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Oleg Popadyuk

PhD in Law, MGIMO University

On September1, 2011 The Republic of Uzbekistan marked with great fanfare the 21st anniversary of its independence. At the festive ceremonies much was said about the success of the Uzbek economy. It was emphasized that such brilliant results became possible due to the secession from the Soviet Union. How has Uzbekistan benefited from independence? To what extent are the proclaimed achievements true to reality? What are the prospects of interaction between Russia and Uzbekistan?

On September1, 2011 The Republic of Uzbekistan marked with great fanfare the 21st anniversary of its independence. At the festive ceremonies much was said about the success of the Uzbek economy. It was emphasized that such brilliant results became possible due to the secession from the Soviet Union. How has Uzbekistan benefited from independence? To what extent are the proclaimed achievements true to reality? What are the prospects of interaction between Russia and Uzbekistan?

The Soviet Republics of Central Asia -- Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kirghizia -- were the least politically prepared for independence. Unlike the other Union Republics, they were not in a hurry to withdraw from the USSR. Moscow itself pushed them away. Until the last moment the leaders of the communist parties of the national republics tried in this or that form to maintain close relations in the framework of a greatly reformed but yet single country.

No Breakthrough in Economy

On the whole, the “special” Uzbek path of development did not enable Uzbekistan to make an economic breakthrough. At present the standard of living is low. GDP per capita is $ 3,090.

There is no free conversion of local currency in the country.

There are two exchange rates--official and “market” one, with a two-fold difference. According to the experts’ estimates, the shadow foreign currency turnover is comparable with the state budget--around 34 billion dollars.

There are shortages of heat and electricity supply, problems with lubricants. Natural gas production is declining. In September 2011 the price of gas for the population increased by 80 %.And this at the time when Uzbekistan has considerable deposits of natural gas (3.4 trillion cubic meters) and a big potential for the development of hydropower.

 In 2010 according to the Central Bank of Uzbekistan inflation rate was 7.3%. The real growth of consumer prices for essential goods exceeds 200%. For instance, the price of the popular Uzbek bread “flat cake” has risen two and a half times.

By the 20th anniversary of independence virtually none of the major industrial enterprises had managed to adapt to market conditions. One of the most high-tech enterprises—The Tashkent Aviation Production Association named after Chkalov stopped manufacturing and repairing aircraft. Bankruptcy proceedings were initiated, the Russian contract for the delivery of IL-76 to China was not fulfilled.

Such industrial giants as The Tashkent Tractor Plant “Tashselmach” stopped the production of agricultural machinery. Due to lack of technical facilities the cotton picking campaigns recruit civil servants, doctors, teachers, students and schoolchildren who get minimal wages.

In Europe and the USA boycott campaigns against Uzbek-made goods are regularly held in protest against the widespread use of child labor in the country. The tradition of falsified reporting (a 30% increase against the actually picked up cotton) is still preserved. The situation is further aggravated by ecological problems: land salinity, drying up of big rivers, shrinking of the Aral Sea. Lack of competence in selection, decline in land reclamation, the shortage of fertilizers - all this has resulted in deteriorating quality of cotton and poorer harvests, from 36 metric centners of raw cotton per hectare in the 1980s to 8 metric centners today.

At the same time a number of large-scale industrial projects are being implemented. The construction of a large car assembling plant ”Uz-Daewoo Auto” made Uzbekistan the leader of automobile manufacturers in Central Asia. Besides, it is exempted from paying taxes and has the right to sell their products for currency abroad. However, such projects are local, “unique” in character and cannot reverse the negative trends. On the whole, according to the author’s estimates, only 20% of privately-owned enterprises honestly pay taxes, the remaining 80% use various half-legal “gray” tax evasion schemes.

New Ideology and New History

Since 1991 Uzbekistan has been pursuing a new national policy aimed at creating new ideology, new history. The Russian language is being forced out of official correspondence and mass media. The number of lessons of the Russian language is curtailed: the number of academic hours for the Uzbek language exceeds that for the Russian language even in the so-called European schools. There have been cases of mass removal of the “Soviet period” books from libraries. At present the Latin alphabet is replacing the Cyrillic. The explanation is that the Latin alphabet is better “suited for the rendering of morphemes” of the Uzbek language.

The official authorities are rewriting history. The Russian and Soviet period are described as “occupation”. The Great Patriotic War is taught in educational establishments under the name of World War II, and Victory Day is renamed into Day of Remembrance and Honors. On that day not only those fallen during World War II are remembered but also victims of “Stalin”, Soviet repressions as well as fighters for independence (“Basmachi”).

Almost all the geographic localities, names of cities, villages, streets which this way or another are associated with Russia have been changed. All the monuments of the previous epoch have been pulled down. Indignation in Russia (though, to tell the truth, not as strong as with respect to the Tallinn “Bronze Soldier”) was aroused by dismantling the monument to “Defender of Southern Borders” which, in the opinion of the President of Uzbekistan I.Karimov, “reflected the ideology of the old system”.

Even those monuments which show heroism and friendliness of the Uzbek people have been removed beyond the town borders. For instance, the monument to the Shamakhmudovs’, the family which at the time of the Great Patriotic War adopted 15 orphaned children, was removed from the avenue “Friendship of Peoples”. The monument to Uzbek Sabir Rakhimov, major-general, hero of the Great Patriotic War, was first dismantled and then removed to a new site.

