Weeks after Uzbekistan surprised the region by suspending its membership in the Eurasian Economic Community (Eurasec) _ a pale imitation of the early incarnation of the European Union _ President Dimitry Medvedev is due to pay a visit on his counterpart in Tashkent.

The rapidity of Medvedev’s deployment should give some indication of the degree of concern felt in Moscow at their undependable comrade’s latest betrayal. This is not because Eurasec is in any real sense a core component in helping firm ties between the former constituents of the Soviet Union. The primary source of apprehension is that departure from Eurasec could presage suspension of membership in the Collective Security Treaty Organization _ a pale imitation of NATO _ and, much worse, a rekindling of warm diplomatic ties with the West.

Keeping Medvedev at arm's length?

Keeping Medvedev at arm's length?

There is nothing particularly new about the erratic quality of Uzbek foreign policy, which Karimov regularly shakes up like a cruel child with an ant farm. In part, Tashkent understands that the West _ and the United States in particular _ will surely come to rely on it once again as operations in Afghanistan look set for a shift up in gear.

For a change, however, Uzbekistan looks like it may pursue a far more nuanced line than usual. In the past, the Uzbeks have adopted an almost principled, if self-damaging, position of declining to accommodate rival suitors.

Meanwhile, Medvedev continues to show his preference for a “soft power” overture by highlighting the importance of commercial ties, instead of opting for the bully-boy tactics of Vladimir Putin. 

This week, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov spoke at a bilateral commission ahead of Medvedev’s visit about opportunities for expanding cooperation in a number of areas of industry and in the energy sector in particular. The base is substantial and possibilities are promising:

Ivanov said that in January-October 2008, bilateral trade increased by 9% to US$2.842 billion as against the same period of 2007.

In more concrete terms, Russia has demonstrated that its insistence on instituting market relations with former Soviet states _ arguably the real cause of the endless row with Ukraine _ is sincere. Accordingly, Russia’s Gazprom agreed recently to pay Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan  more than $301 per 1,000 cubic meters for their gas. 

Karimov in turn struck a favourable note by arguing in part for the preservation of the post-Soviet coordination union, the Commonwealth of Independent States. Uzreport quotes further (password required):

“We see the prospects of the development of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and CSTO,” the Uzbek leader noted.

The president of Uzbekistan also said that “Uzbekistan entirely supports Russia’s foreign policy course” and on all the key issues “we have a similar stance.”

Karimov stressed that “there are no undercurrents that could change this state of affairs.”

So, perhaps it might finally be possible when speaking about Uzbek foreign policy to talk about evolution _ as opposed instead of developments, like you might do of a suprise twist in a Mexican soap opera.

Conversely, while Tashkent opens up to the possibility of two-track diplomatic program that allows for full-blooded interaction with Moscow and Washington, it continues obstinately to refuse entertaining the notion of integrating more deeply with its regional neighbours.

Of course, come the day that Medvedev visits, expect nothing but tedious platitudes.

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