The new leader of Uzbekistan dented Russia’s prospects of reviving influence in the central Asian nation by ruling out the presence of foreign military bases on its territory.
Shavkat Mirziyoev, who was named acting president two days after he met with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, said Uzbekistan will also stay out of any military alliances. While Uzbekistan wants friendly ties with its former Soviet neighbors and “first and foremost” with Russia, it also seeks “mutually beneficial” relations with the U.S. and Europe, and to strengthen a “comprehensive strategic partnership” with China, he said.
“The firm position of our country, as before, is one of not joining any military-political blocs,” Mirziyoev told lawmakers on Thursday in a speech published Friday on the Uzbek parliament’s website. The policy includes “non-deployment of military bases and facilities of other states on the territory of Uzbekistan, as well as of our troops outside the country.”
Mirziyoev is the prime contender to win presidential elections set on Friday for Dec. 4 and succeed the late Islam Karimov, who died last week after ruling Uzbekistan since 1989. The autocratic Karimov pulled central Asia’s most populous state out of a Russian-led military alliance in 2012 and expelled the U.S. from an Uzbek base in 2005 that it had been using to support operations against the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. Russia and the U.S. regard Uzbekistan as critical to maintaining stability against rising Islamist militancy in central Asia, whose energy reserves make it a region of strategic importance.
Putin’s meeting with Mirziyoev on Tuesday, during a visit to pay his respects at Karimov’s grave, was seen by analysts as an endorsement of the Uzbek prime minister as the Kremlin’s preferred successor. Lawmakers made him acting president on Thursday after the chairman of the Uzbek senate, who was in line to assume office under the constitution, stood aside.
It’s “difficult to imagine Uzbekistan choosing a leader who was not ‘signed off’ by Moscow,” Tim Ash, an emerging-market strategist for Nomura International Plc in London, said in a note after the meeting.
While Uzbekistan “will continue our constructive cooperation with all foreign countries,” the “main priority” will be relations with the other countries in central Asia, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, Mirziyoev told lawmakers.
The acting president said he’ll also take measures to stabilize the Uzbek currency, the soum, which has declined by 13 percent against the dollar in the past year, strengthen the country’s banking system and balance the budget. He’ll maintain a conservative attitude to external borrowing and seek to create as many as 1 million jobs by the end of 2016, he said.