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Uzbekistan is the geopolitical “center of gravity” for all of Central Asia, the most populous country in the region, and it shares borders with the other four Central Asian countries, in addition to Afghanistan.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, President Islam Karimov has ruled Uzbekistan with a firm fist, cracking down on his opponents and erecting a barrier to freedom of movement and political action. But on the external front, his skillful geopolitical maneuvering brought stability to Uzbekistan, which did not experience major tremors.
For this reason, the biggest challenge for his successor, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, was to maintain stability in a country where there is no institutional work … as well as no civil society. Indeed, it seemed that the new president quickly succeeded in overcoming obstacles and consolidating the pillars of his rule.
Uzbekistan’s location is an advantage and a source of problems at the same time, as the common borders with Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan allow Uzbekistan to interfere in the internal affairs of neighboring countries, which increases its weight on the international scene.
At the same time, the unstable situation in these countries poses a threat to Uzbekistan, and the situation in the border areas is likely to continue to deteriorate, despite the success of the Tashkent authorities in easing tension and resolving the problem of disputed areas with “neighboring” Tajikistan, a problem that has been a source of concern for decades. However, the most important challenge is maintaining the difficult balance in the relationship with both Moscow and Washington, especially against the background of the escalating conflict between Russia and the West.
Despite this, things in this field seem much better for Uzbekistan compared to its “neighbors” from the former Soviet republics… Tashkent has committed itself to strategic neutrality in this confrontation, and has faced with difficulty Washington’s efforts to pressure it, in order to take a clear position on Moscow.
In general, Uzbekistan has maintained, throughout the previous decades, complex relations with the “Kremlin”, ranging from economic, commercial and security accounts (because of Afghanistan), which prompted the establishment of a Russian military base in the country, which the Tashkent authorities soon closed, and later opened the door to host an American base. (It also closed years later).
Finally, during the months of Russia’s war in Ukraine, Tashkent’s degree of economic linkage with Moscow diminished, given that of the country’s 36 million inhabitants, just over a million worked in Russia. The volume of remittances of working Uzbek citizens to their home country amounted to 8 per cent of the country’s GDP, but this figure declined sharply because a large part of the Uzbek labor force had to leave Russia.
Uzbekistan between the past and the present
President Shavkat Mirziyoyev assumed power to succeed the “first” Uzbek president, Islam Karimov, who died in 2016, after ruling with an iron fist for a quarter of a century.
Mirziyoyev was prime minister for 13 years, during Karimov’s rule, but he was keen to show a more modern image, so he resorted to “packaging” the dramatic constitutional amendments, with a broad humanitarian character. During the last vote, the Uzbeks voted; Not only on renewing the “pledge of allegiance” to the president, for many years to come, but also on several measures that bring Uzbekistan closer to the standards of modern societies in the West, including the abolition of the death penalty and respect for human rights in a “new Uzbekistan” that the strong president wants to be “more justly.”
Birth and beginning of the career Shavkat Miromonovich Mirziyoyev was born and raised in a family of farmers, whose financial conditions were prosperous, and in addition to farming they were engaged in beekeeping.
Moreover, Shawkat’s great-grandfather on his father’s side, Mir Bobo, was a great farmer, but he did not turn into a feudal lord in the conditions of life during the Soviet era. On the contrary, he served the authorities faithfully, and his family provided many services to the state, and some of its members became heroes of «The Great Patriotic War» (World War II).
Those beginnings may have played a role in shaping the personality of Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who was born and lived his years close to power, money and power, and this contributed to his early involvement in the world of politics and positions.
That is because, immediately after graduating from the “Institute of Mechanical Engineering” in the early eighties of the last century, he found a job at the “Tashkent State University” and in his own institute, and he obtained a doctorate degree to become the youngest scientist in the institute.
Then, in his later years at the Institute, he held the position of Senior Vice President of the Institute. And this, before realizing that his path to the ladder of glory passes through a membership card in the “Communist Party of the Soviet Union”, which he joined in the late eighties.
