Uzbek-Russian relations have recently improved following the death of the late Uzbek President Islam Karimov, a staunch isolationist. His successor, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, has deviated slightly from this policy by fostering relations with Russia and other Central Asian countries. Most notably, the two countries signed the “Treaty on the Development of Military-Technical Cooperation,” on November 29th, 2016. This agreement presents a chance for improved military cooperation between the two nations and has already resulted in shared military exercises and significant arms deals. However, it is unlikely that this newfound friendship will result in a formal military alliance or see Uzbekistan join any of the many multinational organizations of which Russia is the de facto leader. Whether Uzbekistan moves further towards Russia will depend at least partly on its evolving relationship with the United States and China. However, if Uzbekistan does open up further to Russia and to the world, it will have large positive impacts on the country’s economy and security.
The relationship between Uzbekistan and Russian is critical for both countries: since 1992, the two countries have signed more than one hundred bilateral agreements,1 the most important of which are a 1992 friendship treaty and a 2005 mutual security treaty providing for consultations in case of a security threat to either party. Russia provides counterterrorism training to the Uzbek security forces and is also Uzbekistan's main arms supplier. Many Uzbek nationals work in the Russian Federation and their remittances amounted to as much as 7 percent of Uzbekistan’s GDP in 2008. Further, over 900 Russian joint ventures operate in Uzbekistan, and 85 Russian companies have offices in Uzbekistan.2
Military relations have been slowly improving between Russia and Uzbekistan, compared to its previously fraught past. Uzbekistan has historically refused to join military organizations with Russia, refusing to join the Moscow-led Customs Union or Putin’s proposed Eurasian Union, and suspending its membership in the Moscow-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Uzbek officials oppose periodic Russian efforts to establish more military bases in neighboring countries, which would weaken the advantages Uzbekistan derives from not bordering Russia. However, Tashkent recently reaffirmed its commitment to security and defense cooperation within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a looser bloc of former Soviet republics.3 Additionally, Uzbekistan has been more more actively participating in the CIS Air Defense Coordination Committee, the CIS Anti-terrorist Center, the CIS Military Cooperation Coordination Headquarters, and the CIS Council of Commanders of Border Troops.4
The recent improvement in bilateral relations, previously negative due to the late isolationist president Islam Karimov, can be attributed to the election of Mirziyoyev following his predecessor’s death in 2016.5 Whereas Karimov was suspicious of any other country playing a role in Uzbek affairs, Mirziyoyev has been more amenable to working with Russia. Before being elected president, he paved the way for an Uzbek-Russian military technical cooperation agreement. Conflicts related to Islamic extremism near the borders of Uzbekistan further pressured Uzbekistan and nearby countries to increase cooperation in order to maintain peace and security in the region. Though this new cooperation is unlikely to lead to a formal alliance with Russia, or rejoining the Collective Security Treaty Organization, there is no doubt that relations between the two are much better under the new Uzbek president, as made explicitly clear through the military-technical agreement, “Treaty on the Development of Military-Technical Cooperation,” signed by Uzbek and Russian officials on November 29th, 2016.
The military agreement, “Treaty on the Development of Military-Technical Cooperation,” was signed by Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and his Uzbek counterpart Kabul Berdiyev on November 29th, 2017 in Moscow. While the exact language of the agreement is unavailable online, there have been various reports and analyses published by regional media sources as well as press conducted by the related countries communicating the details of the deal. The policy articulates procedures for transporting military-purpose goods, executing relevant contracts, and developing the defense capacity of Uzbekistan and Russia while maintaining their production, technological, scientific, and technical capacities. The document also sets out to equip both militaries with advanced models of equipment and weapons.6 Through this treaty, the Russian government demonstrates readiness to supply Uzbekistan with contemporary weapons at favorable terms, while also agreeing to assist Tashkent in cultivating its own military-industrial complex.7
President Mirziyoyev made a statement during his trip to Moscow announced that, “The priority tasks include expanding the supply of military equipment to Uzbekistan on mutually beneficial terms, and organization of repairs of such equipment at Russian enterprises.”8 The Senate of Uzbekistan unanimously voted to ratify the policy in in March 2017, followed soon after by ratification by Russia in April.
