Uzbekistan’s parliament has now confirmed Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s appointment as Acting President of the country in place of the recently deceased Islam Karimov.
This comes just 2 days after Mirziyoyev’s meeting with Putin in Samarkand when he spoke of Russia as an “allied country”.
Mirziyoyev’s appointment as Acting President coming on top of his previous appointment as chairman of the commission which organised Karimov’s funeral and his meeting with Putin in Samarkand 2 days ago, all but confirms that he is Uzbekistan’s new leader. Presumably his position will be formalised once national elections to the Presidency take place, as will doubtless happen shortly. Needless to say, in Uzbekistan such elections are essentially a technicality.
Putin’s meeting with Mirziyoyev in Samarkand suggests that the Russians are better informed about the political situation in Uzbekistan then had previously been suspected. It now looks as if the meeting was at least in part intended to signal to the Uzbek leadership that Mirziyoyev has Moscow’s support. If so then that in turn all but confirms that Uzbekistan’s relations with Russia are set to become much closer.
Meanwhile a very interesting article about Uzbekistan has appeared in the Financial Times which unusually declines to look at the country in mere east-west terms. Instead it calls for Uzbekistan to join the rest of Central Asia in forming a common market in the region’s economic self-interest. Most unusually the article even goes so far as to point to the far reaching economic progress Central Asia achieved when the whole region was economically integrated when it was part of the USSR.
So far as it goes this advice is entirely correct. As I discussed in previous article, the reason Uzbekistan under Karimov had to operate such a tightly controlled economy is because it lacks the export base to cover its imports and finance its domestic development on the strength of its own resources. If Uzbekistan is to prosper then it needs to integrate its economy in a regional grouping so that this problem can be finally offset.
This is how the article explains it
“The Soviet era offers some lessons. As constituent republics of the USSR, the Central Asian states produced different commodities — oil and gas from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan; water from the mountains of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan for irrigating huge cotton plantations; wheat from Kazakhstan; uranium, gold and other key minerals from several of the countries.
The Soviets linked these into a fully integrated economic network with an infrastructure stretching from the Chinese border to the Ural Mountains, thereby providing each country with the commodities it did not have, with the surplus going to Moscow.
That network broke down in 1991 along with the Soviet Union, as the increasingly rivalrous states retreated behind disputed borders and tariff regimes. Karimov refused to take part in early initiatives to create a post-Soviet common market. As a consequence, the tension between Uzbekistan’s need for water and Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan’s need for Uzbek-supplied oil and gas was never resolved.
Central Asia squandered great economic opportunities when the Soviet Union collapsed. It cannot afford to do so again. The new Uzbek leader can undo Karimov’s baleful legacy by bringing the region together, improving living standards and undermining Islamist extremists, who threaten Central Asia from bases in northern Afghanistan.”
Of course what this article does not say (and given that it is published in the Financial Times it cannot say) is that the political and economic geography of the region nowadays makes it unavoidable that any such grouping in this region bringing all the Central Asian states together would today have to be led not by any Central Asian state such as Uzbekistan but by Beijing and Moscow.
It might in theory have been possible to create a Central Asian grouping independent of Beijing and Moscow in 1991. Today that option no longer exists. The huge growth of Chinese and Russian power since 1991 and the Eurasian institutions they have already created leaves the region no other choice if it is to reintegrate and prosper than to join them.
It seems that Mirziyoyev and the rest of the Uzbek leadership – and possibly even Karimov in the last few years of his life – do however understand it, which explains why Mirziyoyev and Uzbekistan are now turning decisively towards Moscow.