A series of successful meetings between the presidents of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in Turkmenistan’s capital, Ashgabat, have been hailed as a landmark event.
Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev went to Turkmenistan on official state invitation over several days from March 6th. The event was his first foreign diplomatic trip after being sworn in late last year, following the death of his successor Islam Karimov.
Mirziyoyev and Turkmenistan’s President, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, discussed the possibilities of strengthening diplomatic ties between the two nations. According to the Uzbekistan Government’s website, it was “underscored [by Berdymukhammedov] that this historical event will serve to exploit the unused opportunities of [both] countries in further strengthening [their] interactions.”
Topics that were discussed included: solidifying bilateral economic ties, bolstering tourism and cultural appreciation across the two nations, working through impending environmental issues, such as desertification and the best use of shared river systems, strategizing the benefits of abundant hydrocarbon resources on a global scale, and jointly pursuing developments in the science and technology sectors. Even today, both nations are seen to be relatively ‘closed-off’ by the international community, but last week’s meetings show glimpses of a more open future. However, experts are not certain that democracy will be any more evident than before.
Both leaders expressed concern about conflict in Afghanistan and agreed that a resolution (as well as conflict resolution in general) was “possible only through peaceful political means on the basis of a broad national dialogue.”
Before winning the national election with 88.6% of the votes, Mirziyoyev’s pre-election campaign was centred on solidifying and maintaining mutually beneficial relations with all nations around the world, particularly with those sharing a border with Uzbekistan. Experts speculate that Uzbekistan will undertake a ‘regional reset’ thanks to the new president, in which proposed reforms to isolationist policies will be successful in ‘opening up’ the country internationally.
A more questionable agenda item was the unveiling of a Turkmenistan-commissioned monument commemorating former Uzbek President, Karimov, who died in office last September after suffering a stroke. Karimov’s iron-fist rule over Uzbekistan was seen by observers as oppressive and undemocratic. He was a controversial leader who held the country’s seat of power for three terms, which was over 25 years. Experts say that his lack of focus on strengthening foreign relations kept Uzbekistan’s global image in, almost, complete obscurity after the Soviet Union split. He was also a staunch supporter of Russian foreign policy.
Radio Free Europe reported that during a recent tour of former Soviet states in Central Asia, Russian president Vladimir Putin did not pay a visit to either Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan.
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