TASHKENT/Oct. 2 (The Bulletin) — Uzbekistan is considering joining the Kremlin-led Eurasian Economic Union, potentially adding 32m people to the group as well as giving it a political boost.
Quoting Valentina Matviyenko, chairwoman of the Federation Council of Russia, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, Russian media said that Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev was weighing up applying to join the five-member EAEU.
“The Uzbek president has made a decision and is currently working on Uzbekistan joining the EAEU,” Ms Matviyenko said at a press conference with Nuriddinjon Ismailov, head of the Uzbek lower chamber of parliament.
The Uzbek government has not commented on the reports but if it was confirmed, an application from Uzbekistan to join the EAEU would generate much-needed momentum for the organisation that is often derided by Western commentators as a heavy-handed effort by the Kremlin to cement its influence against growing Chinese economic power across the former Soviet Union.
It would also signal another effort by Mr Mirziyoyev, who took over as Uzbek president in 2016, to open up the country to international organisations. He has applied for membership of the Turkic Council for Uzbekistan and also of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The EAEU was set up in 2014, initially involving Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, and started operating from Jan. 1 2015. Within eight months, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia had joined the group. Tajikistan has since said that it is interested in joining but Uzbekistan’s membership had never been previously touted.
Commentators said that joining the EAEU would benefit millions of Uzbeks who work in Russia each year, easing their paperwork burden, although other economic benefits are less obvious. Kyrgyz businesses complained in 2015 of extra red tape created by joining the EAEU.
— This story was first published in issue 424 of the weekly Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin