Uzbekistan joins EurAsEC

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MOSCOW. (Andrey Grozin for RIA Novosti) -- President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov has signed an agreement on joining the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC).

This ceremony has become a major event at the current EurAsEC summit in St. Petersburg.

The decision was made de facto in the autumn of 2005 when the members of the Central Asian Cooperation Organization (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) declared their decision to disband their organization, and to join EurAsEC. This decision was made because of Tashkent, since Astana, Bishkek, and Dushanbe have long been EurAsEC members.

A seasoned politician, Karimov has always been driven by the idea that permanent national interests, not lasting friendships, dominate politics. He formulated these interests in his major work "Uzbekistan. Its Road to Revival and Progress." The gist of the national interests is to establish bilateral relations with leading countries, and attract foreign investment in order to overcome the economic crisis, and to maintain peace and stability in Central Asia. These aims explain numerous zigzags in Uzbek foreign policy. This is how it was until recently, or strictly speaking, until last May when an anti-government riot was suppressed in Andijan.

Under the circumstances, Karimov went for the only rational option, and prevented a huge explosion, which could destroy his regime and disrupt the relatively stable situation in the whole of Central Asia.

A sharp change in Uzbek foreign policy was largely a response to the launching of new "revolutionary technologies" in post-Soviet Asia, which, after the pogrom-and-revolutionary Kyrgyz experience, are much less oriented to non-violent methods. Maidan gatherings in Ukraine and tents with bio-toilets are a thing of the past. More brutal and less expensive methods have been chosen for Central Asia, such as shooting the militia and hostages. It cannot be ruled out that in pursuing its policy of double standards in Central Asia, Washington may have used radical Uzbek Islamists for tactical purposes.

Karimov has enough food for thought. There is a crisis in the national economy and the social sphere. The West has launched an information war and imposed sanctions against Uzbekistan. An international trial with a pre-ordained verdict may become reality. In this situation, there are few supporters on whom Karimov can count - China and Russia, and the organizations, in which they play a leading role, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and EurAsEC. Now that Tashkent has joined the Eurasian bloc, it may consider returning to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (the CSTO).

The disbanded CACO did not implement a single initiative of its members. It was dominated by centrifugal forces, whereas in EurAsEC Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan are actively cooperating with each other, and also with Russia.

EurAsEC membership gives Uzbekistan a number of tangible advantages. It will find it easier to reach consensus with its partners in customs, taxation and border issues. Everyone will stand to gain if EurAsEC upgrades trade and economic cooperation, attracts investment, and makes better use of migrant labor.

On the eve of the summit Karimov said that his country shared such EurAsEC goals as the formation of a free trade zone and the customs union, and agreements on lists of excisable goods with minimal duties.

As the country with the biggest population in Central Asia and a sizeable economic potential, Uzbekistan may become a major player in EurAsEC, and substantially enhance the latter's positions.

EurAsEC's main goal is to create a common Eurasian market and a unified economic space. In this context Uzbekistan is a valuable acquisition for it, being a big and promising fragment of the future market both as a consumer and a producer of goods and raw materials. This will further boost EurAsEC's positions.

Uzbekistan's decision to join EurAsEC is a big plus for Russia, which will now be able to consolidate its positions in the Uzbek economy. Moscow should be more active in Uzbekistan, and in Asia in general. It is important to establish good contacts with the regional decision-makers, and ensure that they orient their resources and industrial potential to Russia and its business community. Such agreements should be instantly backed by economic factors. It is essential to work with leading figures in Uzbekistan, and support those among them who are gravitating towards Russia.

All these measures will promote a mild, conflict-free transformation of the current Uzbek regime. They have nothing to do with the efforts to liberalize its political system in line with the Western pattern. The aim is to promote a transition to a more moderate authoritarian system like the one in Kazakstan (liberalization of the economy, and a government-controlled, dozed democratization of domestic policy).

Last, but not least, Russia is not at all indifferent to political developments in this major Central Asian country. Disintegration of statehood, to which various external forces are pushing Uzbekistan, will not be a painless or bloodless process. What Russia needs is a stable Uzbekistan.

(Andrey Grozin, head of the department of Central Asia and Kazakhstan at the Institute of CIS Studies)

The opinions expressed in the article are those of the author, and may not necessarily represent the opinions of the editorial board.

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