Quick political results Mirziyoyev soon reaped quick results. In early 1990, when the Soviet Union was nearing its last breath, the young leader was making his political way as a deputy in parliament (the Supreme Council of the Uzbek SSR), even though these were the last local elections. Under the unified Soviet state, this position opened a wide way for him to be one of the symbols of the new era in the later “independent” Uzbekistan.
As happened with the senior officials of the Soviet state, Mirziyoyev hastened to take off the mantle of communism, and abandoned the red card, in order to announce, instead, the membership card in the “People’s Democratic Party of Uzbekistan”, which replaced the “Communist Party of Uzbekistan”, which was liquidated.
The way was paved for the ambition of this politician, who was soon appointed governor of the Mezu-Ulugbek region, and also maintained his membership in the country’s supreme parliament.
In 1996, by decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov, Shavkat Mirziyoyev was appointed governor of the agriculturally developed Jizakh region, from which he hails.
Then, after 5 years, President Karimov appointed him as governor of the Samarkand region, which is developed industrially, agriculturally and in tourism.
– Prime minister--
Since December 12, 2003, when Mirziyoyev was appointed Prime Minister of the Republic of Uzbekistan, he has become the one with the greatest political weight in the republic after the president, and after that he never gave up his position as the main decision-maker.
It should be noted that after the death of Islam Karimov – the first president of independent Uzbekistan – the head of the “Senate” Nejmat Yala Yuldushev became acting president, according to the constitution, but the powerful prime minister quickly turned the tables. Before the fall of that year, the “Supreme Council” (parliament) took a decision to assign Shavkat Mirziyoyev to run the country as acting president, and one week after this appointment, the “Liberal Democratic Party of Uzbekistan” nominated him to run for the presidency in the early presidential elections, which took place in The end of 2016. And at that time, the Central Election Commission in Uzbekistan allowed Mirziyoyev – the acting president – to participate in the presidential elections, which ushered in a new era in the country and recorded a smooth transfer of power, contrary to many expectations.
… and the presidency of the republic Mirziyoyev won the presidential election with 89 percent of the vote, with a turnout of 88 percent. Since then, his approval ratings have not fallen below the ninety percent barrier, despite all the internal and external problems, and the economic conditions that witnessed several shocks, and despite the opposition’s attempt, which remained absent throughout the era of his predecessor, to rise in the shadow of the “new era.”
Immediately after Mirziyoyev’s position on the presidential chair was established, he launched a new phase in Uzbekistan’s politics, both internally and externally. And because he was the “son of power” and one of its prominent symbols for many years, he did not need a significant period of time to establish the pillars of his rule and touch his first steps.
It was his first foreign visit, in the spring of 2017, as President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, to neighboring Turkmenistan, and he did not go to Moscow and then to Beijing, as was the custom for his counterparts in the Central Asian republics. The significance of this step will become clear later, through the major shift he made to consolidate his regional policy, and to raise the slogan “Central Asia comes first.”
Indeed, this approach by Mirziyoyev led to a flexible and open policy towards neighbors, vigorous calls to strengthen the internal ranks in the region, and to set priorities for regional cooperation, instead of relying on the interventions of external players.
In this context, Uzbekistan seemed more stable in its policies than its neighbors, and led the processes of regional integration, and supported initiatives to coordinate positions, and the establishment of bodies and councils to promote joint action among the Central Asian republics, in isolation from the positions of Washington, Moscow and Beijing, and therefore emerged, later, five summit meetings of the republics The regional invitations were not extended to foreign presidents, contrary to the practice until then.
Internal cleansing On the internal level, Mirziyoyev led a “large-scale coup” against the legacy of his predecessor Karimov, whose reign was associated with the “iron fist” and administrative corruption. At the outset of his presidency, he purged the Attorney General’s office of former employees.
