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Wednesday 5 July 2017

Uzbekistan Says Won’t Rejoin Russia-Led Security Bloc


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TASHKENT (Reuters) — Uzbekistan has no plans to rejoin a post-Soviet security bloc led by Russia, Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov said on Wednesday, indicating the country’s policy would remain the same despite a leadership change.

A former Soviet republic, Uzbekistan has had a rocky relationship with Moscow, and by extension the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). It suspended its membership in the bloc between 1999 and 2006 and then quit it altogether in 2012.

In the same time, this October, Uzbekistan and Russia will hold their first joint military exercises since 2005, a dramatic move away from the anti-Russian policy of recently departed president Islam Karimov.

Following Karimov’s death from a stroke and pledges by his successor, former prime minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev, to develop a strategic partnership with Russia, some have wondered whether Tashkent would rejoin the military alliance. But, answering a question about it in a televised interview on Wednesday, Kamilov said: “The question of renewing our CSTO membership is not on the agenda […] There are no plans to discuss or review this matter in the future.”

Russia has used the CSTO, along with the Eurasian Economic Union, another regional bloc focused on trade, to project influence across most of the former Soviet Union. It regards Central Asia as an area of strategic interest. But only three out of the region’s five nations — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, whose combined populations are smaller than that of Uzbekistan — are CSTO members.

However, in log run, the enclaved Uzbekistan, surrounded by CSTO countries, has little choice and sooner or later has to warm up its relations with Moscow, especially if Iran joins CSTO. Indded, in May 2007 the CSTO secretary-general Nikolai Bordyuzha suggested Iran could join the CSTO saying: “The CSTO is an open organization. If Iran applies in accordance with our charter, we will consider the application.” If Iran joined it would be the first state outside the former Soviet Union to become a member of the organization. With its 90 mln population, Iran would seriously weigh in on the capacity of the organisation.

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