MOSCOW, 28 Dec 2021, RUSSTRAT Institute.
The passing year can be safely called the year of alliances. Among them are AUKUS (the military alliance of the USA, Australia, Great Britain) and the military alliance of Azerbaijan and Turkey. Both the press and the expert community have widely discussed these events. Unfortunately, the signing of the Declaration on Allied Relations by the Presidents of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan on December 6 of this year, which will be the forerunner of the formation of another alliance, remained on the sidelines.
Let’s start in order. Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are the most significant and large states of the Central Asian region. This is also reflected in the number of the population, economic opportunities, and the potential of the armed forces. The states border each other, as a result of which there was an interpenetration of ethnic groups (there are about 1 million Kazakhs in Uzbekistan, about 600,000 Uzbeks in Kazakhstan). Both ethnic groups are Turkic-speaking, the similarity is complemented by the unity of the predominant religion – Sunni Islam.
The idea of uniting the designated states was not born today. This is a continuation of what was done by their previous leaders – Nazarbayev and Karimov. Back in 1994, an agreement was signed in Cholpon-Ata on the creation of a single economic zone, which included Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
In 2001, the Central Asian Cooperation Organisation (CAC) was established, to which Russia applied for membership. However, during the creation of the Eurasian Economic Community in 2006, the CAS was liquidated. But the attempts between the Central Asian states to get closer did not stop there. The result of the efforts in 2013 was the signing of a Strategic Partnership Agreement between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Since then, relations between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan at the highest level have been very good, problems arise only at the “grassroots” level.
The Declaration mentioned at the beginning became the next round of development of relations. The document provides for bilateral cooperation in the political, economic, investment, scientific, technical, cultural and humanitarian fields and the expansion of constructive and trusting contact at the highest, high and other levels. The Supreme Interstate Council, the Council of Inter-Parliamentary Cooperation and the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Republic of Uzbekistan and the Republic of Kazakhstan are supposed to be established as governing structures.
It should be said that although a mutual desire to develop cooperation within various international organisations is declared, the EAEU is not on this list. And this is already alarming, coupled with the fact that Kazakhstan offers Uzbekistan to become a full member of Turkic-speaking institutions, such as the Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic-speaking States and the Turkic Academy.
In the same coin box: on the eve of the meeting of the leaders of the states, negotiations of defence ministers took place. It is worth assuming that there was a discussion of military-political issues within the framework of the alliance being created.
Of course, the integration process will take some time. However, if Uzbekistan joins the EAEU, a pair of equilibrium tandems will be created: Russia – Belarus and Kazakhstan – Uzbekistan. In the future, the alliance may expand throughout Central Asia.
The attempts of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to take leading positions in the alliance may become certain problems in these processes. At the same time, there are common approaches to understanding the need for community in the socio-cultural sphere. Here Kazakhstan offers Turkestan as the spiritual and cultural centre of the whole Central Asia, which is supported by Uzbekistan.
The idea of Turkestan as a state may also be reanimated. A unique purely internal regional identity was formed in the region in the Middle Ages. Tsarist Russia had the wisdom to take this feature of the region into account in its policy when, on the advice of then Russian local historians and orientalists, it decided to call the new administrative entity created here Turkestan.
In conditions of equal coexistence, the alliance of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan (let’s call it New Turkestan) can be very strong, since it corresponds to the interests of China and Russia.
Firstly, both states have the most powerful armies in the region. Their tandem will create a shield to protect Russia from the penetration of radicals from Afghanistan. As a bonus: if you can’t stop the process, lead it. Various associations of the countries of the region are inevitable, it is better to support them than to become an enemy.
Secondly, it will create obstacles for the idea of Turkey to unite the Turkic-speaking with Ankara at the head. However, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are also on the plus side here: Turkey can offer countries investments, technologies and its seaports, receiving in return access to the markets of the region (more than 70 million people), as well as to the Caspian energy game.
Thirdly: Uzbekistan has a significant human resource, Kazakhstan has the entire periodic table and direct contact with Russia and China.
For us, the alliance of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan may be important – taking into account the interests of Russia. In this regard, it is extremely necessary to choose the tools that will allow us to coexist effectively and mutually beneficial. The time is coming when our countries will either become one of the prosperous states, or will finally settle down in their internal problems, remaining the raw material base of more developed states. But our common goals cannot be achieved alone, in the conditions of increasing globalisation, this is possible only on the basis of historical, cultural and civilisational community. And we cannot find a better partner than the countries of Central Asia. At the same time, it is important for both Russia and the emerging alliance of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to learn the right lessons and not repeat the mistakes made in the past.