Uzbekistan stands out from Russia

Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov during a meeting at the State Department in Washington on March 9, 2022.

Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic very dependent on Russia economically, dares to distance itself from Moscow over the war in Ukraine. This step aside, which follows a similar reaction from Kazakhstan at the beginning of March, is significant of the ambivalence of this region of Central Asia once included in the defunct USSR.

“Uzbekistan recognizes Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity”, said Thursday, March 17, Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov. While asking that it be found as soon as possible “a negotiated solution” to the conflict, the head of Uzbek diplomacy also specified that Tashkent does not “not recognize the republics [séparatistes ukrainiennes] from Luhansk and Donetsk », whose independence Vladimir Putin had ratified on the eve of the outbreak of war in Ukraine on February 24.

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“In these difficult times, continued the Uzbek minister, we will provide humanitarian aid to Ukraine. » Above all, he was careful to assure, the army of Uzbekistan will not be involved “in no conflict abroad”, implicitly rejecting Moscow’s recent requests to send soldiers from the Central Asian Republics to the rescue of Russian forces in Ukraine.

“Equidistance position”

Immediately after the start of the war, Kazakhstan also set itself apart from Russia by affirming, through the voice of its Minister for Foreign Affairs, Moukhtar Tileuberdi, that it “was out of the question [pour son pays] to recognize Donetsk and Luhansk”. The country has also turned a deaf ear to requests for military aid from the Kremlin. This close ally of Russia has, from the start, refrained from any rhetorical support for the“special military operation” decided by Vladimir Putin in Ukraine.

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These distancings illustrate the traditional complexities of the diplomatico-economic equation between Moscow and its former vassals in Central Asia. Since the dismantling of the Soviet Union, Tashkent in particular has always been keen to “maintain an equidistant position between the blocks”, recalls Stéphane Dudoignon, specialist in Central Asia and researcher at the CNRS.

Uzbekistan and other countries in the region can rightly be concerned about the rise in military and strategic power of a “big brother” with heavy influence. “We are entering a period, details Mr. Dudoignon, where a military success in Ukraine could further increase Russia’s weight in the region and allow Moscow to step up its pressure. »

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