Moscow, Tashkent strengthen military cooperation
Intensification of military cooperation between Russia and Uzbekistan was one of the main topics at talks between Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Uzbek Defense Minister Abusalom Azizov. Russia is ready to modernize Uzbek army with latest military equipment, including air defense systems, as well as help to train Uzbek soldiers. According to experts, Russia's goal is to strengthen military cooperation with Uzbekistan and minimize military presence of the United States and Turkey in the region.
"Uzbekistan sees Russia as a country that has authority all over the world, and wants to develop cooperation with it in all directions," Defense Minister of Uzbekistan Abdusalom Azizov said on Tuesday during talks with head of Russia's defense Ministry Sergey Shoigu. He highlighted Russian-Uzbek military and technical cooperation, noting that Tashkent is ready to develop military ties with Moscow.
Last year, Uzbekistan adopted a new military doctrine, which, taking into account developments in the world, stresses defense policy as one of the main directions. Doctrine demonstrates defensive character, openness of the republic's foreign policy, as well as its desire to have constructive relations with its closest neighbors. At the same time, Uzbekistan distances itself from military-political alliances and coalitions. This doctrine doesn't envisage participation of Uzbek army in military operations abroad and deployment of foreign military bases on the territory of this country. Uzbekistan also doesn't wan't to restore its participation in the CSTO.
According to Global Firepower, in 2015 Uzbekistan was recognized as the most powerful military nation in Central Asia and it maintained this status until 2017. This year it moved from the 48th position to 36th, significantly improving. Experts associate this with increase in defense spendings, which this year will reach arout 4% of national budget or more than 1.4 billion dollars, as well as with supply of new weapons to Uzbekistan.
Russian Federation Vladimir Putin's visit to Uzbekistan in 2014 allowed to restructure Uzbek debt and open new opportunities for cooperation. Tashkent signed a contract with Moscow for supply of 12 Mi-35 combat helicopters. For the next decade, Russia will remain the main supplier of small arms and equipment to Uzbekistan. Tashkent bought armored vehicles from Astana and agreed to develop military-industrial complex with Turkey. "Since 2017, Tashkent set its sights on creation of joint ventures on the basis of free economic zones, which will allow it to produce its own military products, primarily small arms of various caliber, ammunition, automobile armored vehicles, as well as uniforms and personal protective equipment. Around 50-70 million dollars will be provided for implementation of these projects from the state budget. It plans to attract local and foreign investments up to 120 million dollars, including through provision of serious tax incentives," political scientist, member of the Scientific Council of the Institute for Central Asian and Afghan Studies Igor Pankratenko said in an interview with Vestnik Kavkaza.
Such position of Tashkent, according to him, allows Ankara to create joint defense enterprises for production of small arms, automobile armored vehicles and personal protective equipment that are used in Turkish army. Expert believes that there's every reason to assume that cooperation will be much faster compared to similar negotiations with India. Uzbekistan has already established special fund for financing such projects.
As for the United States, Tashkent and Washington signed a five-year military cooperation plan. Shavkat Mirziyoyev said at a meeting with Donald Trump that he will continue to support transit of US military cargos to Afghanistan through Uzbekistan's territory. Previously, the United States were supported by Kazakhstan. President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed an agreement that allows the US Navy to use the Kuryk and Aktau Caspian ports for cargo transportations. After that, these cargos will be transported through the Uzbek railway to Afghanistan.
Russian side is concerned about activities of militants in the northern provinces of Afghanistan and possibility of hostilities in the countries of Central Asia. "Of course, this concers is associated with all the risks and threats that exist near the borders of Uzbekistan. We can't help but notice the growing threat of international terrorism that is moving from Syria to neighboring countries, including Uzbekistan," Shoigu stressed. Minister also noted that military and technical cooperation between Russia and Uzbekistan is "very important".
Russian minister suggested to "prepare more military specialists who, if necessary, could protect national security interests." "We're ready to continue to share not only our experience, but also help to train specialists. That's we propose to increase the number of those military specialists who are currently studying at our educational institutions," Shoigu added.