Relations between Uzbekistan and EEU to clarify next year
As Vestnik Kavkaza reported in the article Uzbekistan may be granted observer status at EEU, On October 2, while on an official visit to Tashkent, the chairperson of Russia’s Federation Council (upper chamber of parliament), Valentina Matviyenko, unexpectedly announced Uzbekistan’s supposed intention to join the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Days later, another Russian politician, Farid Mukhamedshin, a deputy chair of the Federation Council Committee on International Relations, made an equally significant pronouncement, asserting that Uzbekistan will likely acquire observer status at the EEU in early 2020, to coincide with Uzbekistani President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s planned trip to Moscow.
The Jamestown Foundation in the article Russia Claims Uzbekistan Will Soon Join Eurasian Union notes, that two days after Matvienko’s announcement, Tashkent’s official response was handled by Senator Sodiq Safoev, chairperson of the parliament’s upper chamber. In effect, Safoev confirmed Matvienko’s statement with the caveat that Tashkent has not reached a final decision on its membership in the EEU. Safoev specified that Tashkent indeed has been contemplating joining the organization and, therefore, has been studying possible economic-political losses and benefits from this union.
Regional pro- and anti-EEU groups exist both inside and outside Uzbekistan. The most senior Uzbekistani politician to come out against his country’s possible membership was Alisher Qodirov, the head of Milly Tiklanish, one of Uzbekistan’s five major political parties, but the majority of experts consider joining the EEU necessary. Various advantages are listed that would come from acceding to the EEU, including the greater opening of regional (member state) markets for Uzbekistani products, as well as being able to rely on the combined economic weight of the EEU in negotiating third-country trade agreements.
President Shavkat Mirziyoyev expressed his anxiety at finding new markets for Uzbekistani products outside the post-Soviet space in his speech before the 20th Senate Assembly, in June 2019, summing up, “Whether we like it or not, Russia and the [other] EEU countries are our major partners, with whom 70 percent of our transactions take place”. That statement has so far been the only time the president spoke on record regarding the Eurasian Union.
Though Tashkent has not reached a final decision on membership in the EEU, there is no doubt of Tashkent’s seriousness on this intention. The drive to join this Moscow-led regional bloc has likely come from President Mirziyoyev himself, or at least with his full support. And the final decision on membership will be tied to the results of an ongoing government-commissioned report that will weigh the relative economic opportunities and losses for Uzbekistan. As Uzbekistan’s Senator Safoev noted, debates on membership have moved beyond internal deliberations and are now at the level of a joint working group, co-headed by Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov and Uzbekistani Presidential State Advisor Ravshan Gulomov.
More clarity on whether Tashkent, indeed, becomes an observer to the EEU will come when the presidents of both countries meet again in early 2020.