Uzbek president courts Kazakh leader to improve relations with Russia

By bne IntelliNews November 26, 2014

bne IntelliNews -


Uzbek President Islam Karimov has courted Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbayev in order to seek a wise man's advice on how to shield the region from challenges emerging as a result of the rapidly changing geopolitical situation. Another reason Karimov went to Astana is to find ways of improving relations with Russia, according to observers.

"They [these challenges] require us to cooperate more closely to preserve peace, stability and tranquillity in our countries and the region as a whole and ensure the sustainable development of national economies and improving the welfare of peoples," Karimov said during a visit to Astana on November 24-25. "The early stabilisation of the situation in Afghanistan and establishment of peace in this country is of crucial importance for security and stability in the Central Asian region and beyond."

The Uzbek leader criticised the speedy withdrawal of forces by the US and its allies from Afghanistan as this may lead to "unexpected" results. "It is not ruled out that all this might lead to something that's happening in Iraq at the moment," Karimov said, referring to Islamic State.

In this light, Karimov is seeking to secure Nazarbayev's assistance in improving the deteriorated relations with Russia following Tashkent's departure from the Moscow-led CIS Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) in late 2012 for the second time. "Obviously, Uzbekistan wants to improve relations with Russia and has been trying to test the ground in this direction," Andrey Kazantsev, director of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations' analytical centre, told Russia's Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

He suggested that Uzbekistan could get close with Russia either via Eurasian integration or the CSTO. Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus are part of the Customs Union, which will be transformed into the Eurasian Economic Union in January 2015. Armenia will join them in the new year and Kyrgyzstan some time next year.

Karimov's flattery of Nazarbayev as a man who is getting "wiser" with every passing year may well prove Kazantsev right. Karimov must have also kept Russia in mind following Moscow's outrage at the new Ukrainian government's drift away from its orbit towards the West. Karimov, 76, has not announced yet whether he will stand for another term in the forthcoming presidential election in March 2015. The Uzbek president may feel the need to reassure the Kremlin that his successor would not be anti-Russian should he decide not to stand. Russia's Vladimir Putin is expected to visit Tashkent in December.

Joint positions and bilateral trade

Karimov also used the visit to reiterate his opposition to the plans by upstream Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to dam rivers that feed water to Uzbek cotton fields. "Today we confirmed a joint position on the construction of new hydrotechnical facilities on the upper reaches of the Syr Darya and Amu Darya rivers which should be conducted in strict compliance with commonly admitted norms of international law and conventions of the UN and with mandatory coordination with all countries located on the lower reaches of these rivers," Karimov said.

"Cooperation in this vitally important sphere is possible only on the basis of mutual trust. Transparency and account of interests of all regional countries without exception should be ensured," Nazarbayev echoed Karimov.

Kyrgyzstan is planning to build the Kambar-Ata 2 hydropower station on the upper reaches of the Syr Darya, while Tajikistan is building what will be the world's tallest dam, Rogun.

According to Nazarbayev, bilateral trade between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan is on the rise and had quadrupled to over $2bn between 2005 and 2013. In the nine months of 2014, it exceeded $1.5bn. However, Uzbekistan still accounted for only 1.2% of Kazakhstan's exports and 2.6% of imports.

Zeman's spectre

Karimov's visit to Astana coincided with Czech President Milos Zeman who concluded his visit on the day Karimov arrived in the Kazakh capital. Whether Karimov met Zeman while both men were in Astana is not clear, but the two presidents have long been seeking a meeting: Karimov's visit to Prague in February was cancelled when Zeman came under pressure from human rights activists.

The Kazakh presidential press service told RFE/RL that the visiting presidents would meet Nazarbayev separately and there would be no trilateral talks. However, the press service refused to clarify whether Zeman and Karimov would meet separately, officially or unofficially.


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