Uzbekistan Appoints New Acting Foreign Minister
Jan 13, 2023
On 30 December, Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed a decree appointing Bakhtiyor Saidov as the new Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs. This comes as a rather surprising move, given that Vladimir Norov was only appointed to the Foreign Minister position in September 2022. Norov had served in this role since April 2022, when his predecessor, Abdulaziz Komilov, left the post several weeks after he publicly stated that Uzbekistan does not accept the unrecognized, Russian separatist-controlled districts in Ukraine's Donbas region. Mirziyoyev’s recent series of appointments have sparked speculation about a possible cabinet reshuffle, although more developments would have to take place for such speculations to be proven.
As a part of the latest reshuffling, Norov was appointed by President Mirziyoyev as the Director of the International Institute for Central Asian Studies (IICAS). As one of the more experienced political figures in Uzbekistan, Norov has served as the Minister of Foreign Affairs at two different periods, the first being between 2006 and 2010. Additionally, he was appointed at different times as the Ambassador of Uzbekistan to Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, and Poland, as well as the Head of the Mission to the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Lastly, Norov was also the Secretary-General of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) between 2019 and 2021. During the last month of his tenure as the Foreign Minister, Norov visited Washington, D.C., to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. During the meeting, Secretary Blinken emphasized to Norov, “The United States’ unwavering support for Uzbekistan’s independence, territorial integrity, and sovereignty” amidst the time of a “a shifting geopolitical landscape in Central Asia.”
Norov’s successor, Bakhtiyor Saidov, had been serving as Uzbekistan’s Minister of Public Education since November 2021. Saidov also has relevant previous work experience in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, having served as the Ambassador of Uzbekistan to China, Mongolia, and the Philippines between 2017 and 2021. Since the start of his tenure as the Acting Minister, Saidov has already held meetings with the Ambassadors of Qatar and Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan, as well as participated in the International Conference on Climate Resilient Pakistan.
While it may be too early to draw conclusions from the recent appointments in Uzbekistan, these developments might reflect Mirziyoyev’s promises of carrying out reforms in the larger context. In December 2022, the Uzbekistani government agreed to sell off one of Uzbekistan’s 12 state-owned banks, a move that was described to be in the direction of privatization, per President Mirziyoyev’s economic reform agenda. President Mirziyoyev’s speech to the parliament of Uzbekistan, the Oliy Majlis, in December reflected his reform promises. Mirziyoyev stated that the country’s first priority for the year of 2023 shall be “adjusting to the compact and efficient system of state management.” According to him, this would include reforms in the structures and working styles of some ministries, as well as the reduction in the number of senior officials in order to allocate more money to the welfare of the state. Even though more would certainly have to come in this regard, Mirziyoyev’s latest appointments could very well be in line with his promises of reforms towards a more efficient state system. If so, more changes are likely to come in the coming weeks and months.