The Caspian Region’s Reactions to the Current Russo-Ukrainian War: Uzbekistan
Oct 25, 2022
** CPC NOTE: With individual articles for each of the eight countries of the Caspian Region, the Caspian Policy Center is reporting the effects of Russia’s war in Ukraine on the countries of the region
Since Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power in 2016, the relationship between Uzbekistan and Russia has significantly improved to the extent that last year Russia surpassed China as Uzbekistan’s leading trading partner. Uzbekistan did not vote for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in March 2022. Following the event, Uzbekistan’s then-Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdulaziz Kamilov made it clear that: 1) Uzbekistan does not recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea or the independence of the separatist Luhansk and Donetsk Republics; 2) Uzbekistan recognizes the territorial integrity of Ukraine. However, during the UNGA voting held in April, Uzbekistan paradoxically voted against the exclusion of Russia from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). These contradicting statements and moves by Uzbekistan in the international arena portray its fairly neutral stance toward the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Uzbekistan also hosted this year’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Tashkent, where world leaders of, among other states, Türkiye, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, and India participated.
Uzbekistan is among the Central Asian countries affected by the Western sanctions imposed on Russia that have prevented European goods from reaching their territories. At the same time, Uzbekistan has become an attractive destination for thousands of Russian businessmen, IT specialists, and companies who have left their country because of the worsening business conditions. Uzbek officials have said that these companies and individuals will be granted a wide array of tax breaks and other incentives to relocate to Uzbekistan. Despite the influx of Russian businesses, on September 23, amid warnings by the U.S. Treasury Department about possible sanctions on institutions using Russia's payment system, Mir, outside of Russia, Uzbekistan implemented a ban on the system.
Uzbekistan is also among the several Central Asia countries that heavily depend on remittances from their migrant laborers who work in Russia. According to recent estimates by the World Bank, Uzbekistan’s remittances, which constitute approximately 11 percent of its GDP, are expected to decrease by 21 percent in 2022 due to the war in Ukraine. The global disturbance in food supplies (especially grain) caused by the war in Ukraine also took its toll on Uzbekistan’s agricultural sector. The situation was worsened by Kazakhstan’s decision to suspend wheat and flour exports in April 2022, resulting in the Uzbek government stopping subsidizing grain purchases, causing bread prices to skyrocket.
At the same time, for Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries, the issues of diversifying foreign trade and developing transport corridors have become more urgent than ever before. In August 2022, Azerbaijan, Türkiye, and Uzbekistan signed the Tashkent Declaration, creating a new format for dialogue and cooperation among the three Turkic-speaking countries. The Tashkent Declaration also highlights the potential of the Trans-Caspian International Trade Route (TITR), also known as “the Middle Corridor,” that can serve as the new pathway for realizing the high transit potential of the three countries, especially during the time when Europe is seeking alternate routes for global supply chains bypassing Russia.
Toward the recent mobilization efforts of the Russian army, the Embassy of Uzbekistan in Russia stated on August 10, warning its citizens of severe repercussions for joining Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. According to the statement, any form of participation in military activities on foreign countries' territory is considered “mercenary activity” and will be punished by up to 10 years in prison. Moreover, after Russia passed a law to provide citizenship to foreigners willing to join the Russian army, the top Islamic authority of Uzbekistan warned Uzbeks to stay away from involvement in the conflict in Ukraine. The administration declared that doing so would go against the religion and that “it was not permissible for a Muslim to participate in any military action except to defend their homeland.”
Uzbekistan’s neutral stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine is expected to continue. Meanwhile, the country tries to build more independent political and economic systems through increased regional integration, primarily via increased cooperation with Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, China, and Türkiye. Projects such as the Middle Corridor can be a game-changer in increasing connectivity within and across the region, connecting Europe with Asia.