President of Uzbekistan's Visit to Baku Signals Strengthening of Existing Turkic Ties
Author: Samantha Fanger
Mar 9, 2023
President of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, made a working visit to Azerbaijan March 1-2 where the leaders discussed their partnerships and the implementation on cooperative agreements. The leaders also attended the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Contact Group Summit, which is chaired by Azerbaijan. Though one of several high-level visits over the past year, closer ties between Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, as well as between other Turkic-heritage countries, have continued to signal a new era of collaboration with a greater emphasis on Turkic identity.
Last week’s meeting was also a check-up of sorts on working agreements made in the last year. President Aliyev said that 2022 was a “record year” for bilateral relationship development between the countries, noting that he had made three visits to Uzbekistan. The language from leaders of both countries in statements following the visit was colored with warmth and gratitude toward the other for their continued partnership: “Industrial cooperation, agriculture and urban development – the process continues in all directions, as indeed it should between brothers,” President Aliyev said.
Though official relations between Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan began in 1995, the two have a historically close relationship. Azerbaijan-Uzbekistan relations have only become stronger after the fall of the Soviet Union but the uptick in more substantive efforts to engage and establish long-lasting Turkic cooperation on multiple fronts is further contextualized by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Since the start of the war, Turkic countries have greater incentive to establish a united front to fortify regional security and prosperity–and perhaps a freer hand to do so as “great-power" influence from Russia falters.
The establishment of the Organization of Turkic States (OTS) in 2021, previously known as the Turkic Council, has proved to be a crucial and strategic platform for bilateral and multilateral collaboration between member states, including Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Türkiye and Uzbekistan. After last November’s OTS Summit which they named “A new era of Turkic civilization: Towards Common Development and Prosperity,” President Aliyev said that Azerbaijan-Uzbekistan relations had risen to a “higher level” and highlighted the broader importance of "mutual support and solidarity” between all Turkic states.
While public sentiments and the frequency of meetings between Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan display pollical closeness, their joint economic ventures are an additional reflector of the strength of their partnership. Last year, the OTS established the Turkic Investment Fund which was the first joint-Turkic financial institution that “aims to mobilize the economic potential of member states.” The Fund has since supported businesses of member states in areas such as agriculture, transportation, technology and energy.
As of last year, 238 companies in Uzbekistan operate with Azerbaijani shares, and 53 Uzbek companies operate in Azerbaijan. Trade Turnover between Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan reached $131.06M in 2022—a substantial increase from the $111.9M figure the year prior. The fund has perhaps also aided in increasing the volume of trade between Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan increased by a 50 percent last year. The allies have extended their cooperation in the mining sector as well. Azerbaijan’s AzerGold CJSC is anticipated to start its operation in Uzbekistan, focusing on noble-metal ore, exploration and development of gold deposits in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan has also started shipping copper to Europe via the Middle corridor for the first time, a route that passes through Azerbaijan and bypasses Russia.
Both countries have recently taken significant strides in the energy sector through joint projects. Following last week’s meeting, Uzbekistan announced that they are preparing to work on a large project with Azerbaijan’s state oil company, SOCAR. In August 2022, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan signed a “landmark deal” to create new energy routes that would bypass Russia. Their respective Energy Ministries drafted plans to pursue oil and gas initiatives and agreed to work together to increase investments and share best practices. The historic agreement was a clear-cut example of how “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted countries to pursue closer links within the Turkic world."
The region is undergoing an apparent shift away from "post-Soviet constraints” of years past. Turkic state relations are only as strong as their bilateral bonds with one another. Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan have continued to demonstrate that they will continue to prioritize building up relations between one another and other OTS members. Moving beyond the intent to uphold and strengthen regional unity, their respective leaders are actively implementing working agreements for long-lasting bonds. Azerbaijan-Uzbekistan relations are likely to continue with this trajectory, as more meetings bilateral infrastructure and development projects propel relations forward.