The agreement expresses the need for future programs between Uzbekistan and Russia, and allows specialists to be invited and consultations to be held on specific issues related to the new cooperation.9 Further, agreement states that the supplier of military products has the right to monitor their presence and targeted use and that the receiving country should provide the necessary conditions for such control. The agreement allows Uzbekistan to purchase military equipment at close to Russian domestic prices and to do so directly, without having to undergo state regulators such as Rosoboronexport. This increases the speed at which these transactions are conducted, but it also makes the deals less transparent.10 The treaty included the renewal of training programs for Uzbek officers at Russian military institutions, which were disrupted in 2012.11
The agreement forecasts future joint activities focused on building capacity of armed forces and training military staff in the two countries. The number of joint military exercises between Uzbekistan and Russia is continuing to increase each year, doubling in 2017 to 36 collaborations as a result of the agreement. The treaty made it much easier to acquire Russian weapons, which was previously extremely difficult due to Uzbekistan’s withdrawal from the CSTO in 2012. The new policy includes a program modernizing and re-equipping armed forces of Uzbekistan with Russian military hardware,12 promising to solve issues concerning proper equipment of the Armed Forces of Uzbekistan and advance their combat efficiency. While Russian equipment is substantially more powerful than that of the other countries in the region, it still lags far behind the United States and other Western nation in total power and technology. For Uzbekistan, preparing troops in anti-terrorism operations with the superior Russian military is seen as extremely valuable, considering the rising instability in Afghanistan.
Putin highlighted the significance of this treaty in a statement following its signing, saying that "Uzbekistan's position in the region is very important to us, keeping in mind the tensions that somehow affect us from neighboring countries, primarily from Afghanistan." The strengthened relationship and expanding military cooperation arising from this agreement arose partially from the Russian desire to see the Uzbek economy grow, as there are currently over a million Uzbek guest workers in Russia. An improved economy could entice these workers to return home, easing Russia’s growing anti-immigrant movement. This treaty symbolizes Russia’s increased willingness to provide military aid in Uzbekistan in order to protect it from extremism, which is an increasing concern of Tashkent with recent Taliban strikes near Uzbekistan’s eastern border with Afghanistan, in Kaldor, Afghanistan.13
The clearest question arising from this piece of foreign policy is whether Uzbekistan may rejoin the Russian led CSTO. Despite improvements in the economic, security, and military arenas, which suggest that Uzbekistan may join Russian led Eurasian Economic Union and/or return to the CSTO, Mirziyoyev does not seem to be straying from the non-alignment policy beyond fostering relations with regional leaders and governments. The reluctance of Uzbekistan to adapt this military and security cooperation with Russia as described in the November 2016 agreement into a full mutual defense agreement such as the CSTO can be explained in part by the recent improvements in relations between the US and Uzbekistan under President Trump, as now Uzbekistan has less reliance on Russia as its only military partner. Because of this reluctance, the treaty may turn out to be a temporary improvement in relations vulnerable to changes if Uzbekistan refuses to join these Russian-led organizations.14
As a result of the agreement, Russia and Uzbekistan held their first joint military exercise in over twelve years in October 2017, and have further agreed to work closely on mutual areas of interest, from Afghanistan to radicalism and drug trafficking. In the joint Russian-Uzbek military exercise conducted in Uzbekistan’s Dzhizak province, Uzbek and Russian soldiers collaborated in dismantling armed militias operating in mountainous terrain and simulated a joint operation to fight terrorist groups.15 Additionally, in April of 2017 Uzbekistan partook in a Russian counterterrorism exercise in Tajikistan, demonstrating further military cooperation immediately following Russia’s ratification of the agreement.16 Russia agreed to supply the defense of Uzbekistan with 12 Mi-35M attack helicopters equipped with modern precision weapons in 2018, a deal which was made possible precisely because Uzbekistan can now directly purchase military equipment at Russian domestic prices as stipulated in the 2016 treaty.17 However, despite the agreement, Uzbekistan continues to reject sending military to fight in Syria after Russia broached the topic with several Central Asian states.18
According to officials in Uzbekistan, the growing relations between the countries are an attempt by Tashkent to “de-politicize and de-ideologize inter-state relations with neighboring countries by removing artificial barriers for mutually beneficial cooperation.”19 While there is much ground to cover in mending relations between Russia and Uzbekistan, the “Treaty on the Development of Military-Technical Cooperation” will have foundational consequences on Eurasian security in the following years, and will lead to a substantial amount of further military collaborations between the two countries, and in turn, a greater dependence of Uzbekistan on Russia. While the policy as it stands is designed in such a way as to bring the countries closer together, its success is uncertain and subject to the base level instability in the region and how Uzbekistan’s relations with powerful countries such as the US and China evolve. However, if successful, this improvement in military and technical relations between Uzbekistan and Russia will significantly impact the military future of Central Asia as well as dramatically improve the economy of Uzbekistan.
