President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov: Mr Putin, I am truly happy to see you on your official visit to Uzbekistan. Welcome to the city of Tashkent.
I would like to once again say that we have felt your absence over these many years in Tashkent. You have not visited us for a long time. I asked how long you hadn’t been here, and you said it had been about five years. I think that our count is approximately the same. This is because we in Uzbekistan are genuinely happy about your visit and expect good things from it.
I feel your current visit to Uzbekistan is a continuation of the talks and the exchange of views that began on May 15 in Moscow, when we discussed key issues in bilateral relations between Russia and Uzbekistan. We addressed serious problems that have occurred overall in the Central Asian region, problems of an international nature, issues pertaining to the rapidly changing situation in the world – the threats and challenges that increasingly worry the world and, naturally, concern Russia as well.
In turn, we fully understand that the current course of events overall is not entirely heartening; rather, they cause more anxiety and serious apprehension. If we do not take serious pre-emptive measures, then the course of events may follow a very different scenario. I am referring to the events happening today in Afghanistan, North Africa and other hot spots. And I would like to particularly say that naturally, all these issues worry Russia and Uzbekistan. It is imperative to exchange views on all security and stability issues, not just in the region, but beyond its boundaries as well, especially since these events exist beyond the bounds of this region.
In this sense, I think it is very important for us, for Russia and Uzbekistan, to exchange views and develop common positions on serious issues that are cause for concern, as well as pre-emptive measures that I feel must be taken to modify or prevent these events and not find ourselves confronted with them.
”We are constantly maintaining an interstate dialogue. Uzbekistan is one of our highest-priority partners in the region.“
Naturally, we can state with satisfaction that relations between Russia and Uzbekistan are developing nicely. I want to give a few figures: in 2011, our turnover increased by approximately 9 per cent, and in the first quarter, trade between Uzbekistan and Russia increased by 40 per cent.
And in this sense, I feel the figures speak for themselves. Granted we really need to work not on figures but on the range of goods available. Because unfortunately, the problems that existed five years ago still remain today. The stock list of goods supplied by Russia to Uzbekistan is very limited, and we would very much like it to expand for the good of the economies of Russia and Uzbekistan.
Naturally, we have some very serious issues related to supply projects. There are major questions that we must once again examine from the point of view of the changing situation in Afghanistan. We must seriously look into how to resolve issues pertaining to prospects for parcelling water resources, energy resources, etc.
Overall in this regard, we see Russia as a superpower, a nation that has always showed concern for the problems in Central Asia. And I hope that Russia will take an interest in resolving serious, rather acute issues that occur in the Central Asian region in connection with the withdrawal of American troops which, in my view, presents a very serious problem because there is a kind of self-complacency that everything seems to be going as it should.
But the assessments being made by serious analysts and experts, as well as our own calculations and expectations, speak to the fact that it is impossible to be purely optimistic on this matter and hope that everything will follow the pre-set course or what was said in Lisbon and Chicago – I want to use this opportunity to say that this is far from being the case. And in this regard, we have serious concerns that the withdrawal of peacekeeping troops – and I doubt this can be denied – will result in an increase in terrorist and extremist activities and drug trafficking, that their volume and scale will increase, and that terrorist and extremist activities will not remain in Afghanistan, spilling out beyond its borders.
For me, personally, in Uzbekistan, this raises serious concerns, because we have a direct border with Afghanistan and we have already seen several times through our own hard experience what kind of ‘surprises’ can occur and how seriously we must take these issues. Because there is a war in Afghanistan – I want to say this to the young people standing here – which has already been underway for 30 years. Perhaps some of you are not that old yet. So if we look at it from this angle, where in history do you recall a war lasting for 30 years in one territory, aside from the 100-year wars in the middle ages? This in and of itself says a lot. And in this sense, it is such a multifaceted problem that I would say the difficulties in Afghanistan are not being resolved by the Afghani people themselves, unfortunately, but by others who have entered into Afghanistan and gotten involved in its problems.
And in this sense, today’s troop withdrawal programme seems like a way out. But I think it speaks to a simple reality: this is the desire of many nations, first and foremost European nations, NATO, the United States, and others participating in peacekeeping in Afghanistan, to withdraw their troops as quickly as possible and create a setting that could allow for a peaceful resolution. But in order to do that, other issues would need to be resolved. First of all, time is needed to create a strong army or, as they call it, security forces in Afghanistan, to replace the troops that are withdrawing.
Note that the highest number of foreign troops in Afghanistan, just recently, was nearly 150 thousand. By the end of this year, or by the end of September of this year, according to NATO estimates, the number of foreign troops will be about 68 thousand. Thus, about half of the troops will be withdrawn. Can the situation change if the number of troops decreases, if financing decreases for these operations and everything related to peacekeeping in Afghanistan and the resolution of socio-economic issues, etc.? It is already decreasing today. And the situation can develop the other way. This is illogical. If this problem is not resolved, if it is not fully exposed as it truly is, I think many things will unravel later, and we will simply miss the moment.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Karimov, thank you for your invitation.
It is true that I have not been to Tashkent in a long time. This is normal, since your partner was President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev. And your meetings occurred regularly, but we also maintained working and personal relations. I am grateful to you for our previous meetings, including in the Government of the Russian Federation building, as I recall, when you visited me in Moscow.
We are constantly maintaining an interstate dialogue. Uzbekistan is one of our highest-priority partners in the region. We have special relations with Uzbekistan. We are well aware of your nation’s potential and we will build relations with Uzbekistan in accordance with its potential and in accordance with the deep roots of the relations between our people.
I am grateful to you not only for the invitation, but also for the questions that were prepared and included today by our colleagues, our advisers, as well as the documents that will be signed today. I am happy for the opportunity to speak not just about our bilateral relations, but also international issues on which, as the diplomats would say in this case, we have very similar, or even concurrent, views.
I fully agree with your assessments on Afghanistan. Here, we certainly have much to think about, because all this is happening in close proximity to our borders.
Thank you very much for the invitation.