By the summer of 2017, Mirziyoyev announced that the Public Prosecution Office of Uzbekistan should be completely emptied of the staff that had begun working under Karimov. He pointed out that the public prosecutors are the “biggest thieves” remaining “from the old garbage system,” as he put it.
By the end of the summer, no more than 15 to 20 percent of the people “remaining from the former thieves’ regime” remained in the public prosecutor’s departments and the government prosecution office, and Mirziyoyev pledged, at the time, that the rest “will be dismissed from their positions.”
All of this coincided with the launch of a broad “openness” phase, which distinguished his era from previous closure laws, and the new president canceled his predecessor’s decree on “exit visas,” granting citizens freedom of movement from the oversight of the security services.
And with the launch of his second term, in 2021, he moved to draft new laws that open Uzbekistan to the development of communications technology, mobility and others.
However, the coup against the former allies did not only appear in the relationship with the former president and the pillars of his rule, but even with allies close to Mirziyoyev himself. This is what happened with his close ally, businessman Jahinir Artukhozyav, who had created his business empire under the auspices of Shavkat Mirziyoyev, when he was prime minister. In 2018, the billionaire businessman was appointed governor of the capital, Tashkent, and within two years it became clear that the ruler had employed administrative capabilities for the benefit of his public and private projects, from which he, his wife, or his business partners received direct benefits.
Soon, this situation aroused the ire of Mirziyoyev, when Tashkent fell into a state of emergency, due to the lack of electricity and gas supplies during the frost. And then the president did not hesitate to strike his former ally, and addressed the audience, in a direct statement: “For the empty words, and the false report about the reasons for not facing the problem, and given that the legs of this unscrupulous man were far from the ground, I expelled him from office.”
Generally speaking, Mirziyoyev managed to consolidate his power in the republic, within a short period of time, and gained a high prestige among the population. This reality created the necessary conditions to accelerate the economic and political transformations that practically constituted the legacy of the strong president.
Innovations and achievementsOne of the main innovations of Mirziyoyev was the launch of a virtual reception, which allowed all citizens of the country to submit their requests and present their problems and suggestions. The establishment of such an institution in Uzbekistan was a real revolution and a new beginning, after the doors of power had been closed for decades to the public.
Likewise, reform decisions included almost all the country’s institutions, and changes were introduced in the systems of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Armed Forces, special services, education, the economy, and personnel policy throughout. However, with all the internal modernization, the main priority of Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s foreign policy remained the Central Asian region. According to the country’s political doctrine, Uzbekistan’s policy in Central Asia is based on ensuring peace and stability in the region, solving basic problems of regional security, including helping to resolve the situation in Afghanistan.
Indeed, Uzbekistan’s regional policy allowed to create a completely new political atmosphere in the region, strengthening relations based on trust and good neighborliness. On this basis, a number of important issues related to water use, borders, renewal and expansion of transport links were resolved.
On the other hand, this policy gave an incentive to further develop mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia and other CIS countries, China, the United States, South Korea, Turkey, and a number of European and Asian countries. The partnership with the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and other official international organizations has also entered a qualitatively new phase.
However, with this openness at the regional and international levels, experts believe that the most important thing in Mirziyoyev’s foreign policy is that it is based on achieving a balance of interests between the major influential parties, in contrast to Karimov’s policy, which was based on pragmatism that sometimes leans towards Washington, and grants it gains at the expense of Moscow, and at other times. It is based on leaning towards Russia and reducing cooperation with Washington.
In this context, Mirziyoyev pursued a policy based on focusing – in particular – on “avoiding excessive dependence on any of the major world powers” and reducing risks and differences with all neighboring countries, which allowed the president to focus more on implementing internal reforms.
It was the first foreign visit of Mirziyoyev, in his capacity as President of the Republic of Uzbekistan,
to neighboring Turkmenistan,
And he didn’t go
Then to Beijing