Ambivalent for some, prescient for others, the statement by the Uzbek Foreign Minister did not go unnoticed. “The Republic of Uzbekistan recognizes the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”launched on March 17 Abdulaziz Komilov, calling on Moscow and kyiv to resolve the conflict “by diplomatic means”.
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Tashkent thus clearly explained that it would not recognize the Ukrainian separatist “republics”, whose attachment to Russia had been ratified by Moscow as a prelude to the invasion. And during the recent vote of the General Assembly of the United Nations condemning the Russian military intervention, the Uzbek diplomacy preferred… to give up voting. Choices that did not satisfy the Kremlin.
“Who will be next on the Kremlin’s list?” »
“Let’s not overinterpret this taking of autonomy vis-à-vis Moscow”, tempers a senior European diplomat in Tashkent, recalling that Russia remains the leading trading partner of this former Soviet republic in Central Asia. “Its leaders value their neutrality. Today, they are mostly hunkering down, waiting for the crisis to pass and concentrating… on their economic subjects”.
But it is a fact, during the first investment forum held in Tashkent a few days ago, the hall was above all filled with businessmen from Europe, the United States and Saudi Arabia . The Russians were conspicuous by their absence.
“For their economic turning point, the Uzbeks know that they depend on their openness to the West. On the Ukrainian file, they must therefore partly line up behind the position of the United States and the Europeans. The pressure is strong so that Uzbek neutrality leans on their side…”, slips another Western observer in Tashkent.
The situation in Ukraine, President Chavkat Mirzioev, conductor for five years of this opening, after a quarter of a century of authoritarian and closed post-Soviet regime, did not speak in his speech during the forum. But one of his sentences marked the spirits: “The world is changing and Uzbekistan will do everything to adapt in order to remain integrated into this world”, did he declare. Far from Russia closing in on itself, the sentence sums up its reforms well which, from the convertibility of the soum (the Uzbek currency) to the calls for tenders entrusted to Western banks, have attracted foreign investors.
Uzbek style perestroika
The country has embarked on this surprising liberalization that resembles perestroika. Admittedly nuanced and cautious, the positions of Uzbek diplomacy on Ukraine attest to this. Especially since the freedom of speech, thanks in particular to the end of the stranglehold of the all-powerful local secret services, has allowed a revival of civil society and journalism in Tashkent.
“It feels today in the Uzbek elites: not a single voice behind the scenes supports the Russian offensive in Ukraine!testifies among others a well-informed journalist. Here, Moscow’s attitude towards the former Soviet space is worrying. After Ukraine, who will be next on the Kremlin’s list? »
For the time being, at the Tashkent forum, the time was above all for business, an essential vector for the politico-economic transformation of a country for too long closed in on itself. “Our neutrality is above all our balance through trade…”confides with a knowing smile Sadyk Safayev, adviser to Chavkat Mirzioev.