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"Outcast" Russia Engages Key Central Asian Power (Uzbekistan)

  • Russia has written off $1bn of old debt
  • Uzbekistan will be making major purchases of Russian arms
  • Will start consultations on a free-trade zone with the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union

This is an excerpt from an article that originally appeared at The New Great Game

While U.S. President Barack Obama is still trying to convince the public that Russia is completely isolated, Russian President Vladimir Putin paid official visits to Uzbekistan and India, strengthening Russia's ties with the two countries.

On December 10, the Russian President traveled to Tashkent, where he held talks with his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov.

Putin's visit was a show of support for Karimov ahead of upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in Uzbekistan, which could get interesting for a change given that Karimov has not stated whether he will stand for re-election as president.

Russian-Uzbek relations have been tense since the end of the Soviet Union and the Karimov regime has always been a difficult partner for Russia but the Kremlin is now looking to forge closer ties with Uzbekistan, regardless of who is running the country.

The two presidents signed an important agreement, significantly reducing Uzbekistan's debt to Russia in order to pave the way for new loans from Moscow, which are intended for a particular purpose [emphasis mine]:

Russia Cozies Up to Uzbekistan With $865 Million Debt Write-Off

Russia on Wednesday wrote off $865 million of debt owed by Uzbekistan as President Vladimir Putin sought to bolster ties between the former Soviet republics during a one-day visit to the country, news agency TASS reported.

The agreement, which was signed in the presence of Putin and his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov, freed Uzbekistan from almost all of its $890 million debt to Russia. Uzbekistan will have to pay just $25 million, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said Wednesday.

Presidential aide Yury Ushakov said Wednesday that settling the debt issue will allow Russia to expand sales of arms and military equipment in the country, TASS reported.

Uzbekistan Welcomes "Pariah" Putin With Open Arms

Uzbekistan hoped to profit from the drawdown of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan by getting leftover American equipment, such as Mine Resistant Armor Protected (MRAP) vehicles, but this didn't work out.

Therefore, the Uzbek regime is now turning to Russia for new arms and military equipment and since much of the debt has been written off, Tashkent is free to go on a shopping spree.

In exchange for freeing Uzbekistan from its debt, Karimov agreed to start consultations on a free-trade zone between the Central Asian republic and the Russia-led Eurasian Economics Union (EEU).

Moreover, Uzbekistan's strongman leader praised Russia's stabilizing role in Central Asia and he asked the Russian President to help the 'stans in the fight against the "creeping expansion of militant extremism and religious radicalism" in the region.

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