1. U.S. Department of Defense Intelligence Production Program. Uzbekistan Country Handbook
2. Hasanova, Gunay. "Uzbekistan, Russia ink deal on military-technical cooperation." AzerNews.az. November 30, 2016. Accessed February 4, 2018. https://www.azernews.az/region/105831.html
3. McDermott, Roger Understanding the Uzbek Way‘ on Security, Asia Times, July 24, 2012, Accessed February 4, 2018.
5. Avdiliani, Emil. "Uzbek-Russia Relations: Close, but Not Too Close." Geopolitical Monitor. July 12, 2017. Accessed February 4, 2018. https://www.geopoliticalmonitor.com/uzbek-russia-relations-close-but-not-too-close.
6. "Law to ratify agreement between Russia and Uzbekistan on developing military-technical cooperation." Office of the President of Russia. April 17, 2017. Accessed February 4, 2018. http://en.kremlin.ru/acts/news/54304.
7. Mashrab, Fozil, “Russia Tacitly Entices Uzbcekistan With Benefits of EEU, CSTO Membership,” The Jamestown Foundation, November 17 2017, Accessed February 4, 2018. https://jamestown.org/program/russia-tacitly-entices-uzbekistan-benefits-eeu-csto-membership/
8. “Uzbekistan Expecting To Receive More Military Equipment From Russia,” East Time, April 8 2017, Accessed February 4, 2018. http://easttime.info/news/uzbekistan/uzbekistan-expecting-receive-more-military-equipment-russia.
9. “Uzbekistan Ratifies The Agreement On Military And Technical Cooperation With Russia,” East Time, March 30 2017, Accessed February 4, 2018. http://easttime.info/news/uzbekistan/uzbekistan-ratifies-agreement-military-and-technical-cooperation-russia.
10. “Russia, Uzbekistan to Develop Military-Technical Cooperation - Gov't Decree,” Sputnik News, November 22 2016, Accessed February 4, 2018. https://sputniknews.com/politics/201611221047714505-cooperation-military-russia-uzbekistan/
11. Mashrab, Fozil, “Uzbekistan Turns to Russia in Search of Modern Weapons,” The Jamestown Foundation, February 15 2017, Accessed February 4, 2018. https://jamestown.org/program/uzbekistan-turns-russia-search-modern-weapons/.
12. Uzbekistan, Russia sign military cooperation agreement,” AKIpress, November 30 2016, Accessed February 4, 2018. https://akipress.com/news:585885/.
13. Ramani, Samuel, “The Implications of Tightening Russia-Uzbekistan Ties,” The Diplomat, May 11 2016, Accessed February 4, 2018. https://thediplomat.com/2016/05/the-implications-of-tightening-russia-uzbekistan-ties/
14. Ibid. Mashrab, Fozil, “Russia…”
15. “Russia, Uzbekistan team up for military drills at Uzbek Forish ground,” TASS, October 03 2017, Accessed February 4, 2018. http://tass.com/defense/968574.
16. Ramani, Samuel “Russia and Uzbekistan's Renewed Security Partnership,” The Diplomat, July 11 2017, Accessed February, 4 2018. https://thediplomat.com/2017/07/russia-and-uzbekistans-renewed-security-partnership/.
17. Russia will supply Uzbekistan 12 Mi-35 helicopters,” WeapoNews, December 1, 2017, Accessed February 4, 2018. http://weaponews.com/news/19351-russia-will-supply-uzbekistan-12-mi-35-helicopters.html.
18. Caravenserai, “Uzbekistan rejects idea of sending troops to Syria,” Central Asia News, July 5 2017, Accessed February 4, 2018. http://central.asia-news.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_ca/newsbriefs/2017/07/05/newsbrief-03.
19. “«Узбекистан готов к сотрудничеству со всеми странами» — Садык Сафаев,” Gazeta, December 19 2016, Accessed February 4 2018. https://www.gazeta.uz/ru/2016/12/19/vision.