regions.
The unprecedented level of cooperation is not only about mutual trade. In recent years, Russia and Uzbekistan have been actively converging in various fields, from security issues to education, and developing large joint projects. There are more than 150 of them, and the total cost exceeds $ 14 billion. The most significant of them is the construction of a nuclear power plant in the Jizzakh region with the participation of Rosatom. Earlier, with the help of Russia, the Tashkent metallurgical and Kandym gas processing plants were built, and the total number of enterprises in Uzbekistan with the participation of Russian capital exceeds 2 thousand. According to Mirziyoyev, the volume of accumulated Russian investments in Uzbekistan has now exceeded the $ 10 billion mark.
Strategic directions
The advantages of such cooperation for Tashkent are obvious: it is a huge market for the sale of its products, and large-scale investments, and the import of modern technologies, and, of course, labor migration. In Russia, according to official data, there are over a million migrants from Uzbekistan.
In recent years, the share of the urban population of the republic has increased significantly. If in 2015 this figure was 36.4%, now it is already about 50%. The population of Uzbekistan over the same years incre-ased by 4 million people. The rapid relocation of people to cities has led to an increase in unemployment. Labor migration for Uzbe-kistan is not only a solution to this problem, but also a significant inflow of funds into the economy: the volume of remittances from Russia in 2020 amounted to $ 4.81 billion. This is only 1 billion less than the country’s revenues from gold exports for the same year.
For the Russian Federation, Uzbekistan remains an extremely important and promising partner. One of the strategic areas of cooperation is the oil and gas sector. In terms of gas production, the republic ranks third among the CIS states after the Russian Federation and Turkmenistan and is one of the ten largest gas producing countries in the world (63–65 billion cubic meters of gas per year). At the same time, the country’s leadership announces plans to completely abandon gas exports and expand imports in order to use it for the needs of its own industry. Against the background of the dynamic development of the Uzbek industry, this opens up vast scope for investment for Russian oil and gas enterprises.
In parallel with the development of traditional energy, Tashkent launched an ambitious program for the transition to renewable energy sources and by 2026 expects to increase “green” generation to 8 GW. This step is not only useful (after all, Uzbekistan is among the top twenty countries in terms of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP), but also logical: the republic has an average of 320 sunny days a year. According to experts, the technical potential of solar energy in Uzbekistan is four times higher than the consumption of primary energy, which makes the development of this sector very attractive. Uzbekistan has attracted $ 3 billion of external borrowings for already planned projects alone, and it would be beneficial for Russia to take part in the development of this sector.
In addition to investment and technological cooperation, this expands the potential for interaction in other areas, for example, in education. New high-tech industries require qualified personnel, and the Russian Federation traditionally participates in the training of specialists. About 43 thousand Uzbek students are already studying in Russian universities, and branches of Russian higher schools are opening in Uzbekistan itself – now there are 14 of them. at the station. Similar projects can be implemented in the field of green energy.
Geographic factor
Now Russia remains the largest investment partner of Uzbekistan after China, which year after year is increasing its participation in production, transport and other projects in Central Asia. If you miss the moment, it will be very difficult to catch up with the Celestial Empire.
An essential aspect here is the possibility of joining the EAEU. The Russian authorities have repeatedly expressed their hope for Uzbekistan’s full participation in the union, which w-ill open up opportunities for reducing barriers to mutual trade. However, so far Tashkent has agreed only to the status of an observer state and is in no hurry to join the union, preferring to assume only those obligations within the organization that correspond to its national interests.
Another important factor is geography. The countries of Central Asia represent a kind of buffer between Russia and Afghanistan, which has long been a hotbed of instability in the region. But if in previous years the main source of problems was drug trafficking, then after the radical Taliban movement (banned in the Russian Federation) came to power in Kabul, security and military cooperation issues came to the fore.
The Uzbek-Afghan border is only 143 km long and runs along the Amu Darya River. The importance of this site cannot be underestimated: there is a large checkpoint located at the Friendship Bridge (still of Soviet construction). On this bridge, across which in 1979 Soviet troops entered Afghanistan and almost ten years later they left, there is not only a road, but also a railway to one of the largest Afghan cities, Mazar-i-Sharif. This makes the Uzbek section of the border strategically important for the security of not only the country itself, but the entire region as a whole.

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