Token Democracy

The democratic reforms in Uzbekistan are purely nominal. President of Uzbekistan I.Karimov who has been in office for over twenty years concentrates all power. Parliament regularly amends the Constitution extending the President’s term of office.

The regime manages to maintain stability against the background of political and military-political crises affecting the neighboring countries (Afghanistan, Kirghizia and Tajikistan). In 2005 in Uzbekistan an attempt was made to organize mass demonstrations (similar actions started the “Tulip” revolution in Kirghizia).However, they were immediately suppressed by the authorities using armored vehicles.

Yet, for all that, it is noteworthy that the security agencies of the Republic are effectively fighting against terrorism, extremism, fundamentalism, national separatism.

 In the Freedom House rating for the mass media freedom Uzbekistan  ranks 191st overtaking only Turkmenistan and North Korea. Printed and electronic mass media, television are under Government control. No criticism of the authorities, let alone the leadership of the country, is allowed. Rather often web sites of foreign information agencies, including those of Russia, are blocked.

Prospects of Russian-Uzbek Relations

The Republic is reluctant to participate in the integration processes in the post-Soviet space (unsuccessful experience of participation in the Eurasian Economic Community, passivity in the CIS). The official circles in Tashkent seem to have reacted without enthusiasm to the ideas expressed by the Chairman of the Government of Russia V.V.Putin in the article “The New integration Project for Eurasia: Future which is being born today”.

It can be attributed not only to the unwillingness of Uzbekistan to be committed to any multilateral agreements but to rather strained relations with the neighboring countries. One can mention here mined fields on the border with Tajikistan, recent Uzbek pogroms in the South of Kirghizia, unsettled issues of water resources distribution in the region.

Cooperation with Russia is very profitable for Uzbekistan. Russia accounts for one third of all the exports of the Republic. In fact, its transportation network is linked to Russia. Natural gas produced in Uzbekistan is sold to “Gazprom” and supplied to customers through the Russian trunk gas pipelines. A big number of migrant workers working in our country could be added to the list. In the second quarter of 2011 alone they transferred to Uzbekistan over $US 1 bln

Nor can important security issues be neglected, as Russia is a guarantor of stability and peaceful development of this region.

In its foreign policy Uzbekistan is trying to maneuver among the interests of Russia, China and the USA.

In its foreign policy Uzbekistan is trying to maneuver among the interests of Russia, China and the USA. To illustrate, Tashkent refused to take part in creating the Collective Rapid Reaction Force (CRRF) in the framework of CSTO. It occurred when there was a thaw in relations with the USA: the sanctions imposed on Uzbekistan in connection with the events in Andijon were lifted. It is worth recalling that in 2003, when Uzbekistan found itself in international isolation, it signed an alliance treaty with Russia.

Given the fact that the Uzbek leader is well advanced in age (73), it is very difficult to predict the future of Russian-Uzbek relations. So far I.Karimov has not named his successor .It is not clear what forces will come to power after his departure, to what extent will change the political and economic systems whose stability the current  President upholds.

Nevertheless, it is important to promote cooperation between Russia and Uzbekistan in several areas.

First, it is necessary to expand cooperation in the energy sphere, first of all in production and transportation of gas. The task is to avoid re-orientation of Uzbekistan toward other energy projects, to secure further transportation of the Uzbek gas to Europe through the Russian gas transport system. There are wide-ranging prospects for cooperation in the development of mineral resources (uranium ores, gold), use of water resources, in agriculture.

Second, consolidation of the military and political union is also listed as one of the priorities. Stability and security in the region serve the strategic interests of Russia. Together with the Uzbek side it is necessary to work out adequate responses to key present day challenges: terrorism, religious extremism, drug trafficking etc. Plans of the Uzbek leadership to purchase armaments from the USA could arouse concern.

Third, special attention should be devoted to cooperation in the humanitarian field. In Uzbekistan there are about 500 thousand Russian speaking people They are mostly highly qualified cadres. It is essential to improve the mechanisms of implementing the program of resettlement of compatriots, as well as support of theRussian speaking people in the Republic, promote projects on popularizing the Russian language, promote translations of Russian classics into the Uzbek language, work out special programs for studying Russian, provide teacher refresher courses.

Intensification of integration processes in the post-Soviet space is a kind of “response” to instability and turbulence in the world economy.

Russia and Uzbekistan are linked by thousands of commercial, manufacturing, transport, cultural and humanitarian ties. Progressive mutually beneficial development of relations serves the basic interests of the peoples of both countries, promotes welfare of the citizens. Intensification of integration processes in the post-Soviet space is a kind of “response” to instability and turbulence in the world economy. In Tashkent they understand that Uzbekistan has no other alternative to attaining the goals of economic growth . Therefore, Tashkent will, though unwillingly and with delays, take part in close cooperation with Russia and the neighboring republics.

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Poll conducted

  1. In your opinion, what are the US long-term goals for Russia?
    U.S. wants to establish partnership relations with Russia on condition that it meets the U.S. requirements  
     33 (31%)
    U.S. wants to deter Russia’s military and political activity  
     30 (28%)
    U.S. wants to dissolve Russia  
     24 (22%)
    U.S. wants to establish alliance relations with Russia under the US conditions to rival China  
     21 (19%)
 
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